Have you ever felt left out, ashamed and afraid to show a part of yourself to society since they will view you differently? Have you also felt that you were better than someone else because of a characteristic feature they had and in a way made them feel that way? Think about it… if you have fallen in either of these categories which am sure you have, then walk with me. If you ever felt either then you have experience stigma as either the victim or the enforcer.
The name stigma was commonly used in Greek to mean ‘a mark, dot or puncture or generally a sign’. What we define as in the modern language is more of a metaphorical sign which means a set of negative beliefs about a group of people with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma and discrimination go hand in hand, in that society use stigma to mark out those who out of ‘normal’ according to their set standards and make them feel inferior.
We have formed over the time of our lives formed an identity that best describes us. A famous saying by the prison break character Theodore Bagwell ‘T-Bag’, “ we are captives of our own identities living in prisons of our own creation.” Anything that contradicts our identity we tend to hide it from society afraid that we will be stigmatized. This simply makes you discreditable so you are always on the run. Another set of people are those that are already discreditable, these are people whose ‘failings’ have already been put out there they can have a disability, may be racially different, maybe ex-convict might be chronically ill, etc.
We are all born the same in the eyes of a superior being [if you believe in any] but we humans have a tendency to cluster ourselves in groups to feel better. No man is an island and at the end of the day we want to be wanted, we want to feel important that’s the whole point of our existence, isn’t it? So we are not born with most of the social structures in mind they are formed with time [infact all structures a newborn is a blank page]. So stigma exists in the relationship between an attribute and an audience. A good example is that a sick person will not feel different in a ward with other sick people but when put in a room full of healthy individuals they will definitely feel the change. How both sets of individuals feel, the sick and the rest is the relationship between the attributes and the audience. Ervin Goffman says that this causes a spoiled identity which is Stigma.
There are three categories of stigma; abnormalities of the body, character defects, and tribal stigma.
- Abnormalities of the body – This can either be someone who is an amputee an individual who has a chronic illness. This simply means anything with the body that seems out of the ordinary can cause stigma. We are used to most people having ten-finger when someone is born with twelve this is an abnormality of the boy this can cause stigma.
- Character defects – The social structure expects us to behave a certain way, we are all expected when it reaches a certain age to go out and fend for ourselves, we are all expected to be interested in the opposite sex, we are expected to be something the society has defined for us. In the case our character cannot be defined we are shunned this can easily cause stigma.
- Tribal Argument – This is simply where someone is from can cause stigma. This can either be our religion, race, part of the continent from, and where we are originally from.
Once society notices a differentness from what is expected they very quickly stigmatize. This is a form of defence mechanism so they themselves are not exposed. This as we earlier discussed means they being potentially discreditable hide behind this.
Stigma can be self-inflicted; this simply means that individuals look at all the negatives they possess and feel the society shuns and feel bad about themselves. One person you cannot truly lie to is oneself self-stigma is easily inflicted. Another form of stigma is enacted stigma; this is where an extraneous fact makes you feel bad about something you were comfortable living with. They are mostly formed by stereotypes lack of understanding or simply meanness from a third party.
How to deal with any form of stigma is one, put yourself in their shoes what would you feel. How will you expect to be treated, remember a time when you treated differently how did you feel. Next, be very aware of your language around stigmatized individuals. They are very sensitive and are easily provoked so do not use words that may hurt their feelings. What we see in the media is not always correct, think about and discuss what we see in the media. Media have formed certain stereotypes for some groups of people which are not correct.
Another thing is that on your own do your due diligence. Learn more about certain conditions will put you in a better position when handling stigma. We quickly form an opinion about things we do not have knowledge about which is just wrong. Finally explore your relationships, the only way to understand stigmatized individuals get out and know them on more personal levels. Make it your mission today look for someone you feel is stigmatized and know them on a personal level.