Stigma as Part of Ones Identity
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Stigma as Part of Ones Identity
Stigmatized individuals are those who do not receive social acceptance. As a result, they are always attempting to change their identities. There are three types of stigma: the stigma of character traits, physical stigma, and the stigma of group identity (Erving, 1963). In all these forms, discriminated persons have qualities that can obtrude themselves and make ordinary people avoid them. Therefore, an understanding of the causes of stigmas and how to overcome them is essential in enabling the prejudiced individuals to integrate into the society.
Stigma as Part of One’s Identity
Typically, stigma becomes part of a person’s identity based on his/her physical features, character traits, and group identity. Consequently, it is impossible to change some forms of stigma, especially those that are due to an individual’s natural qualities. However, an individual can alter those that are caused by specific behaviors or due to him/her belonging to some groups (Quinn & Chauoir, 2009). Usually, people who are blind, deaf, lame, or albino, experience physical stigma. In this case, discrimination occurs since the person does not look like ordinary people. Unfortunately, this bias makes the prejudiced individuals to forego various opportunities. Moreover, it also results in them hiding, living in isolation, being depressed, or experiencing anxiety.
According to Erving (1963), a person’s character traits can lead to stigmatization. Usually, people with behaviors that are not socially acceptable are sidelined by their communities. These characters include unnatural passions, dishonesty, radical political ideologies, and religious extremism. In explaining the prejudices that prisoner experience after being released from jail, Thomas and Jones (2006) stated, “He has questions, if not serious doubts, about his ability to “make it” on the outside, especially concerning his relationships with others; he knows in any case, that he cannot simply return to the outside world as if nothing happened.” This statement reveals the stigma that ex-convicts face when attempting to reunite with their families.
Finally, the stigma of group comes due to individuals belonging to a particular religion, race, nation, or organization. Usually, the transmission of these prejudices occurs through family lineage. For example, a Black couple will most likely conceive a Black child. In the same vein, most people typically adopt their parent’s religions, beliefs, and cultures. In this form of stigma, there are always extreme feelings of hostility, hatred, and intolerance in the treatment of the discriminated group. Blumer (1958) notes that “…race prejudice is dominated by the idea that such prejudice exists fundamentally as a feeling or set of feelings lodged in the individual.” Consequently, the causes of the stigma of groups are biased opinions towards those discriminated.
How to Overcome Stigma
To overcome stigma, an individual must use a combination of strategies such as giving excuses, making changes to their bodies, or disclosing their weaknesses in advance (Erving 1963). For example, people with burns can undergo plastic surgery, and those who are crippled can find walking sticks. Alternatively, they can make special efforts to compensate for their weaknesses, such as by developing impressive skills in various activities. Despite these people improving their status; they still risk being exposed as persons who were formerly stigmatized (Quinn & Earnshaw, 2013). Consequently, people facing discrimination should accept the reality that some malicious people will always attempt to patronize them even when they improve their social status.
Another way that discriminated individuals can overcome stigma is by using it as an excuse for their lack of skills. They can view their shortcomings as a learning experience, instead of one caused by their physical status. However, this form of hiding of their inabilities can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression. It may also make them more self-conscious and fearful of displaying anger or negative emotions.
A discriminated individual may also assume that normal people are ignorant. In support of this view, Erving (1963) states, “as when a hard of hearing person fails to respond to a remark proffered to him by someone ignorant of his shortcoming; sleepiness, as when a teacher perceives a student’s petit mal epilepsy seizure as momentary daydreaming…” Based on Erving’s view, it is clear that most of the remarks made by ordinary persons are usually due to their lack of understanding of the weakness of the stigmatized individuals.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with prejudices is through the use of humor. This method enables discriminated individuals to reduce tension and allows them to create a conducive social environment. Furthermore, it makes ordinary people more receptive to the stigmatized persons. After observing physically challenged persons, Erving (1963) remarked, “A lot of amputees sort of humor the others to make them feel good because they are doing something for you. It doesn’t make other people uncomfortable like it could if you were still standing.” Therefore, the creation of fun moments breaks the tension between the stigmatized individuals and ordinary persons, which makes them socialize.
The research on stigmatization of persons is essential in enabling administrators and government organizations to know the causes of various prejudices, ways of preventing them, and how the discriminated individuals should behave to reduce their levels of profiling. Typically, stigmatization becomes part of a person’s identity due to his/her character traits, physical features, and group identity. To reduce this undue prejudice and build a friendly environment, a discriminated persons can make humor of their inabilities, assume that normal people are ignorant, and improve their skills to compensate for their weaknesses.
Blumer, H. (1958). Race prejudice as a sense of group position. The Pacific Sociological Review, 1(1), 3-7.
Erving, G. (1963). Stigma. London, UK: Penguin.
Quinn, D., & Chauoir, S. (2009). Living with a concealable stigmatized identity: The impact of anticipated stigma, centrality, salience, and cultural stigma on psychological distress and health. Journal of Personal Social Psychology, 97(4), 634-651.
Quinn, D., & Earnshaw, V. (2013). Concealable stigmatized identities and psychological well-being. Social Personal Psychological Compass, 7(1), 40-51.
Thomas, S., & Jones, R. (2006). Suspended identity: Identity transformation in a maximum security prison. In L. J. McIntyre (Ed.), The practical skeptic: Readings in sociology (pp. 224-234). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.