Stigmas; many definitions, most relate to something bad, or socially unacceptable, like a stigma against people with mental health issues. At this I must laugh. For if we examine our lives deep enough we all may exhibit some stigma evoking traits. It is not too far of a stretch to expand the definition of a stigma to include “a prejudicial thought, response or act that is evoked in response to another person associated with a physical, observable trait”. What ever your impression of my definition is, it is at least as good as the ones out there now and perhaps closer to how it is used in society. Need some validity, lets go to the source, you! After you read the following words, what is the first thought, image, or visualization that comes into your mind? No thinking or reasoning allowed, just gut reactions please: Try jotting down a few related thoughts, no more than a sentence. You really don’t even need to jot them down; you know what you are thinking.

  • Overweight
  • Beard
  • Muslim
  • Politician
  • Police
  • Blonde
  • Protestant
  • Wheelchair
  • Psychotherapy
  • Lawyer
  • Black
  • Longhair
  • Handicapped
  • Republican
  • Garbage Man
  • Californian
  • Short
  • Mustache
  • Mexican
  • Italian
  • Democrat
  • Depressed
  • Catholic
  • Bi-Polar
  • Disorder
  • Southerner

OK that’s enough, you can stop jotting. Every thought you had, no matter what it was could be considered a stigma, your stigma or your groups stigma. While normally associated with the negative aspects, note that even your positive thoughts may indeed be negative in someone else’s mind, but for now we don’t care about “Them”. Where do stigmas come from? Are they passed down from generation to generation, those closest to us, or do we develop them on our own from our past experience with a specific individual or some representative group? Is this not at the root of prejudice? Are we queued to act in a certain way due to ingrained stigmas? Are stigmas different in different communities, cities, states or countries? Of course they are. Can we be stymied, shut out, ridiculed, laughed at, taken advantage of, passed over, or ignored by others because of who, what, where, or how we are? Of course we can. Can we ourselves act in a certain way because of our perception of a societal stigma if we have that particular trait? Deeper question, but same answer; Of course we can. And in turn does this build on the validity of the stigma?

A quick example; sitting next to each other are a blonde and a brunette. Each is asked a question, each gives a stupid answer. The stigma of dumb blonde is enhanced while the brunette can claim to be having a bad day, or that they did not understand the question. But who is to say what stigma is to be applied? Which ones are never to be spoken of, but still pervade everything we do, in our views toward others and in others views toward ourselves? Do stigmas portray our primordial upbringing when we discount reason and pull out our clubs to start the beating? Stigmas prevent us from getting by that all powerful, and often damaging, first impression when outwardly applied and that “I can’t do it!” when inwardly applied. As a people, race or species, we may never be able to change this, though many will try. But why?

Our differences are what make us unique, the problem is we haven’t learned how to embrace these differences and leverage the diversity. We instead feel threatened, territorial, we feel the need to flex superiority, or on the other hand feel predestined to a certain way of life, or grapple with what’s “Wrong” with us. Those that live to apply stigmas, and perpetrate the negative connotations so often associated with them, are simply trying to advance their own cause, and perhaps even keep the focus off of their traits that may be the target of some other societal stigma. Much of our mental health issues, phobias doubts and fear can be related to some sort of stigma, either implanted by others or the ones we let loose on our own. We lose our job, there is a stigma, we get a divorce, there is a stigma, we move to a new town coming from Buffalo, NY, there is a stigma, we are a lawyer, there is a stigma, or we seek help for a mental health issue, and there is yet another stigma. When the damage occurs is when we fail to get over it, fail to say “what in the heck?” or fail to realize, I’m OK, You’re Not!

© James D. Tippett –