We are constantly bombarded by messages that help shape our view on a variety of topics. Many elicit a response, which might be positive or negative. As the world has become more connected, our opportunity to learn has expanded and increased exponentially. Today, we can easily connect with people across the globe, learn about world affairs and educate ourselves on unending subjects.
Media channels have an impact on building awareness, even creating a movement. Think about the posts you react to on social media…cute cat videos, laughing babies, life events of people you know, national/world events. Each has the ability to shape our own internal dialogue. This constant barrage of information comes from so many directions and can often have an effect on our own mood state. There are unlimited posts and rants on any number of topics, which can create joy and elation, but also anxiety, fear and depression about the future, regardless of your personal beliefs. This can flood our senses, leaving us confused, irritated and questioning.
- Do you remember that post or message that struck a cord or caused a noticeable reaction?
- You know the one that affected you negatively. Maybe it left you angry, afraid or ashamed.
Today’s media environment breeds fear through its messages, which can keep us on edge like a pot constantly about to boil over.
Stigma is today’s buzzword, used to describe the marginalization of people who struggle from a variety of conditions and/or differences. It is a powerful word, defined as a mark of shame or discredit. (Miriam-Webster) At the core, it characterizes someone as less than because they don’t meet or conform to accepted societal norms, usually in the form of damaging language and action by others.
Take your pick of stigmatized subjects…race, religion, gender identity, human rights, physical and mental health challenges, etc. Frequently, each is portrayed in a negative light in the media and peer groups alike. Our culture fosters this judgment, bias and limiting perspective, but that only represents part of the equation. The real work of stigma is an inside job…
Yes, stigma starts within.
It is self-created from our own feelings and thoughts about certain topics, which become a framework made of individual experiences and beliefs. Of course, it can be directly impacted by the views of others, but the originating source requires some personal responsibility.
Let’s use one relevant example…MENTAL HEALTH.
You know that taboo subject no one wants to discuss, until it hits their home. Statistics state 1 in 5 are or will be affected throughout the course of a lifetime. Unfortunately, many are still misguided to believe mental health primarily looks like the tragic examples portrayed in the media, which is simply untrue. I do not mean to discount traumatizing events, but they grossly underestimate the broader context of people who quietly struggle with mental health conditions. Stigma perpetuates a silent majority who navigate their ups and downs privately.
For example, conditions like anxiety and/or depression affect a vast part of our population. Either can significantly impact daily life, making simple functions far more difficult. The biggest barrier between treatment and recovery is often steeped in our own beliefs about the struggle. The way we feel about it matters and can keep us from seeking the help we need.
The real truth is, directly or indirectly, we are all impacted by mental health.
All of us.
In fact, 100% of us have mental health.
Passing the buck has created the perfect storm; a struggling society that is more depressed, anxious and addicted than any other time in history.
Mental health is just one example but personal responsibility should be applied to any marginalized/stigmatized group. This reality surpasses personal and societal labels, placing each of us squarely in the face of our own relationship with stigma. We all have the power of choice when viewing differences in ourselves and others.
Blaming the media and others as the originating source of stigma is an easy path, but doing so excludes our side of the street and keeps us stuck in the story. If we really seek to address stigma straight on, we must first look within and acknowledge our own beliefs about certain topics. Doing so honors our individual limitations and allows us to realign ourselves to a more inclusive focus.
That said, before dismissing another’s viewpoint as less than or making value based judgments about someone’s journey, remember that EVERYONE STRUGGLES WITH SOMETHING.
I, myself, have been guilty of doing this very thing and realize the negative effect of such behavior. I spent years buying into damaging propaganda about my own struggle. It was devastating and robbed me of many opportunities to connect with myself and others. Stigma can only live in the dark. Through limiting beliefs and blaming others, we effectively are dimming our own light.
Each of us is a collection of stories that shape how we show up in the world. Our differences make us unique and should be something to celebrate, not hide or diminish. If you can stand tall and proud in your own beliefs, then you will find your unshakable truth. The rest of the worlds view just becomes background noise. By taking this approach, we gain self confidence, esteem and love for our own journey. In doing so, we can embrace struggle and finally honor what makes us uniquely individual.
What is one step you can take now to face your own stigma?
Isn’t it time to be kind to ourselves and one another?