Monday, December 7, 2015

Stigmas as Signs of Social Rejection

What are social stigmas, and what is the meaning of being stigmatized? Being stigmatized may mean being shunned, being avoided, being viewed as loathsome or repugnant, being treated as an outcast, and being seen as shameful or disgraceful. It may also mean being considered unrespectable and disreputable, and being viewed as morally deficient or socially inferior.
      Being stigmatized may also mean being seen as flawed or blemished, and being labeled as faulty or defective in some way.
      To stigmatize someone or something may be to inflict that person or thing with a stigma (a sign of reproach or disapproval). A stigma may be a sign of rejection, a mark of disfavor, or a symbol of disgrace.
       Stigmatization may involve the branding, writing, or inscription of a stigma on the identity of the stigmatized. It may also involve the assignment of a lower social status to stigmatized individuals or groups.
      Stigmatized people may sometimes be regarded as if they were grotesque, strange, odd, or freakish. They may be made objects of derision or ridicule. They may also be made to feel unwanted, and may be made to feel as if they have no place in, and do not belong to, society.
      Stigmatized people may be targeted for social rejection, and thus may become victims of prejudice and discrimination. They may be made to feel unclean, tainted, contaminated, and untouchable. The stigma may be seen as a stain or blot on their moral character. They may be regarded as objects of curiosity, contempt, revulsion, or disgust. They may also be treated as if they were sinful, debased, subhuman, or uncivilized.
      To be stigmatized may be to be temporarily or permanently excluded from participation in society. It may also in some cases be to suffer from a kind of discredit and disrepute that no effort on the part of the stigmatized individual can overcome.
      Stigmatized people may be subjected to hate speech, taunts, and verbal abuse that may destroy their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. They may be forced to endure harassment, threats, and intimidation.
      Physical conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include physical disabilities (such as limb amputations, contractures, tremors, and paralysis), speech disabilities (such as dysarthria, articulation disorders, vocal tics, and stuttering), physical deformities (such as facial, spine, and limb deformities), genetic disorders, infectious diseases (such as leprosy, herpes, and HIV), skin conditions (such as acne, psoriasis, surgical or burn scars, birthmarks, vitiligo, neurofibromatosis, skin ulcers, and skin cancer), and other conditions (such as tall or short stature, baldness, impotence, overweight, blindness, and deafness).
      Mental conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities, and mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia and bipolar depression).
      Social conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include poverty, homelessness, joblessness, drug or alcohol addiction, and previous criminal record.
      People may be unfairly stigmatized because of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. They may also be unfairly stigmatized because they have family members who have been unfairly stigmatized or because they belong to social groups that have been unfairly stigmatized..
      Examples of social, racial, or ethnic groups that have been unfairly stigmatized include disabled people, poor people, refugees, immigrants, gays, lesbians, transgender people, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Haitians, Romani, Dalits, Biharis, Yazidis, Hazaras, and Rohingyas.
      Consequences of being socially stigmatized include loss of educational opportunities, loss of employment opportunities, loss of housing opportunities, loss of insurance benefits, rejection of loan applications, rejection of license applications, rejection of various kinds of membership applications, and loss of other social privileges that have ordinarily been granted to others with similar abilities and qualifications.
      Social stigmas may vary in the degree to which they are internalized or externalized by their bearers. They may also vary in the extent to which they can be disguised or concealed by their bearers. Some social stigmas may be easier to disguise or conceal than others.
      Motives for stigmatizers to stigmatize others may include: (1) to promote their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem, (2) to reinforce their own position of social advantage and privilege in relation to the stigmatized, (3) to strengthen their own position of power over the stigmatized, (4) to better their own social position, by excluding the stigmatized from social, educational, and employment opportunities, (5) to respond to the perceived threat to their own privileged status that is represented by the aptitudes and abilities of the stigmatized, (6) to promote their own prejudices about the stigmatized, (7) to avoid having to learn anything about the stigmatized or having to try to see things from their standpoint, and (8) to facilitate their own cognitive biases (such as the confirmation bias of considering and relying only on information that confirms their already held beliefs, and the framing bias of selecting only those frames of reference that tend to confirm their already held beliefs.)
      Remedies for social stigmas include: (1) recognition of the unfairness of many social stigmas, (2) recognition of the pervasiveness of many kinds of stigmas in contemporary society, (3) recognition of the arbitrariness and lack of justification of many social stigmas, (4) disregard or challenge of various social stigmas, and (5) confrontation of those who try to promote their own advantage by stigmatizing others.


Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963).

Edward E. Jones, Amerigo Farina, Albert H. Hastorf, Hazel Markus, Dale T. Miller, and Robert A. Scott, Social Stigma: The Psychology of Marked Relationships (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1984).

Stigma and Group Inequality: Social Psychological Perspectives, edited by Shana Levin and Colette Van Laar (Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006).

Stigma and Mental Illness, edited by Paul Jay Fink and Allan Tasman (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1992).

The Social Psychology of Stigma, edited by Todd F. Heatherton, Robert E. Kleck, Michelle R. Hebl, and Jay G. Hull (New York: The Guilford Press, 2000).

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