Stigma - The Negative Relegations of Difference

I am on a work team in Pittsburgh that just finished up a grant we are submitting to the National Institute of Health that looks at stigma and disability.  In working on this grant I have been doing a fair amount of research and study on the phenomenon of stigma, and wanted to share some of this with you.

Erving Goffman, who wrote a definitive book by that same title in 1963, defined stigma as "the situation of the individual who is disqualified from full social acceptance."  Some sociologist suggest that stigma, and its consequences, can lead to deep embarrassment and varying levels of social isolation.  To this end it has internal, and external ramifications.

Over the years, scales have been developed to attempt to measure stigma and one study that I reviewed had a series of questions that I thought might be interesting to you.  Think about these questions in relationship to your life.

All of these questions start with the phrase, "Because of my condition, illness, or disability, I...."   

feel emotionally distant from other people - feel left out of things - feel embarrassed in social situations - worry about others attitudes toward me - worried that I was a burden on others - feel different from others - feel people seem uncomfortable with me - feel people avoid me - feel people make fun of me - feel people avoid looking at me - feel strangers tend to stare at me - feel people tend to ignore my good points - feel unhappy about how I look -  feel embarrassed because of my physical limitations......

Most of us can remember experiences where we felt different or out of sorts and for the great majority of us, found ways to get beyond these situations.  Yet, for many people, their situations dictate they must deal with the difference they experience, and feel these devaluing issues everyday of their life.

Stigma is lethal and antecedent to bad things happening in social situations.  The more we think about, and try to understand it, the more we can work to stamp it out in peoples lives.