Stigma is an attribute or characteristic that makes a person to be perceived as different from others and that extensively harm the reputation of his or her dignity. In other words, Stigma refers to set of attitudes and beliefs that lead people to reject, avoid, or fear those they perceive as being different. Stigma is a Greek word that in its origins referred to a kind of mark or symbol that was cut or burned into the skin of a person. It is used to be identified people as criminals, slaves, or traitors to be shunned. Erving Goffman revived the term stigma and used it in different meaning than in the traditional way. He referred stigma as an attribute that spoils a person’s identity, reducing him/her in other’s minds “from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” Stigmatizing is related to negative evaluations and prejeduces. These negative stereotypes are generally well known among members who share a same culture and become a basis for excluding, avoiding, and discriminating against those who possess (or are believed to possess) the stigmatizing mark.
One important characteristic of stigma is that it does not permanently reside in a person, but it resides in the person in a social context. For example, within the wider social sphere, gays and lesbians are stigmatized across a wide range of situations, but not when they are in a gay bar. This is contextual aspect of stigma and it means that even attributes that are not typically thought of as being stigmatizing may nonetheless lead to social devaluation in some social contexts for instance, being heterosexual at a gay pride rally. Some marks, however, are so pervasively and widely persecuted in society that they cause bearers of those marks to experience stigmatization across a wide range of situations and relationships. The consequences of stigmatization are far more severe for these individuals than for those who experience stigmatization only in very limited contexts.
Types of Stigma:
The sociologist Goffman categorized stigmatizing marks into there major types: tribal stigma, abominations of the body, and blemishes of character. Tribal stigmas are transferred from generation to generation through socialization and include membership in discriminating racial, ethnic or religious groups. Abominations of the body are devalued physical characteristics that are not inherited, such as obesity or physical deformity. Blemishes of character are individual personality or behavioral characteristics that are devalued which the individual acquired for himself, such as being a child abuser or rapist.
Dimensions of stigmas varies according to the extent or degree to which they are concealable, controllable, and believed to be dangerous. These differences have important implications for how the stigmatized are treated perceived by others, and how stigma is experienced by those who have a stigmatizing condition.
Functions of Stigma:
Stigma is something that is socially constructed which means the characteristics of stigmatization are socially determined ones not self-perpetuating ones. The evidence of this is the absence universal bunches or sets of stigmatizing characters. In other words, each culture or society has its own attributes of stigmatization. Even within the same culture, there can be variations of stigmatization. Another intriguing character of stigmatizing is that it changes over time. For instances being a divorced was perceived much more stigmatizing in the past than it is today.
From functionalist perspective, since social stigma is in every society in every time it should have some both negative and positive functions for the existence of society. First, at individual level stigmatizing some one else makes us feel better because when we stigmatize we feel psychologically better. At the group level, discriminating another group may help people feel better about their own groups by comparison hence increasing the bonds within the same group. This also leads “othering”
The Impacts of Stigmatization:
Generally, stigmatization has a wide range of negative effects on persons mental and physical health. Many researches demonstrated the existence of correlation between stigmatized person and social status. Those who bear stigmatizing marks have been observed to have lower social status, living in poverty, having an impaired cognitive and social functioning.
Although stigmatization has a general negative effect on the bearer, but also the extent or severity of stigmatization is related with the type of stigmatizing marks. Those who bear easily visible stigmatizing marks experience much negative effects. Also, the controllability of stigmatizing mark contributes to extent of experiencing stigmatization.
Coping Strategies and techniques
Giving the fact that stigma is socially constructed, it would never be possible to eradicate all stigmas that are preformed in the minds of the individuals of the society. However, we do not have to lose hope because many researches have suggested that stigma may be reduced by “protest, education and contact.” Through protest, stigma is presented as a morally unjust and people are encouraged not to act in undisciplined ways. Because education is objective, and it does not rely on socially formed myths it challenges false stereotypes by replacing these with scientifically proved facts. Most of the time when we interact with stigmatized individuals with face to face we usually end up with frustrations because in our minds there are opinions we have on that person but when we can no longer find what we were expecting from that person. In other words, when we honestly and open mindedly interact with stigmatized person we realize the falseness of opinions and we can no longer confirm our bias.