Challenging Internalized Stigma

Most of us are familiar with the term “stigma” — a feeling of disapproval that many people in a society have about something. This term has been strongly associated with mental illness in recent years, and many organizations have encouraged people to recognize, and challenge, that stigma.

Internalized stigma, also called self-stigma, can be even more insidious and damaging. Self-stigma is a judgement about yourself based on an attribute that you feel society stigmatizes: for example, being part of the LGBTQ+ community. If an LGBTQ+ person hears people talking negatively about traits they possess, it’s easy for them to start believing that those negative things are true.

That’s why Greenwood’s Jack Chapter student executives, Rachel Fisman-Guarascio (‘19) and Izzy Walters (‘19), developed a special thought activity for Pride Week. The activity, which took place in students’ first-period classes on October 16, taught students about internalized stigma and encouraged them to think of ways they can help to reduce all forms of stigma.

“Not a lot of people know what internalized stigma is,” Izzy says. “For people who may be experiencing self-stigma, we’re hoping that learning about it will help reassure them that they’re not the only ones going through it.”

In Rachel’s class that morning, the group talked about being mindful of the language they’re using, whether they’re at school, at home, or hanging out with friends. “It’s important not to use hurtful words and terms, because hearing those words is a big source of self-stigma for the LGBTQ+ community,” Rachel says. “The less we use those words, the less power they have.”

Izzy adds that it’s also important to call people out if they use hurtful language. “You may be uncomfortable at first, but you have to speak up,” she says. “Chances are, that person won’t use that word again.”

Both Rachel and Izzy feel that tackling stigma head-on is the best way to maintain and strengthen inclusive communities, at Greenwood and in society at large. By calling out stigmatizing words and attitudes, we can ensure our communities are fully inclusive and supportive. “You model what you see,” Rachel says.

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