• Supporting those affected by the misery of stigma and exclusion

Internal social stigma

By internal social stigma we are referring to the experience or social process of social stigma from the position or perspective of the person or group of people being stigmatized by others. These people are often disempowered in society and occupy more marginalized positions in society. Internal social stigma also refers to the subsequent internal stigmatization of self as a result of being stigmatized by others which is a major effect of social stigma. Internal social stigma is therefore very closely related to social exclusion.

Those who are stigmatized by others are stigmatized because they have been placed into broad categories, labels and stereotypes by others. These labels, categories and stereotypes are based on visible aspects of their being, such as physical appearance, skin colour, perceived behaviour, perceived style of communication, perceived lifestyle, and even such factors as age, body size, clothing, and any feature or characteristic which doesn't conform to any 'norm'.

Internal social stigma starts out by being stigmatized by other people and experiencing the labelling, stereotyping, status loss, discrimination and disempowerment. For it to be social stigma there has to be repeated negative or unpleasant social encounters with different people who have no connection whatsoever between them which result in the above.

Being stigmatized by others can often be identified by a variety of social behaviours which range from being misidentified, indifference, shunning, and avoidance through to passive hostility, denial of access to opportunities and even verbal and physical attacks.

Those stigmatized are often placed at a disadvantage and as a result of being stigmatized by others may suffer status loss, discrimination and denial of opportunity - where they are denied opportunities for access to such things as housing, education, employment, healthcare, welfare benefits and even social amenities.

Responses to being stigmatized differ and vary from individual to individual. Situations in which social stigma can occur can be highly individuaL but are dependent on a number of factors - the type of stigma involved, whether more than one type of stigma is involved, the level of deviance, and whether the person being stigmatized has previous experience of being stigmatized, whether or not they have worked out a response strategy and whether or not that response strategy works on the person who is doing the stigmatizing.

Unless the person being stigmatized is very resilient, or has a working response strategy or strong social support networks, the primary effect of external social stigma is internal social stigma, where the stigmatized person suffers a loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and adopts avoidance strategies so as to avoid further negative and unpleasant social encounters niot just with those responsible for the stigmatizing, but also avoiding others who are perceived to be of the same or similar social groups and who are perceived as more privileged or powerful.

Internal social stigma has two main characteristics. The first is a kind of 'reverse' external social stigma directed back towards the stigmatizing person or social group as a defence mechanism and avoidance strategy to avoid further unpleasant and negative encounters. The second is internal social stigma, where the stigma and associated social or cultural beliefs are internalized by the victim. These can have quite profound and negative effects on that person's life, creating fear and anxiety, a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. This can also motivate someone to change their activities of daily living, give up employment, relocate, and avoid going out in public at certain times, or indeed at all.

Social stigma is a major cause of social exclusion because if the stigmatized person lacks a strong social support network and an effective response strategy even against their best efforts they can quite quickly become socially excluded. This means that the stigmatized person not only suffers the status loss and disadvantage, and the disempowerment which comes with this, they usually also lose a certain amount of personal autonomy and control because it is very difficult to develop a working response strategy without having access to a strong social support network.