The Silver Lining of Stigmas — I’m Proud of My Anxiety.
By Brittney Van Matre
The name Stigma was originally used in ancient Greek language as a noun meaning “a mark, dot, or puncture.”
It was used to communicate separateness, separating one thing from another. The word began to convey a negative connotation after dignified Greeks used a stigma, or a physical mark, to brand their slaves — the mark indicating the right to less privileges than other citizens.
If perceived today in the same historical context from which the term was derived, it’s clear that the majority of us would not associate a stigma with the human worth and dignity of those to whom it was unfairly applied. However, stigmas are alive and well, and operating with the same level of potency to this very day, but even worse, have become vastly widespread.
The silver lining? We have all felt stigmatized. Each one of us with our own unique stories, have at one time or another, been marked with a stigma.
Maybe you developed an eating disorder. Societal pressure, fueled by advertising propaganda centered around thinness being synonymous with self-worth, led you down a path to becoming body-dysmorphic. Now you carry the stigma of being disordered. Or maybe you got a divorce and now are stigmatized by shame and failure.
Maybe you are an introvert, unsure of your voice in meetings and social situations, your personality dominated by shyness. Your whole life has been a broken record of teachers and parents prodding you to come out of your shell, and thus you carry the social stigma of introversion. Maybe you are a homosexual who came out of the closet and now carry the mark of being gay. Maybe you work dreadful hours at your job under the pressure to succeed and carry the mark of dark bags under your eyes and feelings of guilt in your soul. Despite your unhappiness, society has labeled you dedicated.
Or maybe you have stigmas you try hard to shield from the world, even from your closest loved ones, for fear that you too will receive a label, a mark of disgrace. Your self-shame is thriving in the dark places of secrecy within you.
Maybe you are an alcoholic or drug user, secretly getting high, living in fear of unworthiness if you were to expose your addiction to the world. Maybe you are ready for love and have secretly tried online dating. You wish to talk about it, but continue to remain anonymous for fear that you will receive the stigma of being desperate.
Or maybe you’re like me, an obsessive worrier who feared being labeled with a mental disorder for the rest of her life.
The term represents superiority of those worthy people — people with no problems, disorders, conditions, or suffering — over those of inferiority based upon an assigned marker, or a stigma.
But the truth is, the term stigma should remind us all how imposed markers are unjustly used to label those who have denied the accepted status quo. We’ve been cultured to adhere to certain social and societal standards. Our belief systems have been shaped by the ideals of the world as we know it: good versus bad, smart versus dumb, poor versus rich, strong versus weak.
And when we don’t measure up, so to speak, or we go against, contradict, and refuse the norm, we become the disease. We receive a stigma.
Most people don’t enjoy seeing other people suffer. They want you and your emotional baggage to get happy real quick. However, people who react this way are not comfortable with their own feelings and the emotional baggage that they too carry around. Marking you with a stigma helps them to feel more comfortable about your alleged suffering, placing you in a box separate from their own.
Common stigmas today include: Obesity, Eating Disorders, Religious Beliefs, Homosexuality, Mental Illness, Poverty, Wealth, Success, Malnutrition, Illiteracy, Smoking, and Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Cancer.
If you add up all the millions of people that fall into one or more of the inconclusive list of stigmas above, isn’t it safe to assume that we are all living with a stigma? And if we don’t have a stigma, aren’t we living in fear of being marked with one? For example, the political environment at your work has left you feeling exhausted, defeated, and burnt out, but you continue to ride the wave of destruction, unopposed to the majority, for fear of contracting a stigma and being labeled as the outsider.
If humans are to blame for even proposing this idea of disgrace, crafting this term stigma into how we view it today, aren’t we then just living in fear of being labeled by ourselves? And don’t we see this fear actively playing out in our world today?
We are attacking, disgracing, overpowering, manipulating, and killing one another for fear of the labels will lose or the labels we will gain. We work tirelessly to avoid the stigmas that we don’t want, fighting to keep our reputations in line with worldly expectations. We live in fear of being flawed and unwillingly separated from the norm. But this only leads to our own self-destruction.
We are all suffering from a collective stigma. It isn’t just one of us. We’ve all been marked. We are all guilty of running around the world with dis-ease. And collectively, we’re all afraid to admit it.
Another definition for the word Stigma is: in Christian tradition, stigma are the marks corresponding to those left on Jesus’ body by the Crucifixion, said to have been impressed by Divine favor on the bodies of St. Francis of Assisi and others.
Regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs, it cannot be denied that Jesus was a walking stigma. Despite this, he lives on as one of the most profound people to ever step foot on the earth, emulating faith, trust, and love at abounding levels never to have been surpassed since. He had the audacity, against all odds, to proclaim Divine messages that left the world forever changed.
And my favorite definition of Stigma is that of a flower: the stigma is the receptive tip of a carpel, or of several fused carpels, in the female reproductive part of a flower. The stigma receives pollen at pollination and it is on the stigma that the pollen grain germinates.
The stigma of a flower is the life blood of the species, enabling it to thrive. Just as the umbilical cord gives life to the unborn baby, so does the stigma to the flower. It is the apparatus, or the mark, by which the flower continues to live, and without it, it would cease to exist.
Our stigmas are our own life blood. They enable us to grow and blossom into the wondrous people that we are. Without our marks, we would cease to exist as we do. We would cease to discover our own luminance.
Embrace your stigmas. Embrace yourself.
It is time we perceive a stigma as a mark of growth, transcending each of us into greatness. Be proud of your unique story, life learnings, and arks. Your labels don’t dictate your worth, they fuel your existence.
Anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million people worldwide. That is 40 million stigmas just like mine. And to that I say, “I am proud of my mark.” Owning your unique story allows others to break free of their shame.
By liberating yourself, you are liberating all those around you.
Brittney is a recovered worrier, writer, travel addict, spirituality seeker, and self-discovery expert. Through personally designed coursework and Brass Tacks tools, she helps anxious women ride the wave of adventure and surrender to the unknown, to discover themselves and the world. She is a formerly anxious woman, diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety, who in the face of fear “overcame” crippling panic through introspection, therapy, self-designed tools, and world travel. Brittney has since since traveled to over 25 different countries, manifested and met the love of her life, relocated to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and is determined to help guide other anxious women on an inner journey toward their own healed perceptions — living a life of adventure, in the face of fear. You can follow Brittney on her journey by visiting her website. Or connect via her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.