Living with Discrimination and Stigma never looses its sting. When it hits it’s always so shocking that you spend an enormous amount of time trying to talk yourself into a rational explanation or believe you are being overly sensitive. Questioning yourself whilst sinking with that oh so familiar sickening feeling. It hits you like a full frontal tackle winding you, especially when the stigma is directed toward your child. As a mother of biracial children you never get used to the ongoing racial profiling and assumptions that are freely thrown around as labels you or your child are assigned! Just a few weeks ago this stigma reared its ugly head, shaking off this sickness I found myself started going down a negative spiral of feeling; ‘I can’t do this anymore’ along with thoughts of giving up were at the forefront of my mind.‘I don’t want to ride this merry-go-round,’ familiar I had become to the ongoing glaring obvious that was staring at me in the face and numbly I let myself get sucked into the dangerous vortex and swiftly descended into feeling overly sorry for myself. I had to remind myself that you can’t always control other people’s behavior but you can control how you respond to it! I began thinking less in terms about what another had done to my child and focus more about the things I could control and focus my energy on instead. Often we feel we can never escape discrimination and stigma as it floods our nighty news, accounts of actual violence like we have recently seen in Orlando. Violence based on individuals stigmatising others as ‘bad’ due to their sexuality, ethnicity, religious beliefs, disability, immigration status, race or their health conditions such as mental health or HIV. This can have damaging impact on our health, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It can undermine our self worth as well as our identity. These ongoing reminders we are doing something wrong can disempower us living in self-doubt and shame, this can become our subconscious mantra internalised into who we are. Keeping in mind we can only control how we respond to it… here are six key points I employ to develop PERSONAL RESILIENCE employing a mindset of I am worthy.
Only YOU are in charge of your destiny. While you may not be able to control people around you or events and circumstances, there is heck of a lot you are in control of – your thoughts; your emotions; your self-confidence; the people you spend time with; how kind you are to others; how you spend your time; and how much you appreciate what you already have. Shift the focus: instead of making excuses for everything you can’t control, shift your perspective and only focus things you can influence.This may need some intense self-examination, examine the wonderful you, ask yourself what sets you apart? Journal and list all the good aspects of yourself and if necessary change negative people in your life by associating with those who love you, those who believe in you and those who support you.
My grandmother told me that you only have a few close friends that you can often count on one hand. With social media this has created a level of confusion as to whom you call a friend and what actually constitutes a friend. Instead of looking as a measure of success how many friends you have, look at the quality of friends you have. Good friends are likeminded and people who will always build you up and never tear you down. No man is an island; we need healthy social connections to develop personal resilience. Stigma and discrimination often lead to social isolation so to prevent that why don’t you challenge your self doubt and find kindred spirits to find comfort, empathy, and feeling safe, knowing you can call on a friend if you are having a blue day. Surround yourself with people you admire and hold in high regard as your proximity designs your community, which in turn influences that you are and how you think. Shift your focus: you choose who you have around you those who love you, support you and share your values and beliefs. We rise by lifting others, so celebrate people’s wins, because seeing their success and something they have worked hard to achieve is evidence that you can do it too – you just have to believe you can!
Sigma and Discrimination can be soul destroying, having a community/tribe helps with social isolation, how can you become an active member of a community. After a debilitating illness I found myself in a position where I could not work, I knew if I did not keep active I would spiral into the black dog of depression. I knew having a sense of purpose would keep me afloat and keep my self-esteem in tact. One way I dealt with this was by volunteering, this has been a very rewarding way to feel connected and I found paying it forward often gives you a good feeling. Doing for others distracts you from feeling overwhelmed with your own issues as you focus on those maybe less able or fortunate than yourself. I find it grounding and assist with developing gratitude in my own life. I always learn something new and I used the knowledge I gained to help me navigate my next step – and guess what? Through my volunteering some of the most amazing things have happened that I could never have predicted I have developed lifelong strong friendships, found new opportunities to redirect my focus and feel like a valuable, respected member of my community! Shift your focus: realise you live in a world of opportunity – you just need to take a closer look – no experience is ever a waste if you learn from it. Having a sense of purpose can be life changing and you may even discover new talents and passions you never knew you had!
There is nothing more empowering than knowledge! If you have a health issue become the most informed about it. If you are a person who does not like to fit into a box or carry a label become the most informed about your rights. If you are of a certain race/ethnicity know your culture and wear it with pride. No matter what it is, if we find ourselves cringing or living in fear of reprisal find your pride through knowledge. Often there are laws in place to protect us from stigma and discrimination and by being informed we can not only look at the situation with new eyes we can respond confidently and take action to change this situation. Vilification has to be dealt with to effect change. What is stigma? Attitudes and beliefs, based on stereotypes, that lead people to reject, avoid, or fear those they perceive as being different. What is Discrimination? Discrimination occurs when people act on stigma in ways that deprive others of their rights and life opportunities. Discrimination and stigma are based on the stereotypes that drive a wedge between “us” and “them.” Shift your focus: be empowered by being informed and remember often those inflicting stigma or discrimination are have fear of what they perceive as being different. Have self pride and develop a healthy Personal Resilience!
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…” as a child we used to sing this rhyme and encouraged the child to ignore the taunt, hold back from retaliation and be a calm good little child. Wounding words that sting are often a weapon of choice by those who inflict stigma and discrimination. Why is language important? Well it can define how others see us, how they communicate with us, defines the way we view ourselves, allows us to communicate with others and can impact on stigma and discrimination. Re-appropriation of language is where a stigmatised group revalues an externally imposed negative label by self-consciously referring to itself in terms of that label. This has been done with words such as ‘geek’, ‘nerd’, ‘bitch’ and so on. Just as we now have GAY PRIDE we also have others who have turned the tables on their labels. If we cannot take the sting out of a word we then need to look at it differently, reframing is another tool to disempower stigmatising words. Shift your focus: You hold the power, reframe or use the word that sting to take back your power that may be by just looking at it through empowered eyes.
Laughter is the best medicine, not only does it increase good endorphins but it feels good. I try to find activities that bring me joy, putting on some Bob Marley and dancing around the house always lifts my spirit. Having a happy disposition builds a resilient mind-set; I say a smile a day keeps the doctor away. Watch a funny movie and laugh your cares away, take time out to nurture joy into your life. When you do this you will find the sting can be less impacting, you may even turn the hurt into a situation to laugh at, again reclaim your power to not own the negative body-slam the person/persons want you to be hit with. Shift your focus: as the song implies, don’t worry be happy, find your joy and forget the negative approach stigma and discrimination try to label you with, only you know you, only you can do you and you are gorgeous just as you are and keep on singing.