Today’s topic is stigma. We’ve talked about stigma on this blog before, you can read earlier posts here and here. But today we are going to focus on self stigma because sometimes we really can be our own worst enemies. The fact is that we are often harder on ourselves than we are on others. If a friend is having a tough time with their mental health, it’s easy to be supportive and understanding, yet when we’re the ones having the tough time, we aren’t always as supportive of ourselves. Self stigma can mean lots of negative self talk, denying that one has mental health challenges, and not performing self care. In order to end the stigma surrounding mental health challenges, the first step is to end the stigma in ourselves.
How to fight self stigma
Don’t deny a diagnosis. Getting a wrong diagnosis can happen, but if you have a diagnosis it doesn’t help you to ignore it. Self stigma may lead you to want to deny your diagnosis because you think negatively of yourself because of it. Just remember that a label for a mental health challenge isn’t negative or positive, it is just a word for what is going on in your brain. A label is simply a guide to help you care for your brain better. So don’t discount the label or let it make you feel bad about yourself. Instead, use the label as a way to guide your self care.
Remember that normal is a relative term. I have said the phrase “I wish I was normal” to myself a million times. It is true: I wish that I didn’t struggle with depression or an eating disorder. However, I have come to recognize that having these challenges doesn’t make me less than anyone else. In our hypercompetitive society, it is easy to feel like we aren’t measuring up to some standard. We may feel like we’re lagging behind or that we’re worthless because of it. That is the stigma talking. The reality is that life isn’t actually competition and any standard that you feel compelled to measure yourself against is an illusion. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t nearly as important as your own wellness, and that wellness comes from within.
Use nice self-talk. How we talk to ourselves really matters! Even the little comments can build into something bigger, and that is what shapes our view of the world around us. Next time you want to beat yourself up, ask yourself: is this something I would say to my friend? If the answer is no because that thing is too mean, then don’t say it to yourself. Another trick is to ask yourself: what do I need to improve? Instead of beating yourself up about failure, reflect on what you need to do better.
Take a detour. One of my favorite ways of understanding mental health challenges is with the detour analogy. Imagine you’re driving home and a major road is closed. You would take a detour, drive home a different route, and it might take longer, but you would get home. That’s how I think of my mental health challenges: a detour. They aren’t going to stop me in my tracks, but I may need to do things differently or take a little bit longer. This is where it helps to use your diagnosis to inform your self care or to use some depression life hacks.