Why do stigmas only happen to Catholics

Definition and types of stigmata. An analysis using the example of "overweight"

Table of Contents

1. The stigma theory
1.1. Clarification of terms and historical background
1.2. Stigma today
1.3. Discredited and discreditable
1.4. Different types of stigmata
1.5. identity
1.6. Living in a stigmatized world
1.6.1. Coping with the stigma
1.6.2. The normal ones"

2. Self-chosen example: overweight

3. Analysis of the example using stigma theory
3.1. Obesity as a stigma
3.2. What kind of stigma is obesity?
3.3. Discredited and discreditable
3.4. Obesity and identity
3.5. Dealing with the stigma
3.6. Consequences for the environment - border people

4. Evaluation of the analysis

5. Bibliography

1. The stigma theory

1.1. Clarification of terms and historical background

The term stigma is of Latin and Greek origin and translated means sign, blemish or (burn) mark.

In the age of the Greeks, stigmata were marks placed on a person who was supposed to be excluded from the community for moral reasons or whose immoral behavior was to be communicated to society, either by cuts, branding or patches.

An example: In the book "The Scarlet Letter"[1] a red "A" is embroidered on a woman's clothing as a symbol to show those around her that she is expecting a child who is not her husband's and that she has committed adultery. Because of this sign she was despised by her environment and no longer regarded as part of the community.

In the Christian faith got that stigma another meaning, there were so-called signs of "divine grace"[2]which could be found on the skin.

1.2. Stigma today

Even today there are people who are viewed by society as unworthy, different, abnormal, regrettable, inferior or imperfect.

However, stigmata are not characteristics that describe character, but perspectives from which the environment views an individual. This individual can be rated as inferior by others due to his or her physical condition (e.g. skin color), his past, his religion, his origin, his views or his activities. If this special characteristic (usually a negative one) of an individual is viewed by others as the all-determining characteristic and other characteristics are thereby pushed into the background, one speaks of stigmatization. It remains to be stated that a stigmatized individual is not stigmatized in every environment, so a criminal record of a young person can be viewed as regrettable in the family circle, but as a heroic act among his friends. So it's important: the group you're in. If you are in an in - group, a group that consists of allies, you feel less discredited (see Chapter 1.3.) Than in an out - group, a group of others who can discredit you because you can be discredited.

1.3. Discredited and discreditable

An important difference when it comes to stigmatization is that between discredited and discreditable individuals. This is about the clarity of the stigma.

For example, if a person with a speech impediment (e.g. stuttering) introduces himself to a still unknown person, his flaw becomes immediately visible and he is discredited. The normal person, if he is polite, will not pay obvious attention to the blemish, which nevertheless leads to a tense talking situation, but it is also possible that he or she expresses the stigmatization openly and thus acts in a humiliating manner. In any case, it is important that the blemish is obvious and can hardly be hidden. People with an obvious alleged error are prepared for the fact that their normal counterpart will recognize this and react to it; they cannot avoid this situation unless they only socialize among their own kind, although stigmatization can also occur there because there are different things Degrees of disability or different degrees of severity of the problem.

However, if the stigma is not immediately obvious (e.g. religion, previous imprisonment, addiction), it is a question of a discreditable person. There is a potential for stigma if the blemish is exposed. This leads to a much more difficult or more tense situation for the individual himself, perhaps he lives in constant hope that the discreditable characteristic does not get to the public, or he is in conflict as to whether he should reveal his secret immediately or keep it a secret over the long term . This leads to the planning of the behavior, usually the discreditable people try not to attract attention, not to play themselves in the foreground, so that they also remain undetected. Or they try specifically to deceive those around them. For example, if red hair is viewed as vicious in a society, a red-haired woman can dye her hair in order not to protect herself from discrimination. Or they lie very concretely, withholding parts of their past or their origins, for example a woman who has aborted her child will hardly ever mention this fact at a Catholic church event.

1.4. Different types of stigmata

A distinction is first made between the congenital and the acquired stigmata.

Phylogenetic stigmata are innate and include race, nation, and religion. They are mostly found in the entire family and are passed on from generation to generation[3]. So it is very likely when a Buddhist family has a child that they will bring it up in the Buddhist faith. This stigma can be removed by the child, but under certain circumstances a new stigma would arise: For the non - Buddhist world the person would then be "normal", but they would now be discredited by their own family for being the Religion has turned its back.

"Individual character errors"[4] can be both congenital and acquired - so a person can come from a very respectable family, but then rape a woman and thus be discredited, this would be an acquired stigma, because it is more unlikely to be a rapist in the world get.

On the other hand, in certain social circles homosexuality can be viewed as a character defect and thus as a stigma and this is mostly undoubtedly an innate stigma, because one does not “become” gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Physical imperfections can also be innate or acquired. An example of an innate physical flaw would be a fire mark on the face, this is visible to everyone and makes the person affected a stigmatized person. An example of an acquired physical stigma would be an amputated hand after an accident.

You grow up with an innate stigma, you don't know your self without this trait. Up to a certain age it is certainly possible to keep the knowledge of the stigma a secret from the child by creating a "magic circle" as a parent.[5] builds. This protects the adolescent from the outside world, which could make the stigmatization public. But this approach is usually limited temporarily, because you cannot isolate a person for the rest of your life, so the magic is usually over when you first go to school, the child meets other children and registers the discrepancy between the self-image and the perception of others who Under certain circumstances, in early childhood, the child's ego ideal changes, which can lead to self-doubt or even self-hatred, as one no longer corresponds to one's own new ideal. Suddenly the child realizes that they thought themselves normal all their life, suddenly they are no longer and never have been.

An acquired stigma contains other difficulties: you belonged to a certain group your life, maybe you had small imperfections here and there, but all in all you felt "normal" and looked down on groups of stigmatized people with contempt, maybe you stigmatized yourself and discriminated. If you suddenly belong to one of these discredited groups that you previously classified as inferior, your own identity becomes unbalanced and self-doubt can also be the result. Example:

A successful businessman has had a lot of money his life, has always worked hard and lived in luxury. He made fun of the poor and people who, in class theory, were below him, and despised them, thought he was better. Suddenly the man loses his entire fortune in a stock market crash and now belongs to the group that he himself had previously discredited. Now he is stigmatized by others himself and has to get used to the new living conditions.

1.5. identity

First to the social identity: Goffman speaks of two different social identities when people interact, which people assign to others[6]: The virtual and the actual social identity. The virtual social identity is the first assessment of a person, a first categorization in a drawer. For example, if you know someone is a social worker, it is often immediately assumed that they analyze a lot, can listen well and always want to talk about everything. The actual attributes of this person that we may get to know in conversation are called actual social identity. The social worker just described can be a rather taciturn, pragmatic person who did not fit into the previously constituted picture intended for him. In such cases there is a discrepancy between virtual and actual social discrepancy, which can lead to people being valued or devalued. Some people would be happy with the social worker that he didn’t chew their ears, so he would be upgraded, other people may be disappointed and consider him an inferior incompetent social worker due to his lack of fluency, which would devalue him. So if our ideas of man and reality are not compatible, a new categorization is carried out automatically. I also have an example from my own life for such a case: On my first day at the FH I met a fellow student in my freshman induction group, of whom I immediately got a first impression, a virtual social identity. She wore her hair pulled back in a bun, wore black-rimmed glasses and had a relatively tapered mouth, which all made the impression that she was a strict, controlled person. After a few hours we went to smoke a cigarette and talked, and then the actual social identity came into play. Upon getting to know each other better, she seemed very fun-loving, uncomplicated and loving. That person is now one of my best friends.

The ego identity is about an individual's image of himself. This image is mostly influenced by the outside world, so norms and criteria of society are (mostly) taken into account when creating the self-image and if one does not fulfill them, one holds oneself often as discreditable, if not discredited. However, it can also happen that a person who had a stable and healthy self-image is suddenly shaken in their world because someone in their immediate environment influences this image. Example: A 15 year old girl who thinks she is pretty and normal is in love with a boy. She refuses, however, on the grounds that she is too fat. The girl could take over this picture and now consider herself too fat. In doing so, she would have given up her own identity on this point and let the outside world make her into something.

It is different with personal identity. This is about the image that the individual embodies in a society. It's about the uniqueness of the person. First of all, it is about this, but purely superficial: the physical appearance, for example, which is usually no longer available in the world (except for twins), and the role in the innermost circle (e.g. sister, mother or best friend of ...). In addition, there are various features that are not particularly unique on their own, but as a whole represent a completely new variation that has never existed before.

Last but not least, the last form of differentiation from others is carried out by looking at the person's character traits. For example, the way you deal with your stigma, the way you organize your life, how you handle something. There are no two people in the world who are alike in all respects and so each person has a unique personal identity, which, like social identity, is determined by society, from the point of view of other people, is just the self-identity the view of oneself, but, as already described above, that too is mostly influenced by the views and norms of others.


[1] Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter, Goldmann, Munich, 1996

[2] Goffmann 1975, p.9

[3] Goffman, 1975, p.13

[4] Goffman, 1975, p.12

[5] Hermanns, 2004, 8

[6] Goffman, 1975, p.10

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