What Is Self-Stigma?

Internalizing negative believes about your illness can impact your life.

Stigma is negative ideas or attitudes toward a certain group. This can lead to discrimination, the action of treating one group differently than others. Self-stigma is when you have negative ideas or attitudes about yourself.

Stigma can happen for a variety of reasons, including health conditions like mental illnesses, HIV, and even COVID-19. We often think of stigma as a judgment from other people, but sometimes we can internalize the feelings of others or society at large.

Self-stigma can make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. It can lead to low self-worth, poor self-esteem, and detract from self-efficacy, the belief that you can accomplish things. It can interfere with your ability to seek treatment for your condition or to take good care of yourself. 

Learn more about self-stigma, including stigma examples and how to overcome mental health stigma. 

Counselor and client

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What Is Self-Stigma?

Self-stigma is negative beliefs that you hold about yourself. People with mental illness often experience mental health stigma, which is deeply ingrained in our culture. Some stigma examples include:

  • Believing that people with mental illness are responsible for their diseases 
  • Believing that people with mental illness are prone to violence
  • Believing that people with substance abuse are irresponsible

Over time, after living with this type of stigma, you might come to believe that these things are true. This is self-stigma.

Types of Self-Stigma

To understand stigma in your life, it can be helpful to consider stigma examples. Researchers divide these into four types of self-stigma.

Alienation

Self-stigma can make you feel disconnected or alienated from the people around you. That can make it difficult to reach out for help or accept support. Examples of alienation self-stigma include:

  • Feeling inferior because of your illness
  • Feelings of shame, disappointment or embarrassment about having an illness 
  • Blaming yourself for your illness
  • Feeling that your illness has ruined your life 
  • Feeling that no one else can understand what you’re going through

Stereotyping

People with self-stigma come to believe the troupes about people with mental illness. This is known as stereotype endorsement. This can cause you to have a “why bother” attitude toward goals like employment and dating, because you already feel they are unobtainable. Examples of stereotype endorsement include:

  • Believing that you can’t get married or have kids because of your illness
  • Feeling that you can’t have a fulfilling life because of your illness
  • Worrying that your illness will prevent you from having a career 

Discrimination

People with self-stigma also face the very real experience of discrimination from others. Over time, that can make you feel that people are always discriminating against you, even when they’re not. You might feel that:

  • People don’t take you seriously
  • You are unlovable, or people wouldn’t want a relationship with you

Social Withdrawal

Over time, dealing with stigma and self-stigma can make you distance yourself from other people. Social withdrawal is characterized by:

  • Not getting close to people, especially those without mental illness
  • Minimizing relationships because you see yourself as a burden or inconvenience
  • Feeling like a potential embarrassment to the people around you

The Effects of Self-Stigma

Just like stigma, self-stigma can have a real impact on quality of life and health outcomes for people with mental illness. Self-stigma makes you feel like you’re not worthy of or entitled to the same things that other people are, like a rewarding career and loving relationships. It can take away your empowerment and make you feel that you are less valuable. You might wonder why you should try to achieve goals that feel unobtainable to you.

Career

Many people with self-stigma worry about how their illness will impact their career. You might hold yourself back from applying for jobs or promotions because you feel you aren’t qualified. Or, you might shy away from more challenging positions because you worry about the impact they might have on your mental health. 

Relationships

Self-stigma can weaken your existing relationships and make it difficult to form new relationships. If you feel that you are unlovable or a potential burden to others, you’re less likely to seek out friendship and romantic partnerships. 

Physical and Mental Health

People with self-stigma are less likely to seek healthcare, including counseling. Since counseling and healthcare provider appointments are instrumental to staying healthy with a mental illness, this delay of care can make it more difficult to get into recovery and lead a stable life. In turn, that can reinforce feelings of self-stigma. 

How to Overcome Self-Stigma

Changing your attitudes and beliefs about yourself can seem difficult, but research shows it is possible. Programs to overcome self-stigma focus on two approaches:

  • Debunking or confronting the negative beliefs
  • Building self-esteem and empowering people to cope when they feel negative beliefs about themselves. 

Here’s what might help when you’re feeling down on yourself.

Compile facts

Look at the facts that disprove your negative belief. These can be from data about people with mental illness, or from your own personal experience. For example, if you feel unlovable, look at the loving relationships that you have in your life. 

Consider sharing your diagnosis

Some people find it empowering to share their diagnoses with the people around them. You can share widely, or start by sharing with selective people. Of course, only you can determine whether this is the right step for you. 

Seek help

Your counselor or other mental health providers are uniquely positioned to help you deal with self-stigma. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other interventions can help you develop coping mechanisms for confronting self-stigma. 

Find your peers

Research shows that connecting with other people with mental illness can help you feel less alone and reduce feelings of stigma. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offer programs to help people with mental illness support each other through challenges, including self-stigma.

Summary

Self-stigma is negative beliefs about yourself. It’s common among people with mental illness, who can easily internalize the pervasive social stigma around their condition. Self-stigma can have a real impact on your quality of life and your physical and mental health, so it’s important to work on confronting self-stigma. 

A Word From Verywell 

 Living with a health condition that is stigmatized, like mental illness, can be isolating. People with mental illness encounter so many stigma examples that it’s easy to feel like you are the problem. However, that’s not the case. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that can be managed. Part of your treatment plan should include connecting with peers and professionals who can help build your self-esteem and overcome self-stigma. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between stigma and discrimination?

    Stigma is negative thoughts or attitudes about a group of people. That can often lead to discrimination, which is the action of treating a group of people differently. 

  • What are the three main categories of stigma?

    The three categories of stigma are structural, social, and self-stigma. Structural stigma refers to the institutional policies that affect a group. Social stigma is ingrained stereotypes about a group, Self-stigma is negative beliefs that a person holds about themselves.

  • What are some real world examples of stigma?

    Some common stigma examples are:

    • Telling someone with depression, they’ll feel better if they get outside more
    • An insurance company not covering mental health services fairly
    • A person with mental illness not applying for a job because they believe they’ll never get hired


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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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