Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.
~ Erving Goffman, sociologist
I first published this post last March after I finished reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Since then it has been picked up by searches more times than any other post on this blog. Originally it included the words, "shame punishment." Those two words have received the most hits. Other searches have contained the words, "social stigma overcome" and "deal with social stigma how to."
Condemned adulteress forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" as a badge of shame.
....now, with this unattended walk from her prison door, began the daily custom; and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Never had Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like...than as she issued from the prison. Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.2. Take the heat.
Hester stood on her pedestal,
...with the hot, mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant in her arms; with a whole people, drawn forth as to a festival, staring at [her] features...3. Let unkind words roll off.
The elder clergyman gave a long discourse on sin, pointing directly at Hester as the object of his lesson:
Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure... the voice of the preacher thundered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears.And though often verbally assaulted,
she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush of crimson that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, and again subsided into the depths of her bosom. She was patient...4. Keep a low profile.
She established herself with her infant child on the outskirts of town in a cottage,
. . . not in close vicinity to any other habitation.
5. Stay busy.
Skilled in needlework, Hester worked diligently to provide for her infant and for herself:
...she had ready and fairly requited employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy with her needle.
6. Help others.
Hester bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, and who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them.7. Be patient.
Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In this matter of Hester Prynne, there was neither irritation nor irksomeness. She never battled with the public, but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage...
Such helpfulness was found in her,-- so much power to do and power to sympathize,-- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength.
What became of Hester Prynne in the end?
Individuals ... had quite forgiven Hester Prynne for her frailty; nay more, they had begun to look upon the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, but of her many good deeds since. 'Do you see that woman with the embroidered badge?' they would say to strangers. 'It is our Hester,-- the town's own Hester, who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!'
What about you? Have you ever felt stigmatized?
What words of encouragement do you have for a person who is living under the burden of a social stigma?