For All

Owning & Overcoming Internalised Stigma

Last Updated on May 16, 2024 by It’s Complicated

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. That means we’re doubling down on raising awareness about mental health conditions and on addressing the more subtle aspects of mental health stigma. One of the most challenging forms is internalised stigma.

“Self-stigmas or internalised stigmas are the judgments and negative evaluations we
hold about ourselves. They are psychological in that they affect how we feel and our
behavior, and they are existential in that they influence whether we think we, or even
life itself, have meaning and purpose.”

When we constantly read about worst-case scenarios or focus on the stigmas associated with our conditions, we may start to believe these negative perceptions about ourselves. This self-stigmatisation can stem not only from our own research down the proverbial rabbit holes of the internet but also from a multitude of other sources: take the well-meaning but misinformed friend who might unintentionally reinforce harmful stereotypes or offer misguided advice.

Taking steps to recognise our self limiting beliefs about our own mental health will be doing a huge service to your future self. This article will provide you with strategies to avoid alienating yourself from your most important ally: yourself.

Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else?

Internalised stigma happens when we accept and believe negative stereotypes about ourselves due to our mental health conditions. These stereotypes might include beliefs that we are weak, dangerous, or incapable of recovery. This self-stigmatisation can manifest in feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem, making it even more challenging to seek treatment and support. Over time, internalised stigma can worsen our mental health, creating a cycle of declining well-being and increased stigma.

Workbook recommendation: Identifying, Deconstructing, and Reducing Stigma

How do I know if I’m stigmatising my mental health condition?

Recognising internalised stigma in ourselves can be difficult, but there are several signs to look out for:

  • Negative self-talk: Frequently thinking or speaking negatively about yourself, such as calling yourself “crazy” or “worthless.”
  • Avoidance of help: Hesitating or refusing to seek professional help due to fear of being judged or labelled.
  • Secrecy and isolation: Keeping your mental health struggles hidden from others, leading to social withdrawal and isolation.
  • Low self-esteem: Feeling unworthy or undeserving of help and support, believing that your condition defines you entirely.
  • Guilt and shame: Experiencing persistent feelings of guilt or shame about your mental health condition.

What to do about internalised stigma

Addressing internalised stigma involves several steps:

  1. Educate yourself: Learning about your mental health condition can help you understand that it is a medical issue, not a personal failing. Knowledge is a powerful tool in combating stigma.
  2. Challenge negative thoughts: Actively question and challenge negative stereotypes and beliefs you hold about yourself. Replace them with more compassionate and realistic thoughts. Learning about positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy are both good places to start.
  3. Seek support: Connect with others who have similar experiences. Support groups, both in-person and online, can provide a sense of community and understanding. Uncovering self-stigma with a third party can give us more confidence to break out of maladaptive thought patterns, and connecting through shared experiences can be a cathartic and healthy way to begin this journey.
  4. Open up: Talking about your mental health struggles with trusted friends or family members can reduce feelings of isolation and shame.
  5. Practise self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in a similar situation. Working through latent beliefs about oneself is a difficult process, and acknowledging the small steps you make along the way will be integral to accepting the self you have unconsciously battled with for so long.

How therapy can help with self-stigmatisation

Therapy can be an invaluable resource in combating internalised stigma. Here’s how:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT can help you identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to self-stigmatisation. In sessions, your therapist may bring up internalised shame that you may have not been aware of. By reframing these thoughts, you can develop a healthier self-image.
  • Psychoeducation: Therapists can provide education about mental health conditions, helping you understand that your experiences are valid and that many others face similar challenges.
  • Supportive environment: Therapy offers a safe, non-judgemental space where you can explore your feelings and experiences without fear of stigma.
  • Building coping skills: Therapists can help you develop coping strategies to manage your condition and the stress that accompanies it.


Internalised stigma is a barrier to mental health and well-being, but it’s not insurmountable. By recognising the signs of self-stigmatisation and taking proactive steps to challenge and change negative beliefs, we can break the cycle of stigma and improve our mental health. Therapy plays a crucial role in this process, offering support, education, and effective strategies for overcoming internalised stigma. As we observe Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s commit to understanding and addressing internalised stigma, fostering a more compassionate and supportive environment for all.

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