Psychological Impact of Stereotype

Society is shared with a diverse group of people who express individuality in their own distinct way. Although we may experience and share much of our culture with other people, and transfer it from one generation to another, it impacts everyone differently. Our culture is primarily responsible for the characteristics that make us unique and special. Culture is the shaping of our minds and our lives by the norms, morals, values, ideas, traditions, customs, art, history, and institutions. It also encompasses our physical attributes such as height, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Culture has an undeniable impact on our attitudes, how we perceive the world, and our interpersonal interactions.

We are all guilty of using stereotypes, more than we care to admit. Stereotypes are a quick and effective way we identify observable characteristics of a few representatives from a group. We may hear something secondhand, and we apply these attributes collectively to the whole. This brings about a view of the entire group that makes them seem less threatening and overwhelming. Using the stereotype allows the person to feel more comfortable and powerful.

People judge other people, and fall short. Understanding the background, the values, traditions and the essence of an individual or a culture is difficult and time consuming. Therefore, it is easier to use limited knowledge to generalize and apply labels. Labels are generally prejudiced and biased, yet accepted as stereotypes for large cultures such as African American or Native American, but also smaller ones, such as women, liberals and conservatives, police officers, and religions. These all too commonly distort the view of particular individuals or groups. (Dahlstrom, 1993).

Stereotypes make people judgmental about others. Oftentimes they are used as a scapegoat. Stereotypes allow a way to separate “their” behavior from “my” behavior. They prevent identifying and understanding the actual feelings experienced. The belief remains that the problem is how “those people” are, instead of addressing the feelings of hurt, confusion, anger, etc. (Moore, 2007).

Negative Stereotyping has generated laws and rules that benefit some people, and exclude, or punish other people. The Jim Crow laws forcibly discrimated against African Americans and did not permit their entry into certain places, or allow them to take part in particular activities. The negative effect of internalizing the negative stereotype of a woman’s need to be very thin to be beautiful may harm a woman’s self-esteem. It could lead to eating disorders, and a vulnerability to plastic surgery that will perpetuate this image. The stereotype of Asian Americans as driven, successful and possessing extreme intelligence should be positive; however, it places an unnecessary burden on individuals to thrive and succeed, and may lead to depression and higher rates of suicide (Moore, 2007).

To combat the effect of stereotypes, people should concentrate on relationship, on discovering the commonalities that all people share. When people share a common thread, the practice of respect and understanding come into play, rather than ignorant stereotyping that justifies terrible actions and behaviors.

The stereotype of the homeless population is made up of, old white men, the mentally ill, and runaway teens. Yet the homeless community is different from the primarily incorrect stereotypes. Homelessness results from family breakdown or tragedy, or natural disaster, or the socially less competent or disabled unable to receive familial or societal help. The majority of the homeless population is made up of working and underclass backgrounds, but it is not unfamiliar with people from all cultural identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family types (Lacher, 2005).
To live a normal life, a home to live in is required. The homeless do not have privacy, freedom, or independence. They do not have access to security or a place of their own to relax. The homeless cannot take a regular shower, have regular meals, a permanent address, phone number, or place to sleep. When a homeless person searches for a job, he or she may find one, then be turned away because of the stereotype and stigma related to living homeless. If he or she does acquire a job, it may be a burden to keep because the loss of resources connected with living in a home makes it difficult to be successful at the job. It is also unfortunate that many of the jobs available to the homeless population do not pay enough or provide the benefits that would overcome homelessness (Lacher, 2005).

Homelessness is a hardship that produces a tragic outcome for many individuals and families. Psychological trauma resulting in emotional distress and emotional disorder is a potential and likely effect for those faced with the reality of homelessness. First, both the unexpected, sudden loss, and the gradual losing of a home, results in the sacrifice of neighbors, routines, and maybe even family members. The aftermath can undoubtedly be a severe stressor that produces symptoms of psychological stress and trauma. The ongoing burdens of lack of safety, no predictability or control that is associated with living in a homeless shelter, may wear away at the remaining coping mechanisms causing or exacerbating psychological stress and trauma. Finally, especially for women who become homeless after a history of physical or sexual abuse, psychological trauma will most likely be aggravated and there will be an overwhelming barrier to recovery (Goodman, Saxe, & Harvey, 1991).

In our society people are most often automatically sorted into three dominant categories: race, sex, and age. The most socially accepted and condoned prejudice in the United States today, is age prejudice (Nelson, 2002). Older people are stereotyped as physically ill, senile, sexually ineffective, and helpless. Wisdom and knowledge is the honorable gift of age. Instead of embracing the natural process of aging, most people dread the inevitability of becoming older, and all its social implications.

The truth is, the older generation is made up of immensely diverse individuals who are not that easily classified. Society may view people over 65 with “one foot in the grave,” or “ready to be put out to pasture,” these individuals view themselves as active, energetic, and productive members of the community. It is an unfortunate attribute of our society that perpetuates the negative stereotypes that are aimed toward the elderly. These harmful biases and impressions cause people to develop wrong attitudes and behave adversely toward the aged.

Older people’s ability to be vigorous, productive and creative doesn’t change. Rather, it is society’s unwillingness to see seniors as vital and effective contributors despite the fact that they reach retirement age. An unfortunate by product of internalizing these negative stereotypes results in many older individuals absorbing these concepts into his or her own mind-sets. This is an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy. By buying into society’s stereotype, the older person internalizes these assumptions and their behavior confirms the stereotype. A study has shown that older people who embrace a positive self-image of them aging, lived approximately 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. Those people who have a positive experience with aging have better memories and better balance. Positive attitudes will foster a positive impact on aging (Stanford Edu., 2009).

Perhaps there is nothing that will end society’s ingrained bias that Asian Americans are ruthlessly successful, the homeless are mentally unstable drug addicts, and the elderly are frail and powerless. The exaggeration of negative aspects, simplifying preconceived images of people, is societies obsession. An awareness of the background, the values, traditions and the essence of an individual or a culture would reveal the inadequacies of these misinterpreted stereotypes. When people build mutual relationships the practice of respect and understanding come into play, rather than ignorant stereotyping that justifies terrible actions and behaviors.

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