Stigma has caused a lot of people diagnosed with HIV to be ashamed of disclosing their status in fear of how they will be treated or looked at. Scared to lose relationships and the closeness they may have with others.
In the 1980s, we said that getting a positive test result ultimately meant you were going to die, and no one wanted to come around, touch, hug, kiss or sit next to anyone that they knew who was living with HIV. The media, with their negative blemishes of HIV/AIDS, caused society to look at it as a death sentence. It’s been over 35 years and stigma still exists against individuals who are diagnosed.
External HIV stigma becomes internalized
The internal stigma (self-stigma) is what’s killing us; it’s not the HIV at all, and we let it control who we are as human beings. No one asked for this condition and we shouldn’t feel like we are less than at all. Why are we allowing society to help us feel bad about a condition that we live with, a condition that is now very manageable today? There is a stigma in other conditions that people live with like cancer and mental health. So why do we worry so much about the stigma that is associated with HIV?
How can I address internal HIV stigma?
I believe that things we go through that bother us in life start within our heads. We can change our thought process, how we perceive ourselves and remove the blame that we cause ourselves mentally, and start reminding ourselves that HIV is just a condition; it’s not who we are. Although the virus lives in us, it’s not us.
You see people are afraid of the unknown or things that they do not understand. Stigma is caused by having misinformation; and in turn, we allow the fears of others to be put on us. Once we take how others feel about us and turn it into a positive about how we feel about ourselves, we will then look in the mirror and know that we are not how others see us. That's their fear, not ours but many of us still allow what was caused by stigma years ago to be out on us.
Changing how we see ourselves
I don’t want to feel sorry for myself and you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself either. I have learned that it’s our personal belief about how we want to see ourselves. If you don’t want to see what you think others see, then change how you see yourself. Change your mind, and I guarantee it will change your life completely.
Our minds are powerful, and we can start accepting those thoughts. So, start believing how amazing and beautiful you are: uplift yourself with encouraging words, read self-help books, listen to motivational audios or videos. Tell yourself "I AM not who they say I AM. I AM who I say I AM."
Believe it and own it. Walk tall with your head held high. How someone sees us changes how they view us.
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?