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The Dangers Of Self Stigmatization

One of the mental illnesses I struggle with is Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

For a while, I felt like I had my anxiety fairly under control. After over a year of therapy and learning countless DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills, I thought that I knew everything there was to know about how I experience my anxiety and how to best handle it — I was very wrong.

Over the past few weeks, my anxiety level has been pretty high. Sometimes, it manifests in the way that has always been typical for me — fast heart rate, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, picking my lips, biting my cheek, and lack of focus. However, other times, it’s been manifesting differently — feeling extremely disconnected from my body, having my outer body feel numb and motionless while inside my body feels tense, racing thoughts, and feeling like I can’t move from where I am.

This new way of experiencing my anxiety has been incredibly unsettling. I’m used to how my anxiety has expressed itself in the past. I’m not used to this.

This unsettling feeling has led to me placing stigma on myself. Instead of being kind to myself and accepting what I’ve been experiencing, I’ve felt weak. I’ve been judging myself, and I haven’t been cutting myself nearly enough slack.

Every day on social media and in my day-to-day life, I fight mental health stigma. The past few weeks have taught me that while it’s easy for me to be accepting towards others and their struggles with mental illness, it’s not nearly as easy for me to be gentle with myself and my own struggles — and this can be dangerous.

Stigmatizing myself makes it infinitely harder to get to the root of what is causing my anxiety, which makes it harder for me to handle it effectively. This just perpetuates the cycle of overwhelming anxiety, and it makes it impossible to pull myself out. In addition, it creates stigma for others who are also struggling.

When I judge myself, it makes it okay for others to judge me and everyone else who is struggling with mental illness.

When I tell myself I’m weak, it supports the myth that mental illness is weakness, which is completely false and completely against everything I believe in.

While stopping self-stigmatization can feel really difficult, it’s a crucial part of healing, and an integral part of mental health advocacy. If you’re placing stigma on yourself, you’re inadvertently placing stigma on others as well.

So, today, I’m teaching myself the importance of stopping stigma in all of its forms — not just for myself, but for all of the warriors fighting alongside me every day.


Colleen Werner is a junior psychology major at SUNY Old Westbury, and she plans on going to graduate school to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in Eating Disorders. She also aspires to start an eating disorder treatment created specifically for dancers. Her Instagram account/blog, @leenahlovesherself, which centers around body-positivity, self-love, eating disorder awareness, and mental health has deeply inspired thousands, and after creating the hashtag #BopoBallerina, Colleen was featured by Yahoo, National Eating Disorders Association, Dailymotion, A Plus, Dance.com, and several international news outlets. In addition to her work on her Instagram, Colleen is a member of the Advisory Panel for YPAD (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance), a National Ambassador for Project HEAL, and a Brand Ambassador for Wear Your Label.
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