No matter who you are or where you live, you likely live among people who don’t share your background. There may even be many years of history that have shaped the relationships between different groups of people in your community or region based on racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds. Living alongside individuals of diverse genders, sexual orientations, beliefs, and political views can significantly shape your worldview.
As a result, there may be instances where you or others make premature judgments about the individuals you meet. These assumptions constitute prejudice and can negatively impact social functioning, mental health, and quality of life. Even benign prejudices or stereotypes can have repercussions, so it may be important to become aware of one’s bias and commit to self-improvement.
This article will discuss how prejudice impacts mental health and social functioning. We will also explore strategies for overcoming prejudice as a victim and perpetrator. Self-awareness and respect for others may deepen your understanding of others and gain a richer understanding of the world.
Prejudice refers to preconceived ideas about a person or group based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. These ideas can be shaped by culture, society, and media and might be self-reinforced through flawed reasoning. Thinking of prejudice as a faulty mental model for assessing others may be helpful.
What Causes Prejudice?
The human brain creates mental models through pattern recognition that help us reason, predict events, and make decisions. However, these mental models are only sometimes based on objective reality. Our perceptions of the world around us are shaped by our upbringing and experiences and the narratives of the unique histories of where we come from and where we live.
We may internalize certain narratives about different groups of people, leading to negative preconceptions that can affect our interactions, perpetuate stereotypes, and promote stigmas. Sometimes, you can reinforce those stereotypes through cognitive biases like confirmation bias.
For example, if you encounter someone who you perceive to adhere to a particular stereotype, you may feel as if your preconception was “proven.” However, you may not notice the many instances in which the people around you defy stereotypes about the social groups to which they belong.
Impact Of Prejudice On Mental Health
It’s important to remember that no person is immune to prejudice. We all have biases, but identifying and countering these thoughts can be challenging. Preceptions about our social groups can shape how others perceive us, leaving us vulnerable to prejudice. As both a victim and perpetrator, bias can negatively impact relationships, mental health, and social functioning.
Victims of prejudice may be susceptible to several issues related to self-esteem and emotional well-being. Encountering negativity and judgment based on one's identity can erode self-esteem, self-worth and cause stress or anxiety when interacting with others. Discrimination and stigmatization may also lead to feelings of alienation.
In some cases, people may worry about reinforcing negative stereotypes, a phenomenon known as stereotype threat. Stereotype threat has been linked to performance gaps in academic and professional settings, which may be another source of mental health strain.
Prejudice can make it challenging for individuals to foster an adaptive mindset towards others, as preconceived ideas about others may negatively influence social interactions. When carrying a bias, engaging with other people in good faith may be challenging, leading to awkward or unpleasant social interactions.
Repeated failures to have productive conversations, foster healthy interpersonal relationships, and build meaningful connections can lead to feelings of isolation. In some cases, a phenomenon known as defensive projection may occur, leading individuals to project their unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or biases onto others. Over time, patterns of inappropriate social behavior may impact one’s reputation, relationships, and well-being.
Ways To Mitigate Prejudice And Its Negative Effects
To minimize the impact of prejudice on your relationships, you may first become aware of your biases. Notice when you have reactionary thoughts about another person, and reflect upon whether those thoughts are based upon information about the individual. Based on your perception of others' identities, you may sometimes make assumptions about them.
As you notice your prejudices, try to replace them with more charitable thoughts towards others. Engage your sense of empathy and curiosity for others to help you gain a more nuanced understanding of other people. Often, you can find something positive about how another person interacts with the world around them, which may help you create more adaptive mental models of the world around you.
Education And Awareness
Often, prejudices may arise from ignorance. Our mental models are often built on limited information and are often influenced by inaccurate or incomplete historical narratives. It can be helpful to understand the rich history of other cultures or the variations in gender expression and sexual orientation.
Sometimes, you may be uniquely positioned to help inform others about your background. By forging connections with others, you can help challenge stereotypes and misconceptions that people may have. Consider sharing your story sincerely, recognizing that the other person may not always fully understand how their prejudices affect others.
Empathy And Understanding
Empathy towards others may be crucial for overcoming your prejudices and navigating interactions with those who may hold prejudices against you. Rather than seeing people as part of a group, try to understand them as individuals. Remember that their perspectives were shaped by their background and experiences in the same way that yours were.
Consider approaching social interactions with genuine curiosity about others and the past that shaped them. This curiosity, paired with respect for the individuality of others, may be a powerful tool in combating prejudice as both a victim and perpetrator.
Social And Policy Changes
In addition to combating prejudice within ourselves, there may be meaningful changes that you can help support at the community level. It may be worth researching how discrimination may have contributed to racial or ethnic disparities where you live and help advocate for meaningful reform.
Consider acquainting yourself with the customs, beliefs, and policies that govern other cultures and societies. As a result, you may develop a more nuanced understanding of humanity, break down prejudices, and connect more meaningfully with others.
Therapy may be another tool for combating prejudice and its effects. A therapist can help you understand your biases and learn how to overcome them. You may also explore any negative experiences due to prejudice and discrimination. Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) is one type of therapy that may help change your thought and behavior patterns.
REBT and other cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are effective across several reputable studies. They can help individuals improve emotional, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes, social skills, and quality of life. These types of treatment are typically available through in-person or online therapy.
Online therapy is known to be as effective as in-person sessions. It may be preferable for those looking for a specific type of treatment. Therapy platforms like BetterHelp may allow you to connect with a trained therapist from the comfort of your home and often offer additional services like group therapy or in-platform journaling.
Combating prejudice may involve a combination of self-reflection, increased awareness, and empathy. Social and policy changes can also help combat the impact of discrimination on the societal level. In contrast, CBT and REBT treatment can help individuals adopt a structured approach to self-improvement. To get started with therapy, connect with a therapist on BetterHelp.
What is the meaning of prejudice?
The word prejudice means having preconceived ideas about someone or a group based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc. These ideas may be self-reinforced through flawed reasoning, or they may be shaped by culture, media, and society. There are many types of prejudice, including racial prejudice or race prejudice, gender prejudice, or age prejudice.
What does prejudice mean in behavior?
Prejudice in behavior can mean that how someone acts is based on a preconceived idea about the people they’re interacting with or how the world works. For example, if an employer is prejudiced against older people or people of another race, they may not consider them when promoting from within the company. Or, if a lawyer was involved in a previous judicial inquiry about a person who belonged to a particular ethnic group, they may develop beliefs about that ethnic group that may not be formed on just grounds. Prejudice can affect the legal system in many ways, as both prosecuting and defense lawyers may use it to further their case.
Prejudice can also make it challenging for people to engage with others. Their preconceived ideas can affect their social interactions. Over time, their repeated inability to connect with people can lead to limited interpersonal relationships and feelings of isolation, as well as impact their reputation.
Is prejudice good or bad?
Prejudice is generally negative. Premature assumptions can negatively impact mental health, social functioning, and quality of life, whether you’re a victim or a perpetrator. Victims of prejudice may be susceptible to issues with self-esteem and emotional health, which can lead to anxiety and stress in dealing with others, and the opinions intolerance may even lead to alienation. Perpetrators of prejudice can also find it challenging to interact with others as their preconceived ideas can negatively affect their social interactions. Repeatedly failing to have productive conversations can lead to feelings of isolation. Over time, this social behavior can impact someone’s relationships, self-esteem, and well-being. Some people may argue that prejudice can be positive, such as when someone’s honesty and sincerity prejudiced people to think positively of them, but this can still be problematic as it implies a judgment was made based on limited information.
What is the difference between bias and prejudice?
Some people may use the words “bias” and “prejudice” interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Bias is how someone thinks about a specific area of life, like religion, politics, or society. It generally means someone leans toward one thing, group, or person over another in a way usually seen as unfair.
Prejudice is making decisions and judging things prematurely using made-up facts or ideas instead of taking the time to learn the truth. It describes a preconceived opinion or preceding judgment based on insufficient knowledge or an attitude of hostility toward a group or individual because of the characteristics the person believes they have.
Is prejudice a negative attitude?
Prejudice can be considered a negative attitude, but such opinions may run deeper. An attitude can reflect someone’s current state of mind; for example, someone may have a negative attitude when they are tired, sick, or having a bad day. But this attitude may improve as their situation changes. On the other hand, prejudice may be more ingrained than that. How someone feels about a specific group and the flawed reasoning behind it may be much more difficult to change.
How does prejudice affect a relationship?
Prejudice can affect relationships by significantly influencing how someone interacts with society. Preconceived ideas can negatively impact social interactions. If someone is unwilling to question such prejudices and figure out where the unfavorable opinion formed from misinformation came from, it can be difficult for them to interact with people, leading to awkward or even unpleasant social interactions. In addition to making it difficult to form new relationships, this can strain existing relationships as many people may not discuss the same prejudices and may be driven away by the patterns of inappropriate social behavior.
How does prejudice affect mental health?
Prejudice can affect the mental health of both the victim and the perpetrator. Those who experience prejudice may feel that they are constantly being judged, leading to feelings of isolation or loneliness. Feeling judged can also lead to feelings of physical exhaustion, low motivation, insomnia, and fatigue. People in environments where they feel constant prejudice may experience symptoms of depression or anxiety.
For perpetrators, their preconceived prejudice prejudiced ideas can make it difficult to interact with people, significantly affecting their ability to function socially, in school, or their careers. Prejudice can make it hard to build new relationships, and it can drive friends and family away. People who cannot overcome their prejudice or don’t think they have a problem may become socially isolated, significantly affecting their mental health.
What's the difference between prejudice and discrimination?
Determining the differences between prejudice and discrimination can be difficult. The difference between them is that prejudice is the usually negative attitude or preconceived notion that someone has about another person or group, while discrimination is the action that results from these attitudes.
How can prejudice be reduced?
To minimize prejudice and how it impacts your relationships, you may need to self-reflect to become more aware of your biases. Try to identify reactionary thoughts about another person and whether those thoughts come from factual information or assumptions. As you identify your own prejudices, try to be more empathetic and curious about others and their unique experiences to get a better understanding of them.
Prejudices can arise from ignorance as we sometimes have limited and often inaccurate information about others. Take time to learn about and understand the cultures of others; if you belong to a group that experiences prejudice, you can try to communicate your experience to create connections with others and challenge the stereotypes they may have.
There may be things you can do on a community level as well, like researching how racism and other forms of prejudice have contributed to economic and societal disparities where you live and advocating for change in unfair treatment or a prejudice law on the books.
How can you overcome prejudice?
As a perpetrator, you can try to recognize your attitudes toward others and the actions they inspire. It can be challenging to confront your own prejudice, but it can be the only way to push through biases and stop the hurtful actions that result from them. One way you can try to do this is to actively seek relationships with people who are different than you so you can learn more about cultures unlike yours and how to empathize with people.
Overcoming prejudice as a victim can be a little trickier to address. It is not a victim’s responsibility to change people’s minds, and doing so may not even be possible. For victims, overcoming prejudice might focus on self-care and developing healthy coping skills. Some ways to do this might be to build a strong support network and develop strong associations with their race, gender identity, or cultural group. It can also be helpful to identify and reframe any negative thoughts that result from the prejudice of others and to push back against prejudice when possible.
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