Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
Stereotypes are generalizations based on preconceived ideas that aren’t necessarily true. A stereotype is a widely held but fixed image of a particular person, place, or thing. They serve to group people into categories, but they can be harmful. If you believe a specific culture all acts the same way, you’re mistaken. One of the most beautiful things in the world is how diverse we all are. Stereotypes can be dangerous because if you make an automatic assumption about a group of people, especially a negative one, it can lead to prejudice. These generalizations are not typically helpful, but rather harmful.
Explicit stereotypes are when people verbalize or admit to others an idea that they hold about a particular group of individuals. It’s surprising when people talk about their biases toward others. However, some people blatantly voice them. Some people will admittedly say that they’re judging this group of people. They may believe that they're just being honest about their opinion, and that makes them honorable. But discriminating against a person or group of people in an upfront way doesn’t make it right, it just makes it blatant. Stereotypes harm people more than they help. They’re a way to generalize about human beings, and not all human beings are the same. We’re unique, and we need to celebrate the differences we have.
While explicit stereotypes are out there in the open, an implicit stereotype is underneath the surface. These are things that people think but don’t say. An implicit stereotype is subconscious. In contrast to explicit stereotypes, a person isn’t necessarily aware that they’re judging others when an implicit stereotype comes to mind. According to social psychology, a stereotype is a widely adopted specific set of beliefs about a group of people and their behaviors and that those aspects represent a group of people as a whole. Within psychology, we know that this doesn’t make sense.
The word stereotype comes from the French adjective “stéréotype,” which derives from the Greek words “stereos,” meaning "firm and solid," and “typos,” meaning “impression.” When these words are put together, they mean “solid impression," which is the literal definition of the word "stereotype." Stereotypes have negatively impacted many groups of people: cultures, races, religion, genders, and so on. It's important to learn to identify a stereotype and think critically when you come across one.
Stereotypes are typically overgeneralizations about a group of individuals, but they can serve a purpose. Although stereotypes are dangerous, they’re often made in an attempt to understand the world through categorization. They’re made to grasp and predict the way that people, places, or things, will be, but the danger in this is that not everyone fits into a cookie cutter mold. You can’t say that everyone of a particular religion, for example, will behave a certain way, because that is incorrect. Instead of looking at things stereotypically, you can modify your way of thinking and acknowledge that people are individuals who are not defined by the group that they may or may not fit into categorically. If you are the victim of a stereotype, it can make you feel isolated, targeted, and misunderstood. It's is a painful experience, being stereotyped, and talking about your situation in therapy can help you feel less alone.
Therapy is a great place to talk about what makes you unique. Online therapy is an excellent resource for talking about your experiences with being stereotyped as an individual. Perhaps, a stereotype has harmed you significantly, or maybe, you tend to stereotype others and want to stop. Talk to an online therapist and try to understand what you can do to eliminate or decrease the effect that stereotypes have on you or the world around you. The therapists at BetterHelp can help you understand the harm that stereotypes contribute to in your life and how to work to fight against them. An online therapist is there to support you while you talk through your experiences with discrimination.