Society’s expectations of you shape you

The participants of Hard Edges: Lives Behind the Numbers share their life journeys as part of the Innovation Unit Insight series.

The first in the series examines the role of stigma in the lives of people who are experiencing multiple disadvantage and how the expectations family, friends and community can play a part in shaping a person’s identity.

Colin shared his story: after carrying the stigma of a ‘special’ school student’ as a child, and of an ‘alcoholic on a bench’ as an adult, Colin is now working on building a new positive identity for himself.

In Colin’s case, the stigma began early. At 6, he was placed in a school for learning disabilities and immediately branded ‘stupid and no-good’ by the local community, including his own father. He left school with no qualifications, and was unable to find employment which compounded people’s impression of him –  “people put you in that bracket of being a loser”.

Unable to get a job and with a prospect-less future, Colin turned to alcohol to hide his feelings of worthlessness, and was an alcoholic for thirty years.

Colin believes, “When people see you as a burden, you start acting as one”. Viewed negatively by all around him, alcohol was the only option to escape, and distance himself from society. He describes that there is a “stigma that people who are in addiction commit all the crimes – they don’t actually because at the end of the day they isolate themselves to get away from it all”.

Reputations can be long lasting and be hard to shake, even if people are already on the road to recovery and self-transformation. Colin talks of needing to remove himself from negative environments, and being unable to visit any of the places he used to frequent when drunk – “I can’t go the pub. If I do – people will put two and two together and make assumptions. I’ve got to prove myself – it’s all about proof. I don’t want to be that loser anymore. It’s about proving to people that they can trust me and that I can be someone.”

To find out more about Colin’s story and to discuss how to change the system visit: Insights