Stigma – A Mark of Disgrace

Activity generously provided by Christina McCleskey

Group size:  5 - 50

Purpose: Create awareness of how labels and stigma affect us, facilitate discussion, increase awareness on the effect of words.

Props Needed

  1. Post it notes
  2. Pens

Activity Preparation

Prep time needed:  5 minutes

  1. Familiarize yourself with the activity and concepts

Time needed

  • Directions: 5
  • Activity: 20
  • Debrief: 25

Set Up:  Ask for a volunteer that would be willing to allow another group member to place labels on his or her body. Choose volunteers carefully to ensure activity will not create are or be unsafe in any way.

Activity Directions:

  • Pass out labels
  • Instruct group to write down stigma words they associate or think others associate with addiction, addicts/alcoholics.
  • Ask 2 volunteers to come stand in front of the room
  • One participant will read each label out loud and place it on the second participant.
  • Process

Facilitator script: “Have a seat everyone. Today we are going to take a look at how stigma can affect us. The word stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Disgrace is often associated with shame. Disgrace is defined as loss of reputation or respect, especially as the result of a dishonorable action; to bring shame or discredit on someone or something. Guilt says, “I made a mistake” where shame says, “I am a mistake”. Shame creates discouragement. The opposite of disgrace is honor, respect, and encouragement.

Here are some sticky notes and pens. (either pass out supplies or have them spread out prior to group) Take a moment to write down as many stigma words or phrases that you associate or think others associate with addiction, addicts or alcoholics. (Give group about 5 min to come up with as many sticky notes as they can). Write each word or phrase on a separate label.

(When group has had enough time to brain storm stigma labels) Great job everyone! Ok now I need my two volunteers to come up to the front. Give them a hand (have group members cheer on their peers). Ok so you are going to read each label slowly and then place it on her/him.

(Make sure that you are paying attention to the emotional tones of the volunteers as well as the group. Also make sure that the volunteer who is getting labels placed on him/her is safe. This is a very powerful experience and can bring a lot up for all. When the volunteer is done reading, and placing all the labels turn to the stigmatized volunteer as say)

How do you feel right now?  (Have volunteer with labels answer) Do you feel encouraged right now? (Have volunteer with labels answer) What is your relationship with the sticky notes? (Have volunteer with labels answer)

(Ask the Group) What do you all notice about him/her? (pointing at volunteer)

(Turn to volunteer) Do you want to keep these labels on you? (let them answer) Ok well you can do whatever you want to with them. (it is empowering for the volunteer to take them off themselves or ask for help if they choose). You all can sit down, Give them a hand! (Have group members cheer on their peers).

By increasing my awareness, I can choose to take off the labels that others may try to put on me or that I have put on myself. We can begin to choose the words that we want to carry and use for ourselves. It is our job to be conscious of the words and the effects those words have on us. Words have the power to hurt or to heal to create war or peace. Words can even shape our identity. What did you notice in this experience? (give group ample time to debrief)


  • What was it like to think of stigmatizing words that describe addiction, addicts, and alcoholics?
  • What came up for you as you were writing the words down?
  • What did you notice as the labels were being read and place?
  • (Ask volunteer) What was it like to place the labels on your peer?
  • (Ask volunteer) What was it like to have the labels placed on you?
  • How do you think wearing the labels impacts how you live your life?
  • How does this relate to recovery?
  • How do we begin to take off the labels that other people try to place upon us?
  • How does taking off the labels empower and encourage you?

Recovery/Wellness Metaphor: We live in a world where addiction, addicts, and alcoholics, are stigmatized. This stigmatization only serves to perpetuate addiction. Recovery allows us to renegotiate our relationship to labels and define identity for ourselves.


  • The stigma of addiction can be substituted out for any other category of stigma.
  • Instead of stigma this group can be done with how trauma impacts us.
Where to Find It/How to Make it: Labels can be purchased anywhere. It is even more impactful to use a variety of colors for the labels as it has a greater effect.