Stigma, Public Scrutiny & Cultural Competence - Premier Counseling
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Stigma, Public Scrutiny & Cultural Competence

By: Rita Masterson, LPC


Stigma, Public Scrutiny & Cultural Competence


With retirement or discharge from active duty, veterans returning to the civilian world may face a lot of public scrutiny, stigma, and struggle with their own cultural competence. 


Among other more personal, internal struggles, veterans may face some lesser talked about external, social obstacles. These are certainly less glamorous aspects of returning home, but reintegrating into the civilian world means facing them head-on.

Photo by Diego Martinez

What is Meant by Stigma & Public Scrutiny


No matter your reason for having joined the military, people unattached to the military won’t possess the insights you do. There will be social situations wherein veterans will find themselves and their personal, military histories unwelcome, even dishonorable. 


This stigma exists for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps most prevalent are these two beliefs; that all veterans have committed harm against innocent people, or that every veteran is suffering from severe mental illness for having served at all. 


It’s important to know that you do not have to justify your motivations for joining or serving. Not to anyone, for any reason.


Joining the military is often a deeply personal experience; some join to honor family, some join for religious honors, some join because they faced homelessness or destitution otherwise. You don’t owe anyone your reasons, and though this stigma about motivations may be aggravating to face, all that can really be said is that civilians who have never been affected by the military as you have been will never understand.


This is not their fault per se. Time in the military is so unique and consists of such conflicting, complicated emotions, no matter the capacity a civilian has for compassion or empathy, if they weren’t there with you through it, they will have a lot of difficulty understanding.

Photo by Anh Nguyen

Being Misunderstood


As a veteran, you will also face a lot of assumptions about your mental state, and whether those assumptions are right or wrong is beside the point. Being scrutinized by the public, evaluated by untrained, judgmental eyes will be emotionally taxing. 


Some people will be wildly insensitive, you may be faced with invasive, personal questions from relative strangers – an important skill to learn will be maintaining personal boundaries. 


You don’t owe anyone your trauma, your personal history, or justifications for what you have experienced. It may take practice, but maintaining boundaries will be paramount for your mental health. This may look like simply saying, ‘I’m not interested in discussing this with you,’ and leaving it at that. 


Stating and enforcing boundaries like those can seem easy in theory, but in practice, a lot of folks will find that they want to appease scrutinizing eyes, and make meaningful connections. Establishing and enforcing your boundaries teaches others how to treat you, and what is an acceptable way to speak to you, and what will be met with rejection.


Protect your peace – you’ve more than earned it.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

Cultural Competence


Rejoining the civilian world will be a lot like learning to ice-skate. You’ll be wobbly at first, it won’t feel natural as you remember it being, and you will need support. Taking tumbles is normal, and all that matters is that you don’t stay down.


Depending on how much time you spent in the service, you may reenter the world and find it entirely changed. Commonplace lingo you used every day may suddenly be unusable, untranslatable, or situationally inappropriate now. Habits you developed, work ethics, principles you’ve lived by during your time in may baffle, offend, or worry others.


Integrating back into the civilian world will take time and practice; be patient with yourself while you re-acclimate and learn again how to relate to others. It isn’t just the world that has changed – it’s you too.


Your time serving will have invariably changed you fundamentally. This can be an isolating, alienating feeling, so be sure to keep your support systems close and informed. 


There are a multitude of therapeutic approaches that can help you during this time, so call our team to schedule an appointment if you’re feeling like you could use that extra support. We’re so glad to serve you, and there are so many resources available to help you through this bumpy transition, so don’t hesitate to give a call and make a visit.

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