As it turns out, the behaviour of people around us is contagious. This is truer the closer these relationships are – we are much more influenced by the attitudes of friends and family than we are by those of strangers.
We often think of peer pressure as a bad thing we should resist, but it can also be a powerful influencer in terms of shifting social attitudes for the better as well.
I recently read an interesting article in Scientific American about the power of social pressure and how it can influence our behaviour. For example, one 2003 study found:
- If a person gains weight, the likelihood their friend would also gain weight is 171%
- When smokers quit, their friends are 36% more likely to also quit
- Having happy friends increased the likelihood of an individual being happy by 8%
It’s also true that fitting in feels good. We all want to feel a sense of connection and belonging and these things are hugely important to our personal wellbeing. The difficulty is, of course, when fitting in means feeling pressured to change parts of ourselves in ways we are not comfortable with. And feeling under pressure to force yourself to be something you’re not can cause a huge amount of psychological distress.
It’s a no-win situation – we either change (or pretend to change) for the sake of fitting into the group – and feel awful and uncomfortable about not being able to be who we really are – or we stay courageous about our convictions, but experience ostracisation and pay another kind of emotional price for that, too.
So what’s the answer? I’m really not sure, to be honest. When I was younger, I felt huge amounts of pressure to hide my nerdy and academic interests because they didn’t seem to be shared by the people around me. I didn’t talk about my love for sci-fi, comic books, and video games with anyone. I share the shows I loved or my love for attending classes and soaking up knowledge anywhere I could. I simply never seemed to have any friends who had the same interests.
But through my 20s, I became a lot more comfortable in my own skin and more confident that being different in some way was okay. Just the other day a colleague pointed out a nice, but expensive piece of jewelry online. She asked, “Wouldn’t you like to own that?” I replied, “Actually, I’d rather have a new Xbox!” We laughed about it. I didn’t feel like an outcast. I felt like I was being genuine and appreciated for that.
And maybe this is the key. Sometimes a lot of the pressure to conform is external, but I wonder how much of it is internal as well. I wonder if my friends in my younger years would have accepted me for who I was if I had given them the chance to.
Or maybe my hard-won comfort with who I am helps other people to feel more comfortable being themselves around me, too. We’ve removed that pressure, together.
But I’m curious – how affected (or unaffected) do you feel by social pressure?
Black Disabled Lives Matter and How Social Workers Need to Address Structural Ableism
Conversations about police violence are happening all over the world from the killing of Mr. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob...
How Health & Fitness Businesses Are Flexing Their Muscles For Customers Right Now
We’re all public health nerds now, and many of us have stepped up our games when it comes to washing...
Tourette Association of America marks National Tourette Awareness Month with Engaging Virtual Events and Activities
The Tourette Association of America (TAA), the premier national nonprofit organization serving the Tourette Syndrome (TS) and Tic Disorder community,...
Legislation Introduced to Honor Former Foster Youth Lost to Corona Virus
On May 15, 2020, Rep. Karen Bass, co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and Rep. Gwen Moore will...
Connect With SWHELPER
Mental Health7 years ago
Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not ‘Just Get Over It’
Social Work7 years ago
Ending the Therapeutic Relationship: Creative Termination Activities
Education4 years ago
5 Social Work Theories That Inform Practice
Education7 years ago
Want to Work With Children: 5 Skills and Qualities You Should Be Working On