"It all boils down to the need to belong and feel accepted."
Peer pressure can make or break us. We are constantly influenced by the people in our lives, so it takes courage to be true to ourselves. Most times, this means going against social norms. Not conforming to these norms can be challenging, but the benefits of doing so far outweigh the consequences of succumbing to them.
SO WHY DO WE SUCCUMB TO PEER PRESSURE? It all boils down to the need to belong and feel accepted.
Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary recently proposed the ‘belongingness hypothesis’, which suggests that humans have a universal need to form and maintain some degree of interpersonal relationships with others in order to survive. Due to this need, at times, we do things that we don’t really want to do, just so we fit in.
The people with whom we surround ourselves influence how we feel, think and act. Peer pressure can be both positive and negative, and will depend greatly on whom you hang out with, and the extent to which you allow others to influence you. Therefore, it is important to pick your friends carefully as they will invariably have a great influence over what you do and who you ultimately become. If hanging out with your friends has a positive impact on your life, you are on the right track — you should treasure and nurture those friendships. However, if it’s leaving you broke, unhappy, unhealthy, messed up or just not in your best state, you should think twice and maybe seek better friendships.
And how would you know whether you’re being influenced positively or negatively? For starters, go with your gut instinct and listen to your inner voice that you keep drowning out. Also, listen to those who really care about you. If anyone hints that you are perhaps hanging out with the wrong crowd, take a step back and think about it.
HERE’S HOW TO DEAL WITH IT To begin with, be true to yourself. Make it a point to always think about what you are doing, without blindly giving into the herd instinct. Ask yourself questions like, ‘Why am I doing this? Should I be doing this? Am I happy doing this and is this right for me?’ If you find yourself doing things you don’t really like, and if you are doing them only to please others, is it worth it? What do you stand to lose if you don’t do those things?
Once you have made your choice, don’t be afraid to act accordingly. And if you are ever questioned about it, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Be assertive and communicate clearly and politely, and most often people will understand — especially if they are your friends. Those who don’t understand and continue to pressure you into doing things that you dislike may not be the right people for you to associate with.
If you feel that certain peers are creating havoc in your life and are leading you downhill, just walk away. Look out for people who possess the type of qualities that you would like to develop instead and work towards forming solid friendships with them.
This article was originally published as ‘Confronting Peer Pressure’ in the May 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. To read the version in full, subscribe now and get a free May issue.
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