We all need friends and want to feel part of some group, some movement or something. Often, who we think we are, is often influenced by the badge that we wear or the fandom that we follow. That’s part of being human. We all need community and that sense of belonging.
It’s all good if that group that we are in supports and encourages us to do the things that would benefit us. What if, it’s not leading us down the right path? How do we know? What if we want out?
Herd mentality or following the crowd blindly happens very often. Just because everyone is doing it, some of us fear missing out if we don’t jump on that band-wagon. We spend all our pocket money on that last purchase because everyone has it and then the trend changes after a few weeks. In worse case scenarios, we could be enticed to do acts that could harm us just because all our friends are doing it too. So why do some people get swept up experimenting with addictive substances, doing dangerous Tik Tok challenges or just things that would cause regret later on?
What happens in our brains when we conform
Research has shown that people make decisions to conform to majority opinions in the hope of getting social reward. The brain pathways and mechanism that is activated when we feel part of a group is the same as those brain parts that senses reward. So when a person’s decision is different from the groups, there is less sensing of reward and at times even feels discomfort. However, when a person consistently follows other peoples opinions, overtime such conforming behavior will cause alterations in a person’s memory. They end up ‘forgetting’ that they had their own original opinions and behavior.
Why do we conform to group norms
People tend to change their opinions and behavior in order to fit into a group even if it is against their preference. This can be because it gives a sense of safety to be in a crowd, the need for approval of others and to keep a positive self-concept. Social conformity is good and even necessary for team-work and social harmony. However, if a person succumbs to peer pressure at the expense of their personal well-being and safety then it may result in negative consequences.
Peer pressure can be good or bad, direct or indirect. Direct peer pressure could be words or actions that has an impact on us. Indirect peer pressure can be behavior such as ghosting, cancelling or gossiping behind your back. Peer pressure can help us to be better people, such as being in a group that likes to exercise, study or with good social skills. Bad peer pressure however is the negative influence that other people have on us which makes us do the things that do not benefit us.
How do you avoid negative Peer Pressure
Be clear about who you are, what you like, what you want out of life and your strengths and weaknesses. Have a best version of yourself and work towards that goal. If an action does not contribute to building that version of yourself, then it may not benefit you. Often your values, beliefs and moral principles will act as guard riles when making standing up to social pressure. When you are doing something, ask yourself why you are doing it. If the main reason is because your friends are doing it, then you are under peer pressure.
Pause and think
When we are pressured and stressed, it’s difficult to make decisions that benefits us. When we go with feelings, fear and irrational thoughts, we allow our emotional mind to take over. Fear of missing out, fear of being left out, fear of being called a coward, fear of losing that friend, etc. Fear prevents us from thinking sensibly and rationally. Allow yourself some time-out if you are uncomfortable about doing anything where you feel heightened emotions. Use your wise-mind to think through whether the action would benefit you, your future and adding to that better version of yourself.
If you are pressured to do something, you could suggest doing something else that is less risky instead. Or you could explain why you don’t want to do something. However, if your friend insist that you do that something even though you are uncomfortable about it, then think again if this person is really your friend. If a friend has no regards for how you feel, then this person does not have your welfare in mind. You don’t need friends like that in your life.
People who are self-aware, self-accepting and with a healthy self-esteem are often less likely to fall under negative peer pressure. So, love yourself and ‘you do you’.