I remember well my mother consistently warning me to remember “you are who you are with.” It was her way of saying that we tend to take on the same attributes as our friends, so we better choose our friends wisely. My mother knew that few adolescents have the strength of character, discipline, will or conviction to withstand peer pressure, even when it means making choices that are incongruent with their values. And the preponderance of evidence suggests this is true. Young men and young women have consistently shown that they will do things in groups or gangs that they never would do if they were acting alone. What my mother didn’t tell me is that this is also true in adulthood.
Why Is This True?
Peer pressure to conform and capitulate may look different in adolescence than adulthood but the reasons are virtually the same. Some of the more obvious ones that most of us will experience include:
Desire to be liked. We all have the need to be accepted which may cause us to conform in ways that ensure we will be liked and accepted.
Stress to succeed. Whether it is a desire to retain a political office, keep a job or hold on to position we all face pressure to conform to the wishes of our party, tribe, or group to ensure our success.
Pressure to please. Most of us have bosses and it is important that we please them, even if it means compromising our beliefs, opinions or values.
Need to be recognized. Our need to be acknowledged and recognized by our peers for who we are and what we achieve can cause us to go along with how our group defines success.
The Up and Downsides
Becoming “who you are with” is a two-edged sword. Associating with people who love, encourage and support us can be life giving and life sustaining. Befriending people who hold high moral values can keep us from temptations. Living with people who model Christlikeness can challenge us to emulate their behaviors. Working with people who have high ethical values can keep us from bad decisions. Being with people who believe in us can help us become the best versions of ourselves.
But the reverse is true as well. Associating with, befriending or working with the wrong people can be life draining, moral and ethical corrupting, can cause us to make bad decisions, choose bad behaviors and become the worst version of ourselves.
How to Approach It
Though the gravitational pull is always toward conforming to the group we are with, there are some disciplines you can put into place to help you avoid conforming in a bad way and to avoid people who are negative influences.
Know yourself. Many of us have a go along to get along temperament. We are hardwired to avoid conflict and genuinely want to people please. Knowing this about yourself is the first step towards not letting it become a negative attribute.
Pre-determine. Before you enter a group conversation, decision, or a circumstance decide in advance how you will respond. Basing your response upon your truest self, core values, best practices, passions, ethics or just what is best for you often provides the courage necessary to oppose conforming.
Buy time. Many of us are processors. We don’t like to make quick decisions and need time to process. When a group is pressuring you to make a quick decision ask for time before committing.
Find like-minded people. Even within a group that appears to think alike there are usually one or two who at least question if not downright oppose the group’s direction. In private find these people and lean on each other as a source of strength to not capitulate to the group’s every whim.
Leave. Though it feels like the harshest thing to do, leaving the group may be the only alternative for following your own path and being your truest and best self.
Remember, few of us have the strength of character, insight, discipline, will or conviction to withstand group or peer pressure in every circumstance. It is vital that we put in place vetting and decision-making criteria that can help us discern what groups to associate with and when conforming with the group is a good or bad thing.
Posted on July 5, 2022