How we deal with peer pressure can help reduce a lot of anxiety. Peer pressure can make us act in ways we wished we didn’t. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need the pressure. There are many times I’ve acted out of peer pressure or where it has influenced my behavior. Since I am a man, I can only speak from the male perspective. I don’t attempt to try to look at both angles because I can’t see it from that side. But it would be great if we could get the female view on this topic. As I am sure this is a unisex topic. If you would like to share that different view with us, please contact me.
What is peer pressure and how does it affect us? Is there a way we can ignore it or make sure we remain ourselves and not let our behavior get altered because of a group? There have been many times when I went along with a group because I wanted to fit in. And I sometimes still find myself doing it. Nowadays, when it happens, it mainly takes place in a conversation. And even then it takes a lot of hard work not to get dragged along. But is it necessary to go along with a group or can we ignore these cries for us to join?
Will we end up alone?
When we talk about peer pressure, we refer to a group of people or an individual who we like to be associated with. They insist we do things we would rather not. There wouldn’t be a need for pressure if it felt right for us to do. Sometimes we can be so used to this group behavior that we change ourselves according to the dynamic once we are in it. For me this changed my way of talking, thinking, and sometimes acting. During those years my will wasn’t strong enough to separate myself from the group. Stoicism played a big role in realizing that it is up to me to be a good person. And if the group I’m with isn’t displaying or acting that way, then I should distance myself from them.
Why is that so difficult to do? It shouldn’t be, especially if this group of people, or person, makes us feel bad about ourselves. They are working on our emotions to push us to places we don’t want to be. We could be abandoned, hurt, ridiculed, become an outcast, or worse. That’s what is being used against us. And we so desperately want to fit in. Or at least we feel we should. But is this the group we belong to? And what if we say goodbye? Will we then end up alone?
Peer pressure can cause anxiety
Within male groups, we can see a lot of macho behavior. There is a hierarchy in these groups and to fit in one must prove oneself. Not a lot of serious conversations take place. Although it can happen, especially one on one, but in a group the jokes prevail. What is being said among men depends on the nature of the group, but it tends to be necessary to outdo one another. A lot of the time it’s either making a fool out of each other or it involves bragging.
This can cause feelings of inadequacy or feeling like an outcast. Especially if they compare themselves to the group and their standards. When the person or group is older, then that can set a precedent for how to act. The behavior learned from these supposed role models can lead to a lack of self-esteem or force oneself to model those actions. This can cause anxiety because somewhere deep inside they feel this isn’t right.
Peer pressure can affect anyone
Only in recent years have I discovered myself to be more of an introvert, and this surprised many around me. I used to always be present at any activity. It didn’t matter what day and it would get crazy most of the time. During that time I could tell it took a lot of energy from me to act that way, and I’ve pushed myself over the limit a few times. By asking myself some good questions and reflecting on my life back then, I now have a better idea of how I wish to lead my life.
What I’ve learned to do more in recent years, is to say ‘no’. The realization that this was an option, opened my eyes. It showed me that I can choose for myself. But it is a learning curve and it requires one to stand strong in their own beliefs. Stoicism helped me be more firm about saying no. Whatever the consequences may be. If people don’t appreciate that or can’t accept you for who you are, then they are not the ones you should be around with. Peer pressure is something we see all over the place, that’s why I’m sure it affects everyone. But how we guard ourselves against it can make a huge difference.
Seneca to the rescue
When reading the letters by Seneca, we can see that he has a clear take on this. He offers us an honest view of how well he did with his own advice, but letter VII to his friend Lucillius allows us to do better.
“You ask me to say what you should consider it particularly important to avoid. My answer is this: a mass crowd. It is something to which you cannot entrust yourself yet without risk. I at any rate am ready to confess my own frailty in this respect.”Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter VII
It’s time to go our own way
He then goes on to tell us that the larger the crowd, the bigger the danger that someone will do something bad. And this can shake our principles. The better we practice them, the better we can withstand them. But even so, we can fall for the pressure. Seneca does give us some advice on what is best to do.
“Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: Men learn as they teach.”Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter VII
This brings us back to the question of what happens when we distance ourselves from people who use peer pressure to try to shake us out of our peaceful existence. When we find ourselves surrounded by those ‘friends’, it is time for us to go our way. At the beginning that might seem scary. It can be a lonely road to walk, and opinions will not always be in our favor. But this is the way. If we wish to live a peaceful and virtuous life, then we need to focus on ourselves. The beauty of this is that we will encounter like-minded people. Such as the ones Seneca was referring to in the previous quote.
Learn to say No
Peer pressure is a difficult emotional device to go up against. If we want to stand a chance, we need to be firm in our own beliefs. For that, we need to practice and repeat them. When the risk of us falling for the pressure becomes too big, we must save ourselves. Walk away and return to your principles. Seneca used a quote from an unknown craftsman, who was asked who the object of his piece was. To which this man replied:
“A few is enough for me; so is one; and so is none.”Unknown person quoted by Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter VII
You shouldn’t act for external display. The crowd might cheer it, they might boo it. But you need to do it because it is right for you to do it. To perform your duty and live in accordance with Nature. If you feel peer pressure to act differently then this is where you take a stand. Learn to say No and follow your path.