“Come on, just this once.”
“Don’t worry, it’s no big deal.”
“Give it a go, we’ve all done it.”
Whether we realize it or not, many of our everyday decisions are influenced by our surroundings, especially by the people around us. The desire to obtain other people’s approval makes it almost too easy to subconsciously allow our choices to be manipulated by their beliefs and actions. Although aiming to match external standards is often the norm, it’s important to keep our personal judgement and critical thinking, especially when it comes to matters that can majorly impact our lives.
Damaging decisions are often made not because people don’t know any better, but because they just want to fit in, despite the fact that fitting in isn’t always the best when it comes to fitting in with the wrong crowds. It’s sad to admit, but modern society puts heavy pressure on individuals to be similar to everybody else. What’s worse are the people who intentionally throw that kind of weight onto others, even when doing so can place their peers into uncomfortable positions. It is largely because of this peer-pressure that more and more people in the world today are choosing to take part in risky activities such as the misapplication of drugs and alcohol. These are activities that, though sometimes considered to be harmless or “cool”, actually come with serious consequences.
Research has been done on the subject, and it shows that many people, especially teenagers and young adults, first try drugs or alcohol due to peer pressure. There are tons of stories out there about how these activities can devastate lives, and most of the time people know about the risks. And yet they choose to shove that knowledge aside, hoping that taking a swig of liquor or a dose of cocaine will make them more popular and well-liked. Not true, of course.
In an environment where being like everyone else comes with security, it’s tempting to just give in to the peer-pressure. Because of this, emotional strength is frequently put to the test. I’m sure that many people, such as myself, have been told from a young age to “just say no”.
Someone wants you to try a cigarette? Say no.
Someone hands you a syringe? Say no.
Someone offers you alcoholic drinks when you’re not ready? Say no.
… But is it really that effortless?
In the heat of the moment when you lock with their expectant eyes and their words of persuasion ring in your ears, finding the power to reject their urgent offers can prove to be easier said than done.
What makes it even harder is that often times, the people exerting the pressure are people you know. Saying “no” and walking away from a stranger on a street is a lot easier than doing so to your friends or to peers you want to impress. There’s the fear of getting on their bad side, of losing valued friendships and earning disapproval from those you admire. Or maybe it’s the worry that they won’t think you’re cool enough, and a total bore. These concerns are all completely understandable, but what truly matters more is your own feelings.
If I’m honest to myself, I have to admit that I also tend to worry about what others think of me. I enjoy knowing that other people like me, and it does sting a bit when I find out that they don’t. But at the end up the day, I want people to like me for who I am, not who I’m pretending to be.
It’s common to believe that the most important thing in the world is being a part of a special group or to be seen by others in a certain way. However, if you’re being pressured into unattractive activities and you recognize your own discomfort, it’s important to respect yourself. Listen to the alarms that are being set off in your mind and gut, they’re definitely trying to tell you something if you feel uncomfortable.
Going against your judgement and instincts to please others? Never a good idea, and not to mention hardly ever turns out to be worth it in the long run, especially in the case of drugs and alcohol.
Imagine ending up with people who are big on all the things you know to be unhealthy. Imagine having to fight against yourself constantly, forcing down your true feelings to behave in the way in which others want you to. Imagine always being afraid of doing something they might disapprove of, ruining your artificial image, the one that you built up in an attempt to get them to accept you… This isn’t a healthy lifestyle, and the relationships that result from it are ones filled with tentativeness, reluctance, fear, and uncertainty.
When it comes down to it, saving yourself from dangerous consequences is up to you. You’re responsible for absorbing the things you know are good and turning away the bad. Again, it’s not all that easy to meet peer pressure with your own reasoning, but it has to be done. Standing your ground for what you know to be best is the ultimate wall of defense.
Once you are able to listen to yourself and respond firmly (assertiveness is key!), there is a decent chance of the situation drawing to a close right there. And yet, some individuals may continue to push others past limits even after they have openly expressed their opposition. These are exactly the type of people you don’t need, people whose opinions aren’t worth valuing. After all, who cares what they think if they’re willing to disregard your obvious emotions? It says plenty about their consideration for you, or lack of. Friends and peers should be those who acknowledge your thoughts, not those who don’t.
The world will always be filled with negative influences, which is why staying true to yourself can take you a long way. When you are the one ultimately getting hurt, going along with others for the sake of social appeal is more harmful than beneficial. Believe in yourself and your own value. Remember, you shouldn’t have to change who you are to be someone else!