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September 29, 2023

Helping Individuals Manage Peer Pressure

5 strategies to support individuals who are experiencing peer pressure to feel confident in expressing their views.

As humans, we are tribal beings: our desire to belong is hard-wired into our collective psyche. We can trace this back to more primitive times, when belonging to a group ensured survival, and rejection was to be avoided at all costs.

Even nowadays, in our comparatively safe world, we still have a deeply-ingrained need to feel accepted; to belong. This is completely natural and, to this end, we all modify our behaviour, to a greater or lesser extent, when we are around friends, family and co-workers.

Peer pressure as a powerful force

Peer pressure, however, is different. Through psychological manipulation and the threat (implicit or explicit) of rejection, it can result in us doing things we would not normally do. At its most extreme, it causes us to abandon our true selves and behave in ways that are totally out of alignment with our beliefs and values. Nobody is immune, either: peer pressure to conform and ‘fit in’ affects children, teenagers, and adults alike.

Belonging v fitting in

There is no doubt that being surrounded by like-minded people with whom we share an identity is a good thing. When we have the freedom to show up as our most authentic selves, and engage in healthy, positive behaviours, we are rewarded with a true sense of belonging.

Succumbing to peer pressure to fit in, on the other hand, requires us to ignore our intuition and dismiss our boundaries for fear of rejection. Younger children may experience peer pressure when playing games with their friends, for example. Even if they do not want to join in, they may struggle to express their views and opinions, and end up taking part to avoid ‘standing out’.

As children grow older and enter the teenage years, the influence of friends becomes even stronger, and the pressure to conform to peer group behavioural norms is amplified. Depending on the nature of young people’s friendships and relationships, this might manifest as incitement to drink alcohol, take drugs, or partake in other risk behaviour.

Adults are not exempt from this type of situation either, and can also struggle to assert healthy boundaries when faced with pressure from their peers. And when we consider adults who have learning disabilities or limited capacity, they may be even more vulnerable to being coerced into certain behaviour or activities, such as cuckooing.

Behaviour as a clue

The trouble with spotting signs of peer pressure is that they are often incredibly subtle. Using hard-to-detect psychological and social influence, members of a group can surreptitiously incite individuals to do things they would perhaps rather not do. It is, then, the resulting behaviour that offers us a window into what is truly going on. For example, if we notice that an individual suddenly becomes withdrawn, for no clear reason, or is inexplicably angry or defensive, this behaviour might alert us to an issue within the peer group.

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