Under pressure

Our DPSN theme for October is ‘Pressure’.  We’ve asked our bloggers to tell us their thoughts on pressure – be it at work, school, home, with friends or online.  We want to know what they think of it, where they feel it and how they respond to it as well.  We want to hear your thoughts on pressure too, so let us know in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.

I recently read an interesting article in Scientific American about the power of social pressure and how it can influence our behaviour.  For example one 2003 study found that:

  • If a person gains weight, the likelihood their friend would also gain weight is 171%
  • When smokers quit, their friends are 36% more likely to also quit
  • Having happy friends increased the likelihood of an individual being happy by 8%

As it turns out, the behaviour of people around us is contagious.  This is truer the closer these relationships are – we are much more influenced by the attitudes of friends and family than we are by those of strangers.   We often think of peer pressure as a bad thing that we should resist, but it can also be a powerful influencer in terms of shifting social attitudes for the better as well.

It’s also true that fitting in feels good.  We all want to feel a sense of connection and belonging and these things are hugely important to our personal wellbeing.  The difficulty is, of course, when fitting in means feeling pressured to change parts of ourselves in ways that we are not comfortable with.  And feeling under pressure to force yourself to be something that you’re not can cause a huge amount of psychological distress.

It’s a no win situation – we either change (or pretend to change) for the sake of fitting into the group – and feel awful and uncomfortable about not being able to be who we really are – or we stay courageous about our convictions, but experience ostracisation and pay another kind of emotional price for that, too.

So what’s the answer?  I’m really not sure to be honest.  I know that personally when I was younger I felt huge amounts of pressure to hide my nerdy and academic interests, because they didn’t seem to be shared by the people around me.  I didn’t talk about my love for sci-fi, comic books or video games with anyone.  Or show that I loved attending classes and soaking up knowledge anywhere I could.  I simply never seemed to have any friends who had the same interests.

But through my 20s I became a lot more comfortable in my own skin and more confident that being different in some way was okay.  Just the other day a colleague was pointed out a nice, but expensive, piece of jewellery online.  She asked, “Wouldn’t you like to own that?”  I replied, “Actually, I’d rather have a new Xbox!”  We laughed about it.  I didn’t feel like an outcast.  I felt like I was being genuine and appreciated for that.

And maybe this is the key.  Sometimes a lot of the pressure to conform is external, but I wonder how much of it is internal as well.  I wonder if my friends in my younger years would have accepted me for who I was if I had given them the chance to.

Or maybe my hard-won comfort with who I am helps other people to feel more comfortable being themselves around me too.  We’ve removed that pressure, together.

But I’m curious – how affected (or unaffected) do you feel by social pressure?

 

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