It seems to me that peer pressure gets greater and greater as our lives get busier and more full. The pressure to conform, blend in, or be popular confronts us in just about every aspect of our lives.
Young Gay men are subject to peer pressure all the time. Our community can be extremely youth centric with a very strong focus on the superficial. We are under pressure to come out and stay in, look a certain way, act a certain way, buy the right clothes, listen to the right music and a thousand other things.
For many of us FOMO ( fear of missing out ) is a huge factor when it comes to whether or not we actually do something. Peer pressure is not just about others actively pushing you do to things, it can also be a passive force that surrounds us everyday with images and experiences that influence our decisions. Just hearing a group of friends talking about going out can be a kind of indirect peer pressure if we feel that we need to go out too in order to stay part of the group. Mardi Gras was a perfect example. Listening to all my friends talking about what they were going to do made me more and more anxious that I wasn’t going, and I felt left out because I couldn’t take part in the talk.
Peer pressure like all things can be useful in moderation if it pushes us in to new and beneficial experiences. When my friends pushed me to go out more I made new connections and eventually met a nice boy. It was their not so gentle prodding that made me break out of my doldrums and reclaim my social life. But not all peer pressure pushes us to do things that are healthy or safe. Drugs, binge drinking and all other kinds of risky behaviour are constantly being pushed on us.
If we don’t learn how to deal with peer pressure then we can be left feeling left out, depressed or isolated when we can’t join in, or we can end up allowing ourselves to be caught in situations that we don’t want to be in or which are harmful.
So how do we beat peer pressure when we know that we are being pushed in to something that we don’t want to do?
Everybody wants to belong, there is nothing wrong with that. But is giving in to peer pressure and doing something you don’t want to do worth it just to fit in? Are the consequences really worth it. If all your being asked to do is enter a pie eating contest it probably doesn’t matter but what happens when it comes to drugs or sex or breaking the law?
Are these people worth it?
Are the people who are pressuring you to do it really your friends if they can’t take no for an answer? I have a mate who likes to indulge in drugs occasionally, he often asks if I am interested and when I say no, he doesn’t ask again. He never pushes on me. If your friendships are conditioned on your partaking in things that you don’t really want to do then it’s time to find friends who respect your choices. People who don’t respect you, usually don’t stick around either when things go wrong.
Remember it’s okay to say NO.
Real friends will respect your boundaries. It is always okay to stand up for yourself and say NO. Remember, you’re the person who is going to have to live with the consequences of your choices so being selfish and looking out for number one is entirely the right thing to do in this situation. Stick to your guns.
Deep down you know if something doesn’t feel right. Trust that feeling. You know what you want and when your inner voice says no, listen to it. Trust that you know what the right thing to do is, trust that you are strong enough to make your own choices, trust that if you say no things will be okay.
Remember you are amazing already!
Fitting in, being part of the crowd, having friends, and being popular are all good things but being yourself is even better. You are unique in the Universe, there is nobody else like you and there never will be again. Every atom of you has come together over billions of years forged by a string of unique and random acts to create you. Be confident and people will be attracted to you for who you are, not who they want you to be.
Not all peer pressure will be direct or malicious, you won’t always need to be aggressive about saying no. just remember that life is what we make it and be aware of what you want and how the people around you make you feel. It’s okay to be yourself.
The truest friends will be those that accept you because of your uniqueness. Don’t stifle yourself for a bunch of posers and pretenders.