How to Deal with Social Pressure and Follow Your Own Path

Sometimes your goals and behaviors, even though they make rational sense, will come into conflict with the way others would like you to act and live. When this happens, such people may try to make you conform using emotional tools such as sarcasm, criticism, withdrawal of approval, threats or rejection.

The use of such tools by a number of people to exert influence over you is what’s known as social pressure. It’s a force meant to make you conform to the will of others around you and, more broadly, to the standards of society.

I’ve had many conversations with people who’ve made numerous sacrifices in life due to social pressure. Almost without exception, when they look back, they regret having given in to the desires of others instead of doing what they truly wanted to do.

This is why it’s key to know how to deal with social pressure. It frees you to follow your own path in life and do so without any shame. With this in mind, I’d like to give you a few practical ideas:

1. Remember That the Majority Is Often Wrong

Social pressure is often a powerful force because when several people show disapproval towards something we do, we automatically assume they are right and we are wrong, since we are alone and they are many. Our minds tend to operate on the principle that the majority is always correct.

However, in practice, that is frequently not true. In fact, let’s face it: most people don’t really know what they’re talking about most of the time. They believe various ideas simply because they’ve been exposed to them thousands of times from a young age (which is basic indoctrination) and they never bothered to question them; then they go through life following those ideas, living unimpressive lives, and expecting others to do the same.

So when you consider this, it makes no sense to give authority to an idea just because a lot of people believe it. If anything, it’s probably a sign it’s a flawed idea. This is something to always bear in mind when confronted with social pressure.

2. Don’t Blow Things Out Of Proportion

Sometimes social pressure can take pretty rough forms. Like if your whole family threatens to kick you out of the house and disown you unless you get married. It’s not a tragedy, but it’s not a pleasant situation either.

social pressureHowever, the vast majority of times, social pressure takes light and brief forms. Like if your friends tease you a couple of times when going out for not drinking alcohol, or a few people give you weird looks on the street because you’re dressed in an unusual way.

It’s common though for individuals dealing with such minor events to mentally make a really big deal out of them. They start thinking that everybody hates them, and that they are complete screw-ups. Their minds dramatize and exaggerate.

When dealing with social pressure, it’s important to notice how you think about it, and keep your thinking in check (here is more detailed advice on how to do this). Acknowledge what’s happening, but don’t blow it out of proportions. It will save you a lot of stress.

3. Develop a Strong Sense of Self

In my experience as a confidence and communication coach, there is strong correlation between how sensitive a person is to social pressure and how weak their sense of self is.

People with a weak sense of self let how others see them define them, and abundant approval from others is the one crucial factor that makes them feel good about themselves. Conversely, if others disagree with them or disapprove their conduct, they instantly feel invalidated and worthless.

Cultivating a strong sense of self implies getting to know yourself and your strengths, developing a positive self-image, and improving your social confidence.

This is a big and crucial topic, so I’m not gonna address it in this brief article. Instead, I’ve created a free instructional video where I share my tried and tested advice for improving your confidence and developing a strong sense of self. I suggest you go here and watch it right now. You won’t be disappointed.

4. Find People Who Accept You as You Are

The fact many people don’t approve of what you do or how you do it doesn’t mean that all of humanity is rejecting you. But it can often feel that way; unless there are also people in your life who accept you the way you are.

These people can be either A) like-minded people, who are similar to you in goals and behavior, or B) open-minded people, who have a lot of tolerance towards diversity.

Such people are great because they confirm that being true to yourself is not a death sentence for your social life. It’s reassuring to know that you can follow your path, and even though many will object, some people are fine with it and will keep being your friends.

If you lack such people in your social circle, I encourage you wholeheartedly to find them and keep them close. Get involved in social events, meet new people, get to know them better and spot the ones who accept you as you are. Make friends with such people and foster those friendships. For an unconventional person in particular, they are priceless.

Once you’ve learned to deal with it, social pressure is really no big deal. All that will truly matter to you is that you understand why you wanna do what you wanna do, and it feels right to you.

You’ll feel motivated to follow your own path and you won’t be distracted by herd-like opposition. You’ll live true to yourself and you’ll be proud of yourself for it.

Why Family Pressure Is Heavy Pressure and How to Lighten the Load

Even the people I know with really good people skills are often little babies when it comes to handling family pressure on them to think, feel or act in certain ways. They may be able to easily refuse a colleague’s invitation to go bowling, but when mom asks them to visit for dinner, they just can’t say no.

The fact that our families have more influence on us than most other people is not all bad of course, considering they do play a big role in our lives. But this is the first layer. Beyond it, there is a huge ability of many close family members to pressure us into doing things we don’t really want to do and we don’t regard as good for us.

I have seen people get in and out of jobs, colleges, marriages and cities in order to please their families. Close family members often have this way of pushing our emotional buttons and making us comply with them even when it would be saner to nail our heads to the wall.

First of all, it’s important for us to understand why. Looking at this phenomenon in terms of people skills and attitudes, I conclude that there are 2 major factors at play.

  1. Family members know what buttons to push. Having usually spent a lot of time interacting with us, they understand our needs, our vulnerabilities and our emotional buttons. And consciously or not, they use this knowledge to pick the right channels in order to make us conform to their desires, even if those channels involve emotional manipulation and putting pressure on us.
  2. We give family members a lot of meaning. We generally perceive disappointing a family member as something very bad, which will affect us greatly. And because of this, so it does: at an emotional level. We add so much meaning to what our parents, brothers, wives or husbands think and feel about us, that we can’t tolerate emotionally not to please them. 

You can’t really influence the first factor. It’s natural for close family members to know which buttons to push, and it’s pretty much impossible to get them to not use this knowledge in a manipulative way if they do. What you can control is the second factor.

Putting things back into proportions. Talking in practical consequences, it is relevant for us to please our family. It’s not very fun to live with a parent or a wife who thinks you’re an idiot because you got on the wrong career path and who treats you like one.

But at the same time, we blow things out of proportions in this area. A lot of the practical negative consequences of not pleasing our families our simply dramatized in our heads. We delude ourselves into believing it’s intolerable to not make your parent proud, your family happy, when it’s mostly water under the bridge.

We set ourselves up to fail by thinking that the approval family members can give us is a must now, just as it seemed when we were 6. However, we are not 6 anymore, and our options have improved significantly. We have options to distance ourselves from family members who don’t appreciate us and to not tolerate rude treatment from anyone. This is a big part of what having good people skills is all about.

Once you realize the kind of power you really have and the kind of obligations you don’t, things naturally get put into their real proportions. Families become relevant but not essential, family pressure is something you no longer feel, and you are emotionally free to follow your own way in life.

Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks

How to Rise Above Family Pressure and Live the Life You Want

The family: a traditional source for love, advice, kind words, emotional support and apple pie. Also, quite often, a real pain in the ass when it comes to living the life you want. Let’s face it: you probably owe your family a lot, but at the same time, there are at least one or two big ways you feel it’s sabotaging your dreams.

I know in my family, I constantly felt pressure, especially from my dad, to live a certain way. The more I found out what I really wanted, the more I discovered it was not that way, and the pressure grew. Until at one point, I decided to move out of the family house completely, set some firm boundaries in the relationship with my parents and live exactly how I wanted.

My dad is still not very happy with how I spend my time, what I eat, the fact I have my own business instead of a regular job. Despite that, we now get along pretty well, and at the same time I don’t succumb to family pressure. This is how I do it and what I also teach others.

Most of the time, close family members like your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters have positive intentions in trying to push you in a certain direction. They mean well, they do it out of love. But, this doesn’t mean they also do the right thing for you. I think there are 2 major problems with how families often guide their children.

  1. They try to keep them in the safe zone. They don’t want them to do anything risky or unconventional. They encourage them to choose the career filed in which you can find the biggest salaries, and you can get a job even if you’re half retarded, ignoring what the children really want, can and like to do.
  2. They spread out-of-date wisdom. Because our society has changed so much in the last decade, it’s very probable that older family members like parents in their 50’s or 60’s have understandings of things which no longer applies. Yet they continue to believe in them firmly, and to guide their children using these understandings.

The results you get is a lot of family pressure directing you in the wrong direction. And this doesn’t apply just to teenagers, who are still kind of immature and financially dependent on their parents. Most mature, experienced and financially independent adults I know also get this kind of pressure from their families, and they often give in to it.

Family pressure can be a powerful, hard to ignore factor for most people, applied with incredible skills. The good news is there is way to effectively deal with family pressure and live the life you want. Here are the main things which can help you:

  • Put some distance between you and the rest. If you’re living in the same house with your parents or grandparents (which in today’s world is common even for married people) and you see them every day, it’s hard not to succumb to their pressure. Make moving out at priority, save the money it takes and do it.
  • Realize you don’t need to please your family. There is this false belief that because you family is, well… your family, you must get along perfectly with every family member. You don’t. It’s a myth. There’s nothing wrong with upsetting dad once in a while or not living up to mom’s dream for you to be a doctor.
  • Learn to communicate assertively. Assertive communication is one the most valuable people skills you can have. It allows you to express yourself in a clear, direct way, but from a position of respect for others, and it’s a great way to deal with all the criticizing and negative comments you can get from family members which are not happy with your actions.

But these points are really only a frame to set for rising above family pressure. The most important thing is action. This is YOUR life, not your parents’ life. And while they’re not to be completely ignored, it’s only naturally to live the way YOU want.