When we think about peer pressure, we might think about our adolescence and remember Mom always asking if we’d jump off of a bridge just because everybody else was doing it. But adults experience peer pressure, too. It may not be as direct or intentional as the kind of peer pressure teenagers experience, but peer pressure in adulthood can be every bit as harmful.
Negative and Positive Peer Pressure
If you’ve adopted values, beliefs, goals or hobbies based on what others in your peer group believe or do, you’ve experienced peer pressure, whether positive or negative.
Maybe you drink to excess on the weekends even though you don’t enjoy it, because that’s what your friends do. Maybe you work as much overtime as you can so that you can afford the kind of lifestyle your siblings have, even though a brand new car doesn’t really excite you all that much.
These are examples of negative peer pressure leading you to behave in ways that contradict your true values.
On the other hand, maybe you quit smoking because your non-smoking friends were supportive, or maybe you’ve decided to get an advanced degree because many of those in your peer group are going back to school, too. These are examples of positive peer pressure leading you to make choices that are good for you and that don’t contradict your inherent values.
Resistance to Peer Pressure as Adults
A recent study published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that resistance to peer pressure increases dramatically between the ages of 14 and 18 but remains virtually unchanged between the ages of 18 and 30.
That’s because as we begin to disengage from the influence of our parents in later adolescence, we begin to develop our own identity. As we do so, if we remain true to our core values and beliefs, we increasingly have the wherewithal to stand up to the influence of friends and other peers.
If you ended your adolescent years still succumbing to negative peer pressure, you’re likely still doing it today.
How Negative Peer Pressure Affects Your Mental Health
Good mental health requires the ability to make decisions for yourself based in part on the values you’ve developed through thinking independently, often with some influence from family, friends, and role models. When you behave in ways that contradict your core values, your self-esteem suffers, and you may lose feelings of autonomy and control over your life. This can easily lead to other poor choices that further negatively affect your physical and mental health.
How to Handle Adult Peer Pressure
The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health points out that negative peer pressure can hold you back from realizing your true potential, and resisting it is crucial for improving your self-esteem and enjoying life on your terms. There are a number of
- Be true to yourself. Reflect on your inherent core values, and think about what you want for yourself in the future based on them.
- Be assertive. Make eye contact with your peers, and use phrases that start with “I,” such as “I think” or “I want.”
- Have a wide range of friends. Develop relationships with people who are old, young, rich, poor, religious and non-religious. Be open-minded to consorting with people from all different backgrounds, regardless of what your core peer group might say.
- Learn from your mistakes. The best way to avoid repeating a mistake is to learn from it. If you have been led astray due to peer pressure, consider what you might have done differently, and put it into practice next time.
- Be mindful. What feels right to you on a visceral level? That’s probably the direction you want to head. Stay mindful of your own thoughts and attitudes and decide if they jibe with your core values.
- Don’t mind your critics. If you’re acting in a way that’s true to yourself, never mind the critics. Someone who criticizes you may be mired in their own insecurities, and that’s not your problem to solve.
- Seek people who affirm your values. If you’ve outgrown certain relationships, let them go and try to surround yourself with people who appreciate your ideas, lifestyle and choices without judging them.