Nobody tells me what to do! Or do they?

Nobody tells me what to do

Most of us like to think that we are able to stand up for ourselves, and that nobody can make us do something we don’t want to. We like to think that we are able to keep our independence and not be affected by peer pressure. That nobody can make us abandon what’s important to us. But are we really?

Every day we are exposed to social pressures that try to influence us. Some of them are obvious, but others are much more subtle, making it harder to recognise and stand up to them.

Do you know the ways you are being influenced? And do you know how to resist these influences when they aren’t right for you?

Two main ways we are ‘told’ what to do:

1) “Do as I say”- we are always being told to do certain things, for example, buy a certain product; vote for a particular person; donate to a cause. These messages are designed to influence our attitudes, values and actions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could be if we just blindly accept what is being said and don’t question it.

Things to ask when you hear this message:

  • Who is saying this?
  • Are they qualified to be telling people what to do?
  • Why are they saying this?
  • What’s in it for them?
  • Do I agree with what they are saying?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • What happens if you ask questions? Do people avoid answering you? Or use silencing techniques? If they do, then why is this?

2) “Do as we do” – other times we aren’t directly told what to do, but we are shown what’s expected by the way other people behave. The message is clear that if we want to be accepted then we need to behave like everyone else. We need to do what they do. We need to dress like they do, talk like they do, value what they value etc. We get a message that if we go along with the majority we will be accepted. If we don’t then we face being rejected and ridiculed.

This pressure to conform is really noticeable in groups. Groups have a lot of power to influence our beliefs and actions, especially if it’s a group we really want to be accepted into. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be if we find ourselves doing things that are against our beliefs and values just so that we can belong to a group and not be rejected.

Things to check out when you’re in a group:

  • Do you find yourself becoming a different person when you’re with group members?
  • Do you find yourself doing things in your group that go against your values and beliefs? Why is that? Is it because you are worried about negative consequences if you don’t?
  • Are you free to leave the group if you want to? What happens to those that do choose to leave? How are they talked about?
  • Are you able to have friends/relationships outside the group? 

Ways to resist being influenced:

  • Talk to someone you trust and ask them for their advice about what you should do.
  • Work out what’s really important to you. What do you want to stand for? What kind of person do you want to be?
  • Challenge messages directly. Ask why you have to do things a certain way? Ask who decided this? Ask what happens if you don’t go along with what’s being expected?
  • Ask yourself if the group you are in is the right fit for you. Does it help you to be the person you want to be? Do group members like you as you are or do they want you to change? Maybe there’s a better group to belong to where the group will like you as you are?
  • Weigh-up the pros and cons. What does conforming to group pressures cost you? What does conforming give you? Ask yourself if it’s worth it to go along with the group’s expectations.