We tend to hear about peer pressure among teens. Usually, in the context of resisting drugs and alcohol or other dangerous behaviors. Nonetheless, peer pressure goes beyond that narrow definition. Especially once you hit adult years. 

Peer pressure happens in workplaces, friendships, family dynamics, romantic partnerships, online forums, and pretty much anywhere else you happen to interact with others or consume their thoughts, opinions, and actions. So, how can you get ahead of the pressure and hold your own?

Let’s define peer pressure first. Then, we’ll discuss the impacts of peer or social pressure, statistics, and, most importantly, how to deal with peer pressure – regardless of your age or situation. 

What is Peer Pressure, Exactly? What is Social Pressure? Are They the Same?

Technically speaking, peer pressure and social pressure aren’t the same. The basic definition of “peer pressure” is unsolicited influence from members of one’s peer group. 

Another definition is “social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.”

Social pressure is broader than peer pressure. When people influence you without “counting” as peers due to age, occupation, relationship, or another difference, that is called social pressure.  

However, peer pressure and social pressure feel the same to the recipient. Accordingly, we will use the terms interchangeably in this article.

Social pressure also isn’t always obvious or heavy-handed. Indirect peer pressure can be when all of your friends are doing something, and you feel left out, “bad,” or like you won’t fit in if you don’t. No one needs to tell you to do something; you can feel pressure indirectly instead.

This can also be referred to as peer influence, since there isn’t clear force or pressure being applied. Semantics aside, both peer and social pressure can have either a positive or negative impact. 

Telling someone that it's tough for you to say no - and asking for their help to stick to your needs - calls the person in rather than calling them out. Instead of feeling rejected by your "no," they will hopefully see an opportunity to help a friend.

Negative peer pressure

Negative peer pressure is what we think of most often when we hear the term “peer pressure.” Usually, negative peer or social pressure will lead you to do something that feels “wrong” or inauthentic to you. 

You might sense that something’s off in your gut, but listening to that instinct can be challenging. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of your instincts about a situation until after-the-fact. Either way, negative peer pressure can feel extra bad when we miss the opportunity to “take our own side.”

We can also acknowledge positive peer pressure exists. Usually, you’ll be able to distinguish the two by how you feel during the conversation.

Positive peer pressure

Is peer pressure always negative? No, not in the slightest. In some instances, pressure and influence from our peers can be positive. There are times when those around us influence us in a helpful or productive way, which can’t be discounted. 

For example, there’s evidence that seeing a peer act with integrity makes it easier for you to do so. If a peer speaks against injustice, you might feel more able to do the same.

Positive and negative examples of peer pressure

To some degree, what is positive vs. negative pressure depends on you and your core values or current needs. Pressure to take a hike could be great for someone who loves hiking but has trouble getting out on their own. That same pressure could feel bad for someone who’s healing from an injury and shouldn’t move their leg. 

The point is that you decide for yourself what is positive vs. negative peer pressure. That said, we’ve listed some examples of each, below.

Examples of positive peer or social pressure include:

  • Other students in your class have strong study habits and don’t party often. You feel influenced to study regularly, sit the party out, and get a full eight hours of sleep instead.
  • Your friend decides to stay off of social media or reduce social media usage. You do the same. In turn, you experience benefits from lower social media use. 
  • Online, you see people prioritize self-care. You take steps to do the same (e.g., using positive self-talk or setting an alarm so you eat consistent meals throughout the day). You find this helpful and feel better.
  • You smoke but want to quit. At your workplace, smoking is frowned upon. You smoke less because of this.
  • You want to go out more, but nervousness often holds you back. Your friend asks you to please consider going to dinner with everyone. You do, and you have a fantastic time. 

As you can see, these things are all more likely to enhance your life rather than strain it, make you feel unsupported or bad about yourself, and so on. That said, for every positive example of influence from others, there’s a negative one. 

Examples of negative peer or social pressure include:

  • Your colleagues drink nightly. It is part of the group’s routine. They tease you if you don’t participate, so you drink even though you don’t want to.
  • Your mom has disordered eating habits, perhaps skipping meals or undereating. She pushes you to take on these behaviors, so you do. 
  • Your friends make fun of you for speaking up on an issue you are passionate about. You stop doing it and start to wonder whether you’re too sensitive or if it is uncool to care. 
  • You’re happy with your current phone, but your partner always needs the latest gadget. They tell you to get a phone beyond your means, saying that your current phone is cheap or of poor quality. When you’re out together, you buy the newest iPhone after repeated comments.
  • The kind of jeans you like are now “out of style,” and people make jokes about them. Although you’re not comfortable in jeans that fit current trends, you wear them because you start to feel self-conscious in the pairs you like.

Some of these things won’t impact your life long-term, but others will. Peer pressure can range from minor to extreme, but it can affect anyone. Research on peer pressure shows its trends and effects, all while illustrating the fact that we likely aren’t immune to it, even if we think we are. 

Statistics on this experience

What exactly do we know about peer pressure from research? Quite a bit, and some of it might surprise you. Here are some of the facts and statistics we have on peer or social pressure:

  • Statistics on peer pressure and drinking show that it’s not a teen-specific issue. 69% of 18-34 year olds who drink feel pressure from their friends to drink more. The same is true for 56% of those aged 35-54 and 54% over 55. 
  • Some research shows a connection between peer pressure and a higher risk of depression and anxiety symptoms. 
  • Resilience to peer pressure increases most in those ages 14-18. From ages 10-14 and 18-30, however, there is little growth in the area.
  • Peer pressure is shown to influence buying behaviors among various ages and groups.

Often, we give in to peer pressure to avoid social isolation or feeling othered. Social connection is an innate desire, so it makes sense that we surrender to pressure to continue to relate to peers. Whether consciously or subconsciously.

While this doesn’t mean we should give in to peer pressure, it does make sense that we’re susceptible for a reason. In other words, while this can be an innate reaction or fear, there are ways to handle peer pressure effectively. 

How to Deal with Pressure From Those Around You

Once you identify negative influence from others, it’s time to address it. Learning to deal with peer pressure can help you avoid unfavorable consequences like being untrue to yourself or doing things you don’t want to do. 

There are different ways to combat peer pressure. Some are more overt; others are more passive. The key is to choose the approach that works for you. Here are some tips to help you hold your own around others, no matter your age or situation. 

1. Be honest (say that you feel pressured)

You can call out pressure with honesty. While it might feel bold, it’s often very effective to state that you feel pressured when you do. Sometimes, people who pressure you won’t realize it until you point it out. Other times, they will. Regardless, the honest admittance that you feel pressured, especially when it’s repetitive, is an excellent way to stand up for yourself. 

Use this template, but modify it for your situation: “I feel pressured to get another drink, but that’s not what I want to do. I’ll take some water!” 

If you want to get vulnerable or feel that it would be more practical in your situation, you can also express: “Hey, it’s hard for me to say no. I’m really trying to stick to what I need. Please don’t ask me again.”

Telling someone that it’s tough for you to say no – and asking for their help to stick to your needs – calls the person in rather than calling them out. Instead of feeling rejected by your “no,” they will hopefully see an opportunity to help a friend. 

2. Withstanding peer pressure

To withstand something means to resist it. While it can be instinctive to succumb to peer pressure, the power of better understanding peer pressure, our tendency to give into it, or the unfavorable effects it has on us, is that it alerts us to the fact that we can withstand it. 

One way to withstand peer pressure? A direct “No. Please don’t ask me again,” will suffice. That said, there’s more than one way to apply this approach. 

For example, you can ignore them outright and stick to your guns, so to speak. Don’t reply; just do what you were going to do in the first place. Or, you can play along and use self-deprecation to laugh it off, saying, “Yes, I’m the fuddy-duddy,” or “Yeah, I’m boring!” 

3. Rejecting peer pressure

Rather than feel pressured due to peer pressure from someone else, reject them back. Consider channeling your sassy side and countering social pressure with pressure of your own. Here are a couple of examples of what you can say:

  • “I don’t like to think of myself as someone who does ___.”
  • “No, I’m not going to join in on the insults toward Lee. In fact, I’m disappointed and offended by your behavior toward Lee.”

Especially in cases like those above, this gives YOU an opportunity to influence your peers positively. Take your power back and stand up for what you think is right.

4. The firm “no”

As the saying goes, “no” is a full sentence. If you feel nervous or uncomfortable, just remember: Firmness is required; aggression is not. You can repeat yourself kindly (“I said no. I really can’t go.”) 

At times, people won’t understand. Maybe a heart-to-heart is to be had. Perhaps this person feels highly influenced and pressured by others, too, and they’re projecting. 

Either way, know that there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to peer pressure. 

What if it doesn’t work? Walking away, setting a boundary, or taking space from the connection is totally okay. Whether or not the bond you have with the person in question is sour or generally positive, you don’t have to give into social pressure. 

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