Thinking. Peer pressure part 4
Step 2. Know who they are and what they want
The second step in dealing with peer pressure is to understand the dynamics of what’s going on around you. Who are the people putting pressure on you, and what do they want?
Realising that everyone around you feels the same way as you do can help to take the pressure off. It might not feel true, and it might not appear to be true to you, but I promise you, it is. Almost everyone feels terrified of rejection when they are teenagers. I haven’t met a single adult who can look back at their high school years and say, “I was totally comfortable all the time.”
Teenagers develop different strategies to deal with the fear of rejection. One way is to be cool. Pretending to be confident fools a lot of people. Another way is to be constantly angry. If people are scared of what you might do, they probably won’t make you the target of their jokes. Cynicism and an attitude that says, “I don’t care” is another defence. It’s impossible to hurt someone who doesn’t take anything seriously. Playing power games is yet another strategy. Some people find they have a talent for being in charge and manipulating others. It feels like a safe place to be because no-one can reject you if you’re pulling everyone else’s strings. Then there are the people who drop out, act out or just zone out because it’s all too hard.
Who are the people who are putting pressure on you? Can you recognise their basic insecurity if you look hard enough? It gets easier as you get older, but it’s possible to see it at your age if you open your eyes to it.
Understanding that everyone else is scared too makes life just that little bit easier. If you’re getting a hard time from someone, but you can recognise her insecurity and the defence that she uses to hide it, it’s easier to not take it personally.
Secret number one that you have to get is that everyone’s terrified and hiding it in different ways. Secret number two is that every person out there, even the toughest, hardest one, wants to know and to feel that she or he is ok. Everyone wants to feel that they are unique and grown up. Everyone wants to know that they are loved.
Picking on someone who is different makes teenagers feel that they are ok. Doing things that aren’t allowed, like smoking or drinking, and doing them with other people, makes them feel that they are unique and grown up. Being accepted as part of a group makes them feel that they are loved.
When someone pressures you to join in, what they really want is for you to validate them. They want to know that they aren’t going to be rejected. If you don’t join in, they see you as rejecting them, and because that’s the biggest fear of their lives, they’ll work hard to make you feel you have no choice.
So what can you do? Well, the obvious solution is to find other ways to make the people around you feel that they are ok, that they are unique and that they are loved.
Being mature enough to be thick-skinned and forgiving when people insult you is a good start. Saying kind and encouraging things (but not being too cheesy) and avoiding insulting them back might help too. Finding ways to help people out or go the extra mile for them is another way to do it. If your friends feel validated by you because you’ve taken steps to show them you care, they are less likely to reject you or pressure you into doing something you might regret later.