We are social beings. And that means we have to carry a lot of baggage. Interpersonal relationships contain a paradox: the more we trust our support networks, the more pressure they can exert to make us conform to their social standards.
Family, friends and the professional environment are potential pressure points that can push us to conform to norms, customs and ways of doing things with which we do not feel comfortable. Unpleasant emotions, such as the fear of social exclusion or the feeling of shame and guilt for having different opinions, are usually the main drivers of this conformity.
Obviously, compliance can also offer us some benefits, such as expanding our circle of trust, which gives us an illusory sense of security. In addition, it prevents us from having to make many decisions since they are generally made by others in our place, thus taking away the weight of responsibility. However, in the long run, conforming to others will end up destroying our authenticity and preventing us from leading a happy life.
Being true to yourself takes a lot of courage, but it brings the satisfaction of taking charge of your life and moving it in the direction you want.
The 5 most devastating effects of social conformity on your life
All of us, at some point, have fallen into the trap of social conformity. We have all felt peer pressure at some point in our lives and many of us have decided to give in.
Social conformity occurs when we change our behavior due to external pressures, which can come from the group of friends, family or society. Social conformity does not imply a true internal change but an adjustment of behavior to adapt to external demands. There is no intrinsic motivation, but the desire to fit in.
Obviously, when we give in to others, that superficial layer of acceptance can make life easier for us, avoiding conflicts and disagreements. However, the problem with social conformity is that it prevents us from living authentically, being true to ourselves, something absolutely necessary to find our way in life. The cost of conforming is giving up our authenticity.
Living in the shadow of other people, conforming to their way of seeing the world, is not living. When we try to fit into the mold of others, we lose sight of who we are.
1. Severe depression. When we blindly follow societal expectations, we can end up missing out on meaning in life. Conformity makes us disconnect from ourselves, from our emotions, illusions and desires, so that over time we can develop depression, the result of this inability to understand what we want and need.
2. Loss of self. Social conformity can be comforting as it generates a sense of security like a calm sea, but in the long run we will discover the limitations of constantly conforming to others. The longer we cling to others and deny our individuality, the more we are forced to disassociate ourselves from who we are. That usually leads to a feeling of detachment and depersonalization. And it is that we can only have clarity when we turn our eyes inside to pay attention to what we need and want.
3. It hinders personal growth. Giving in to the wishes of others can be tempting as it prevents us from having to make decisions, but handing over the reins of our lives will prevent us from growing. Social conformism prevents us from finding our own voice. It is as if we put our lives on pause since we practically do not make decisions, but rather we settle for the status quo.
4. Dependence on others. Conformity is, in essence, living according to what others have planned for us. There is always someone who tells us what we should do, think or even feel, in the case of emotional compliance. When we are not used to making decisions, we become dependent on those around us, increasingly reducing our autonomy, independence and freedom.
5. Vital inconsistency. It’s hard to stay consistent when we have to constantly adapt to what others want. Social conformity prevents us from developing our own life plan and following it. In fact, it keeps us constantly running after the ideas, plans, and goals of others, which often add little value or satisfaction to our lives. Instead, true stability arises when we take control of our destiny, set our own goals and design a plan to achieve them.
Conforming means resigning yourself to the ideas of others, which leaves very little room for self-expression and personal freedom. Deciding seeking the approval and validation of others prevents us from being true to ourselves. Social conformity leaves little room for autonomous thought and weighs down decision-making. When we are too busy considering what others want, we don’t pay much attention to what we want.
For that reason, being true to ourselves means going against the grain and being willing to face conflict. To take charge of our lives we need to find a way to express ourselves and go after what we need and want. Authentic happiness comes from connecting with our interior. We need to trust ourselves more and start listening ourselves, instead of depending on external validation. Pursue our passions, dust off our dreams, and find the courage to pursue our goals.
Stallen, M. & Sanfey, A. G. (2015) The neuroscience of social conformity: implications for fundamental and applied research. Front. Neurosci.; 9: 10.3389.