Peer Resistance Skills
Peer resistance skills are those required to resist peer pressure, the pressure put on you by your peers, and by your own concerns about what those around you will think of you.
Peer resistance is a term often used when talking about young people, particularly adolescents, but it is just as applicable for adults.
Peer pressure can be overt, for example, someone asking you to do something that you feel may not be right.
Resisting may be hard, because it is often easier to ‘go with the flow’.
Peer pressure can also be covert, which is often even harder to resist, because it is about what you think other people will think of you. Asking yourself ‘What will people think?’ sounds relatively harmless but, if you allow it to rule your life, you are likely to end up struggling to maintain your self-esteem.
Regrets? I’ve had a few…
Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware spent many years providing care for people in the last stages of terminal illness. She found that people who are dying are often very clear about their lives, and particularly about what they would do differently if given another chance.
When she asked them about the things that they regretted most, certain themes constantly recurred.
The most common regret was that people wished that they had lived their own life, and not tried to live up to other people’s expectations.
They all wished that they had spent less time worrying about ‘what other people will think’, and done more to live their own lives.
A Definition of Peer Pressure
Your peers, usually your friends, are those around you. In work, it would be your colleagues. At school or college, it is your fellow-students. Outside work or college, it is your friends and acquaintances, and even your family.
Pressure is the feeling that you are being pushed into a decision.
Peer pressure, then, is being pushed into a decision, whether right or wrong, by those around you. It can come from those at the same level as you, or from those that you look up to as role models: older siblings, more senior students or colleagues, or even parents.
There is only really a dilemma if peer pressure pushes us towards the decision that we feel is wrong.
Under those circumstances, it is important to be able to resist.
Covert and Overt Pressure
There is a further distinction to be made between covert and overt pressure.
Overt, or spoken, pressure
Is when someone asks you to do something which you feel or know is wrong. Examples of this include someone asking you to take illegal drugs.
Covert, or unspoken, pressure
Is when you feel that someone will judge you if you make a particular decision. Examples of this include the feeling that:
- you ought to buy designer clothes to avoid your friends looking down on you;
- you should go out for a drink, even though you are expected home by your partner who has been at home with two small children all day;
- you should opt for a particular course of study or career to please your parents.
Covert pressure may come from your peers, or from older role models.
It can be harder to resist covert pressure, because you are putting that pressure on yourself. It may not actually exist outside your head.
Peer Resistance Skills
People find it hard to resist peer pressure because they are afraid of losing their friends, or being left on their own, or even of ‘letting people down’. But they can also struggle because they simply don’t know how to get out of the situation gracefully.
There are a number of skills involved in peer resistance. These include:
Identifying the ‘right’ decision.
Sometimes this is easy: the wrong one may be illegal, perhaps. But it is often much harder to determine. Under these circumstances, you may find it helpful to read our pages on Living Ethically and Goodness: Learning to Use Your Moral Compass, where there is more about working out what is ‘right’ for you.
It is important to stress that there may not be a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in absolute terms. It is about what is right for you.
Valuing your Own Opinion
Identifying the ‘right’ decision is only part of the answer. You then have to believe in yourself enough to value your opinion over and above those of your peers. In other words, you need to have reasonably good self-esteem or self-worth, so that you know that you are as good as anyone else.
You may find it helpful to read our pages on Improving Self-Esteem and Building Confidence. Our page on Trustworthiness and Conscientiousness also gives an example, which you may find helpful, of standing up for what you believe and valuing your own opinion.
Stating your Views Assertively
The third step is to state your views assertively. It is important not to be aggressive about it: you need to be calm and confident, and assert your position. Becoming aggressive will only result in others getting angry, which will not help your position.
For example, an assertive answer to ‘Let’s go out and have a really good gossip’ might be:
“No, thank you, I don’t really want to do that.”
Other types of behaviour which are unhelpful at this point are:
- Passive, in which you behave as if you do want to make that decision but don’t quite dare, for instance, ‘umming’ and ‘ah-ing’ about it;
- Avoidance, where you try to distract people by discussing something else; and
- Knowledgeable, where you try to educate others as to the benefits of your opinion, for example, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that, it’s bad for you’.
Assertive behaviour includes standing up straight, making eye contact, and stating your position clearly. Don’t make excuses, simply say how you feel about it.
For more about this, you may find it helpful to visit our pages on Assertiveness.
Clarifying and Questioning
Particularly for covert pressure, it can be helpful to use questioning and clarifying techniques to explore whether the pressure really exists, or whether it is simply your perception of the situation.
For example, you may feel that your parents want you to follow a particular career, but that may not be the case. Instead they may simply have been encouraging you in a direction that they thought might interest you. Asking them will clarify the position. The same goes for your friends.
Case Study: Designer Trainers
Thirteen-year-old Jade needed new trainers. She had outgrown hers, and she really, really wanted Nike ones to replace them, just like her friend Colleen’s.
Unfortunately, her father had just lost his job. Nike trainers were out of the question. Jade was really upset.
“Everyone has them! Colleen won’t want to be my friend if I don’t have Nikes!” she wailed.
“I’m sorry, but we just can’t afford it at the moment,” her mother said firmly.
The next day, her mother returned from the shops with a pair of new trainers. Apart from the ‘swoosh’, they were almost identical to Colleen’s, and her mother thought she had done well. Jade, however, did not. She rushed upstairs and flung herself on the bed in tears. How could she face the other girls?
Later, however, Colleen came round. She picked up Jade’s new trainers and said,
“Oh wow, look at these, they’re great. They’re almost exactly the same as mine!”
“Yes,” Jade whispered, “but they’re not Nikes.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Colleen said. “They’re trainers, and they look great. I only have Nike ones because my dad bought them for me to make up for splitting up with my mum.”
Jade looked at her friend in astonishment.
“You mean you don’t care about the brand?”
“No, why would I? Yours are great,” Colleen replied. “I think your mum’s done well finding those.”
So did Jade, now.
A Final Thought
Even if you feel that you are right, resisting overt or covert pressure from others is not easy.
Ultimately, however, you need to be able to live with yourself. Only by following what you believe to be right for you can you do that.