Dealing with peer pressure as an adult

Peer pressure is that age old high-school ideal that your friends will pressure you into ditching class or to go smoke behind the bike shed – it is noted as one of the leading causes of teenage depression and I’m sure every one of us heard the term thrown around in our youth, but peer pressure doesn’t disappear once you leave school, in fact as long as you have peers, you are at risk of peer pressure – and it is every bit harmful in adulthood as it is as youth.

Once you hit adulthood, our own perceptions change how we view peer interaction and instead of a blanket of esteem guiding pressures we feel as youth, adult peer pressure is often divided into two categories: positive pressure and negative pressure. Positive peer pressure may be you stop smoking because your non-smoking friends encourage it, or you all form a running group every week, or maybe you take on a postgraduate degree because they are about to do the same or already have; positive influences may pressure and force changes on daily life, but these changes are often welcomed and tolerated. Negative peer pressure includes drinking in excess every weekend even though you may not necessary want to, or dropping hundreds of dollars every time you hit the mall because your friends do the same thing; it could also include not quitting smoking because your smoking friends discourage the choice; negative influences usually have a negative effect on esteem, health, or social outcomes and are very rarely welcome.


A 2009 Developmental Psychology study of over 3,400 people found between the ages of 14-18 we become more resistant to peer pressure, however that level remains unchanged once between 18-30. It is believed this is most likely because as we develop our own sense of identity and ideals, we become more firm in our core ideals, unfortunately, it also showed if you were one to be peer pressured as a teenager, you are probably likely to succumb to the same issues as an adult.

Adult peer pressure doesn’t just require big things, it can include trivial things too – like putting money into buy flowers for Jenny, the receptionist on level 8 because she jut had a baby even though you have no idea who Jenny is, or making sure you catch up and watch Game of Thrones because everyone has told you how great it is even though you hate medieval and fantasy based genres, or going vegan for January because you’ve seen the hashtags and the social pressure is immense despite you maybe don’t feel ethically obligated or while your heart wants to, you don’t have the knowledge to back up the change (that doesn’t make you a bad person, but we’ll talk more about that later). It could also include feeling sorry for someone going through a rough time and sacrificing your own space and time to form an emotional punching bag for them, and letting this person continuously vent their frustrations at you – over time, these sorts of ‘take-take’ friendships rarely survive, but you feel obligated ad willingly carry that persons troubles and your own, on your shoulders. This is usually where people vow to cut out negative people in their life – that is a negative person, who has beaten you down with peer pressure.

Many people walked in to 2018 citing ‘to leave toxic people in 2017’; I tried to explore this with a few people and the key pointers of this, were the following:

  • Surround myself with positive people
  • Don’t let other people bring me down
  • I won’t let myself waste time on people who don’t deserve my time
  • This person makes me feel drained and negative, and I don’t want to feel like that

Once explored, it really came down to negative influences in the social circle and how these negative people were influencing and affecting lifestyles, actions and decisions. There are numerous research papers listing how negative peer pressure is bad for you, how it affects your mental health negatively, how it can prevent you from forming long lasting relationships, affect your self-worth, and stop you from realising your full potential. However, dealing with adult peer pressure is not as easy as just ‘cutting out toxic people’ as these people may be work colleagues, family, or in your immediate friends circle. Some ways on managing tough social situations and to avoid falling into the trap of negative adult peer pressures include:

  • Use the world ‘NO’ more often: easier to write than to say, but by voicing your ‘no’ more often you will become more assertive, more defiant and more in control
  • Don’t offer excuses: a big example, is adults who don’t drink. Declining an alcoholic beverage is almost blasphemy to some, and is usually met with a ton of unwanted and nosy questions like “You don’t drink?” “Why don’t you drink?” “Was someone in your family an alcoholic?” and even worse, “You don’t drink at all? You’re not fun!” You’re. No. Fun. Nobody wants to ever hear that – especially when you’re trying to make a good impression at your first night out with a new work team, or meeting someone’s partner, or at a new group event. Don’t offer excuses, you don’t owe them to anyone. Your actions do not define how much ‘fun’ you are, stand your ground and you will see they will learn to love you as the shining person you are, not for how many tequila shots you can do
  • Try have a large social circle: it is not uncommon for adults to have one, small set circle of close friends and still have social interactions outside their core group (ever watch an episode of Friends?), by developing relationships with different people in different like-minded groups you enjoy, such as a hiking group, a mother’s group or joining a book club; you will not only benefit from having a more diverse experience and a richer social culture, but the subconscious layer of knowing you have a larger social circle will make you feel less vulnerable in times of peer pressure and less likely to succumb to negative influences
  • Be true to yourself: how does this really make you feel? Reflect on your core values and if this is something you really want – if it isn’t, then that is the direction you want to head in. Stay in tune with your thoughts and feelings and decide if the vibe is right; practise mindfulness and get a better sense of self and a better direction of spirit
  • Stick together with birds of a feather: if you and your best friend from primary school no longer have the same values or nothing in common and you dislike hanging out with them, just don’t. Time and history should never be the pretence of continuing a relationship, instead stick to people who affirm your values and who make you  a better person. Friendships should positively challenge you, excite you, or comfort you; if you cannot receive either of these emotions then it frankly isn’t worth it. Let go of friendships you have outgrown and invest that energy and time into friendships that encourage you, appreciate your ideas, choices and lifestyle without judgement


 I hope this helped and could shed some light on how to adult peer pressure can easily influence our decisions, actions and interactions. Do you have any advice for anyone being peer pressured? Let me know in the comments below! I’ll also leave you with this piece of wonderful advice from Helen Mirren who said “At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words “fuck off” much more frequently.
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