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Why We Conform to Others’ Expectations [ With Ways to Fight Back ]


When you’re a fresh-out-of-college graduate, stepping into the “real” world feels intimidating. You meet and befriend new people, maybe at your new job, where everyone seems to know what they are doing and how to dress to impress. You, on the other hand, proudly walk around wearing your favorite band’s t-shirt. At first, it doesn’t matter, but as time goes on, you feel glances your way, whispers floating around you, and stares aimed your way – enough to make you self-conscious.

Been there?

Well, that’s the subtlety of conformity, an unseen but powerful force that shapes how we behave from a youngster to a fully-fledged adult.

It’s the voice in your head, urging you to fit in, to color within the box, and to avoid disapproval. Whose? No one knows. So, why do we keep conforming to others’ expectations, often at the cost of our authenticity and self-expectations?

And more importantly, how do we fight back and live on our own terms and expectations?

I can’t guarantee solid solutions, but I can help you find your way around the psychology of conformity, the reasons why we conform to others’ expectations, and how you can break free from this cage of conformity.

The Psychology of Conformity

Conformity, in simple words, is the act of aligning your beliefs, behaviors, and thoughts with others or with others’ expectations in mind. It’s the want to be accepted as a part of a group, to belong in a community, and to avoid the discomfort of being different. Polish social psychologist, Solomon Asch, conducted a study in the 1950s that perfectly explains the psychology of conformity.

Asch’s research found that a surprising number of people conformed to the false majority, highlighting the power of peer pressure to override one’s own perception.

Conformity isn’t always bad. There are times when conforming to the expectations of others serves a purpose. Following social norms, like waiting in a line or dressing for the occasion, keeps things smoothly running. However, there’s a point where conformity can become unhealthy – stifling your creativity and individuality.

Why Do We Conform to Others’ Expectations?

The reasons we conform to the expectations of others are complex. Here are some common factors that cause us to conform to others’ expectations;

We’re all social creatures, with a deep-seated desire to connect and belong to a group. Conformity acts as a social glue, promoting a sense of acceptance and belonging. Ever noticed a teenager altering their taste in music to fit in with a particular clique? That’s the need to fit in driving their actions.

  • The Fear of Being Rejected

When we don’t conform to others, it can lead to social exclusion and rejection, a fear that’s ingrained in our hearts from a young age. Being excluded or rejected socially can be painful, so we conform to others just to avoid this fate. Ever hesitated to wear your favorite hoodie or t-shirt to work because you feared being ridiculed? That’s a classic example.

There are times when we conform to others because we genuinely believe that others have more knowledge. We look to the group as a source of information, especially when you are new to a situation. Say, you go to a restaurant and everyone at the table orders a specific dish. You might be following suit because you feel they are right in their judgment.

It’s not odd to crave validation and positive reinforcement. Conforming to others’ expectations can earn us praise and acceptance, feeding that need for approval. As a student, you might have altered your career choice or academic pursuits to please your peers, teachers, or parents, even if it clashes with your passions. That’s another example.

In our teenage years, the most formative years, the desire to fit in with our peers is strong. Friends pressure each other to conform to certain styles, behaviors, and attitudes. This peer pressure can be direct or indirect. The fear of not being accepted in your peer circle can also drive the need to conform.

How to Stop Conforming to Others?

Conforming to others’ expectations can feel safer – trust me, I know for I have been there. It’s an easy path to take, after all. But, more than the need to conform, the need to stay true to yourself is important.

Here are some tips to help you stop conforming to others and live your life on your terms;

The first thing you need to do is to know yourself. What are your values and beliefs? What truly matters to you? Get to know yourself through self-awareness and self-reflection activities such as meditation, journaling, or conversations with trusted people. Once you know what you stand for, you’ll have a stronger foundation for making the right choices.

Don’t just accept social norms or expectations. Question them, research about them, and then decide if they resonate with you and your values. Is dressing a certain way for a job interview necessary to judge competence? It’s just an example, but find your own way through social norms. The idea is to stay true to yourself.

Your quirks and eccentricities are what make you interesting. Don’t be scared to show your passions and interests, even if they seem unconventional. The right people and the right groups will appreciate your quirks and the uniqueness of your personality that you bring to the table.

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, even if it’s different from others’ opinions. You are entitled to your voice, so use it. Be respectful and speak up if you disagree with someone or if you have a different opinion or perspective to present.

Surround yourself with people who value your authenticity. Find a support system, your people, who encourage you to be yourself, flaws and all. These relationships will be your safe space to express yourself and boost your confidence in being different. The good kind of different, though.

There will come times when you feel conforming is the easier way out. Don’t feel bad about it. Instead, be self-compassionate and acknowledge the social pressures at play. The key is to learn from your experiences and recommit to living authentically.

Wrap Up…

Conformity serves a purpose, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your authentic self. The world can do with a mix of colors and quirks like yours! Don’t let others’ expectations dull your unconventional ideas and mute your passionate voice. Be true to yourself because when you live life on your own terms, you not only enrich your life but inspire others to do the same.

So, take a deep breath, step off the crowded broad road, and go off on an adventure of being truly you!

Did this article help you learn the reasons we conform to others’ expectations and ways to stop conforming to others? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Take Care!



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