Parents today are keenly aware of the fierce pressures children and young people experience in order to fit in with their friends, peer groups or on-line connections. The attention we get from standing out from the crowd is something that everyone wants when it comes as accolades and acceptance by their peer groups, but not the kind of standing out that causes them to be isolated and socially outcast. On the surface, the stories we are seeing unfold today appear to differ from those in the past, but is this true? For example, when it comes to the pressures that differing gender groups experience in trying to fit into the world and conform to gender norms, the common threads of peer acceptance are timeless.
This reoccurring generational disturbance is asking you not to be you but to fit into a picture that may have nothing to do with who you are or your values. No one likes to feel that disturbance, and therein lies the tendency to do whatever it takes to relieve the tension. Even if it means changing who you are.
All too many young people struggle with the process as ‘fitting in’ asks us to act in a way we are not necessarily comfortable with and can be the direct opposite of our character. In that disturbance, we often have little understanding of what is going on for others and the impact it is having on everyone because your need to fit in is greater. Regardless of gender, ‘fitting in’ informs young people they cannot safely be who they are as they are, instead they must change to suit the peer group’s consensus if they want to avoid being isolated and rejected. There is an unspoken directive that to physically and emotionally survive in the world, we need to alter who we are to be acceptable, with little understanding of what is making this occur or the high cost of consequences on our own, as well as others’ mental and physical health.
Is it possible that this shutting down of how we naturally feel, in order to fit in, feeds into the ever-increasing number of physical and mental health issues that too many people are suffering from today?
This pressure to ‘be’ something we are not, can be seen in children from a very young age, it is an unspoken normal pattern of behaviour in life that is often dictated by social media, family, school as well as our peers. This created normal can have a fundamental impact upon us. If we are told loud and clear that who we innately are is wrong or ‘ill-fitting’ for what is demanded by others, that we are unacceptable as we are, then the question arises -
What are we being re-shaped to be?
When our actions model what we are told is the suitable way to sound, look, act, think and behave, etc are we allowing ourselves to be moulded into something alien to our natural selves?
Having an understanding of how much we have been shaped by all the factors that influence our lives can support us in seeing why we behave the way we do and why we make our life choices. It also allows us to know that everyone will have had some form of ‘shaping’ process to make them who we see and meet. It’s that understanding that can change how we respond to ourselves and everyone around us.
This can give us space to come back to consider if we have changed ourselves to fit in, perhaps beyond recognition.
It also cuts out the judgement of ourselves and others and allows us to see everyone as a product of ‘fitting in’ rather than see life as a series of personal attacks.
In that space, it is possible re-connect to who we innately are with no fitting in required.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska