Almost all my first contacts with negative behaviors were the result of peer pressure. I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 behind my grandparents’ house when a couple of older kids dared me to do it and I first got drunk at 16 in parking lot with a group of college freshmen.
I’m not proud of succumbing to the group’s ways but I was young and had a lot to learn. Fitting in is very desirable when you’re a kid and, in order to do so, you have to adjust to the group’s rules. In other words, you often give in to the peer pressure.
I didn’t become an alcoholic because of it
Peer pressure was not the reason why I started drinking heavily, but I do have to point out that after a while almost all social contacts you’ll have outside work and family will be your drinking buddies. I started losing interest in meeting people who refused to stay for more than a couple of beers because I perceived them as boring conformists and, to be honest, downright snobs.
I felt that I had nothing in common with those people and I honestly considered they had no life, when in fact I was wasting my own life as a barfly. Let me tell you, alcohol really alters your view of reality; I ended up unable to imagine my day without alcohol, at least a little buzzed if not completely drunk.
The powers of peer pressure can be used in the service of good
I always gave this concept a negative connotation, but a couple of days ago I ran into an old friend who managed to completely change my perception on how peer pressure can be used in a positive manner. Jim was another former alcoholic who used to frequent the same bars as me and we were inseparable for a while during our heavy drinking years. Now completely recovered and sober for at least three years, Jim told me he owed it all to good old peer pressure.
I was a bit skeptic, so he explained. Just like me, Jim tried various forms of rehab therapy and support groups of both of spiritual and rational natures without much luck. That is, until he came across a group that used what he calls “milieu therapy”. As he put it, this form of therapy implies altering a patient’s environment and making him part of a community of people who struggle with the same problems.
This sounds familiar…
Much like a support group, I remarked. Well yes, he said, but the key difference is that all patients are required to work together towards the same goal and for the good of the group rather than come to a weekly session, vent their problems and go home. In milieu, Jim added, the therapist aims to facilitate positive interactions and helps all members learn coping methods together, rather than addressing individual problems separately. If one fails, the perception is that the group failed and everyone has to start from square one; that’s where peer pressure comes into play.
I wouldn’t have given this concept any thought, but seeing Jim completely sober really made me think that maybe, just maybe we tend to get so attached to a certain perception of things that we often fail to see the upsides of life.