My friend was telling me about the massive drug problem at her high school. I wondered if it was hard to be in the middle of that—and if she felt pressured to join in because “everybody’s doing it.”
“I’m not ever gonna feel pressured to do something I don’t want to do,” she texted back. “So, no.” Then she sent along a string of little laughing faces.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Peer pressure isn’t very effective when you know you’re not interested in whatever you’re being pressured to do. Your understanding of what you’re about, combined with the recognition that the pressure is powerless to influence you, keeps you from falling prey to drug use (as in my friend’s case) or other behaviors that are harmful and unproductive.
We’re usually alert to this kind of peer pressure when it’s going on in school or at parties, but what about someplace else—like in our own thoughts? Maybe that sounds strange, but I’ve been learning that each of us actually faces what you might call mental peer pressure multiple times a day. What does this mental peer pressure look like? It’s basically any commonly held belief—something our peers, and the rest of the world, generally accepts as fact—that comes as our own thought and seems to have an effect in our lives.
Much of the time these beliefs seem very legitimate, so we don’t even think to question them.
It may not say so directly, but this mental peer pressure implies that “everyone thinks or experiences this, so it must be true.” And much of the time these beliefs seem very legitimate, so we don’t even think to question them. For example, do any of the following sound familiar? Because you’re a teenager, you should be moody or anxious, frequently annoyed with your parents, or have regular drama with friends. Those are all world beliefs. Or what about that you’re prone to certain injuries if you play certain sports, or that you have to experience various aches, pains, or problems because you’re going through puberty. Those are things that “everybody thinks,” too.
Avantika’s testimony in this week’s issue of the Christian Science Sentinel is a great example of how these “general beliefs,” as Mary Baker Eddy calls them in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, try to claim authority in our thoughts and lives, and also how we can overcome them. I hope you’ll read it for yourself, but the quick recap is that after Avantika attended a lecture at school in which she was told that she should expect pain during her period, she began experiencing pain each month. And yet, as she prayed, she saw that she could leave these “wrong, painful beliefs behind and turn my thoughts completely to God.” When she did, the pain vanished, never to return.
I love Avantika’s experience because it’s proof that these bullying thoughts really are powerless—no matter how many people believe them, and no matter how much authority they claim. And the reason they’re powerless is because these beliefs are based on the mistaken view of life as material and governed by destructive material laws, when in fact, “Life and being are of God” (Science and Health, p. 103). In other words, because God is Spirit, we are spiritual, and we are governed only by God’s laws of health, harmony, and goodness.
That spiritual fact is a powerful antidote for finding freedom from these general beliefs. But how do we see the tangible effects of that fact in our daily lives? I’ve found a couple things helpful.
How can a belief touch or affect a spiritual idea? It can’t.
First, it’s really important to identify these suggestions as mental peer pressure and therefore illegitimate. How? Be alert to the thoughts that are coming to you and flag the ones that don’t match up with the spiritual fact that God, Spirit, is All and that we are spiritual and perfect. Some thoughts to watch out for are those that associate certain problems with certain seasons (colds in the winter, allergies in the spring), or ones that suggest you “have to” experience a certain emotion based on certain circumstances. Basically, any thought that pressures you into believing a faulty cause-and-effect relationship (“You sang too much so now you’re going to lose your voice”) is a general belief—and one you don’t have to buy into.
Second, I like to go back to what my friend said about why she doesn’t feel pressured to do drugs: She knows what and who she is, and so she knows that the peer pressure is powerless to influence her. This is a really effective approach for dealing with peer pressuring thoughts, too. When we know that God made us as His purely good spiritual expression, we can see that these suggestions of mortality and its so-called laws are completely powerless. How can a belief touch or affect a spiritual idea? As Avantika proved, it can’t.
Each day, each moment, we can know more clearly that our true and only nature is spiritual, and that the only thoughts that have any power, the only laws that govern us, are God’s. Then, when these faulty, pressuring suggestions come to us, we don’t have to be afraid of them or experience their effects. Like my friend did, we can respond with a string of laughing emojis and go forward—free.