We’ve all heard the phrase, “you’re a product of your environment.” But it’s not just the physical places where we spend most of our time. The people we spend time with—whether it’s friends, family, or colleagues—have a direct impact on who we are as people, and the behaviors we engage in. The power of social influence can directly impact our lives.
The term “you’re rubbing off on me” is one of the best ways to explain the phenomenon of social influence. The interests, behaviors, and tendencies of the people in your social circle can eventually impact you. If you hang around people who love watching football, you’ll start to enjoy watching big games. If you never liked country music, and a new friend is a major Willie Nelson fan, you might start to warm up to country music too.
Our social circle can have a positive or negative impact on our lives. Some people are good influences, and others are bad influences. Our social circle can make us better people, or lead us down the wrong path. From time to time, it’s important to take a look at your social circle and gauge what type of influence—good or bad—your peers and loved ones have on you.
How Conformity Can Impact Your Choices and Behaviors
Whether you like it or not, everyone starts to conform to the people around them. This concept has been studied extensively by psychologists and mental health researchers. One of the most famous examples is the Asch Conformity Experiment led by social psychologist Solomon Asch.
In the study, Asch recruited 50 college-aged men to participate in a vision test. In each test, one naive person was presented with a group of lines and was asked to determine which line was the shortest. But in the room with them was a group of other men who were “in” on the experiment. The other men had already decided on an incorrect answer to which line was the shortest. Asch’s goal was to see if the men who were in on the experiment could successfully persuade the naive person to agree with their response.
Ultimately, Asch’s hypothesis was correct. In 12 out of 18 tests, the naive subject agreed with the other men’s answer—even though their response was incorrect. Almost three-quarters of the naive study participants agreed with the rest of the group during at least one test.
The Asch Conformity Experiment determined that conformity peaks when four to five people are present, and when decisions are more difficult. The study also concluded that conformity is more likely when some people in a group are viewed as powerful, influential, or smarter than others. When participants were interviewed after the study, many said that they knew the other group members were wrong, but they didn’t want to face ridicule by speaking out.
Asch’s experiment and others like it can be used to understand the impact that social circles can have on a person’s mental health and their likelihood to abuse drugs or alcohol. When you hang out with a group that makes poor decisions, you are much more likely to make those bad decisions as well.
When your best friends are constantly smoking cigarettes, spending their free time doing drugs, or drinking excessively, it’s only a matter of time before you begin to pick up those habits. Like we saw in the Asch experiment, it’s often much harder to say no to those activities when you feel like your social circle will judge you for not conforming. It’s an easier and safer choice to accept the cigarette or take the drugs because you don’t have to deal with the backlash.
Building a Positive Support Group
You often hear about the negative influence that a social circle can have on you, but your peers can also have a profoundly positive impact on your behaviors. Building a social circle that supports and motivates you is important, especially while you’re in recovery. You want to surround yourself with people who understand what you’re going through and won’t jeopardize your sobriety. You can build a positive social circle by:
- Hanging out with people from your 12-step meetings
- Spending time around people you look up to or admire
- Leaving unhealthy and triggering relationships
- Attending sober events through sites like MeetUp
During and after treatment, your social circle becomes your lifeline. Sobriety is a difficult journey, and you need positive people in your life to support you when times are tough. One of the most important things you can do is to cut out the negativity and bring more positive energy into your life.
However, it’s often easier said than done to remove toxic people from your circle. Maybe your parents or siblings trigger your destructive behaviors. If that’s the case, setting boundaries can help you limit the negativity you experience, without completely ending the relationship.
When you’re setting boundaries, explain to those people how they make you feel, and how their behavior impacts your sobriety. For example, if your weekly family dinners trigger your anxiety because alcohol is present, ask your parents to replace the alcohol with a mocktail. Or, if your best friend has a history with drug use, find sober activities you can enjoy together.
Peer Support at Mission Harbor
At Mission Harbor, we believe that peer support is an essential part of recovery. All of our clients have the opportunity to mingle and meet others on the same mental health and sobriety journey. Every treatment program includes peer support groups where clients can begin to build a solid support system. Many of our clients meet life-long friends during their time in recovery at Mission Harbor.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health or substance abuse disorder, contact us at (805) 209-4433 to speak with a member of our team.