Dismissing the Baleful Gaze
August 25, 2023
Eri Ikezawa (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
Close your eyes.
Imagine you can feel the soft pulses of your heartbeat beneath your ribcage, the rhythmic rise and fall of your chest, air trickling out of your nose as you exhale. The intricate mechanisms of your body keeping you alive behind the scenes as you shuttle around the daily activities of your life.
Now, add an intangible pressure thrumming low and subdued in the background. It snuffles like a tickled murmur in your ear at first, before its momentum accelerates and the pressure incrementally begins to make itself known to you.
At best, you simply try ignoring it — and at worst, you try to swat at it irritably, like a pesky mosquito coming to make a quick feast of you.
But you missed the target and you’re left with the pulsating itch beneath your skin, the insidious salvia of the insect causing a bodily reaction, the residual bump already raised and large.
Peer pressure, to me, feels like a similar experience.
When I have experienced it at its absolute worst — when I was surrounded by the wrong friends and people — I recall it feeling like a heavy burden, a pressure so immense it completely crystallized my free will. It had felt like it had temporarily inhibited my ability to act with sovereignty.
And for me, the nadir was the lingering feeling of having abandoned my own values or morals to appease someone else, or to “fit in” seamlessly, frightened of whatever level of ostracization I would face for exposing my own raw thoughts.
Now — to haul you back to the present-day version of myself — I have come to the realization that peer pressure is much easier to combat as one gets older, after gathering more wisdom and becoming more selective with the company you keep. As long as you are surrounded with positive people who respect you and your boundaries, peer pressure can become a thing of the past in your immediate inner circle.
But at the end of the day, it is impossible to completely eradicate the presence of peer pressure in one’s life. Whether it is in the professional or personal arena, there will inevitably be someone who will push at the barrier of your boundaries to test how safe and sound it is, attempting to manipulate your navigational sense to suit their own agenda.
Practically speaking, it isn’t easy to withstand such pressure — and it would be unfair to understate the arduousness of staying resilient, especially when you aren’t just facing one pesky individual who doesn’t respect your boundaries, but a group of them with hive mentality.
What it then becomes is a question of how to manage the stress, discomfort and pressure that ensues — whilst still maintaining your position, sticking to your guns under the baleful gaze of a pushy lobbyist.
There is no one way to accomplish a 100% success rate, especially if you possess people-pleasing tendencies (as I do), but it becomes a matter of practice and experience. I recall much of my youth, especially as a teenager and early twenties, being an incessant internal battle of priorities between my own needs and wants versus someone else’s happiness.
Back then, my perspective was that in order to be a good person I had to make sacrifices to make other people happy. Now, I am still a proponent of this notion and so that creed hasn’t changed that much — that is, I still believe that you do need to make sacrifices to make people happy. But I realized over time that there have to be stipulations to that; I cannot place other people’s needs over mine without some level of partiality.
So now, I have modified that idea too: I voluntarily choose to make sacrifices for people whom I love and care for, those who will willingly reciprocate my efforts in kind, whenever I can and have the capacity to do so. And if I have a remaining reserve of energy, then be kind and do what I can, whenever I am able to, for other people as well.
This all stems from the core, ensuring that I am maintaining and nourishing my emotional stock and wellness in order to then make more space for other people; I am choosing to make decisions that personally benefit me, without maliciously harming others, and it is not wrong or inherently selfish. And oftentimes, I really don’t mind going out of my way for other people, so it makes me feel better that I am not being stingy with generosity.
When I got to a point where I truly understood the weight of those words, truly entrenching and drenching myself in those concepts, it became easier to shed the burden of peer pressure. Rather than intensely sensing the malignant pressure of other people’s expectations and desires, I felt as though it glided right off my skin, a slick slide of tough scales protecting me from becoming malleable for the sake of ingratiating myself to other people.
But as I mentioned earlier, just because it has gotten easier, it is always a matter of practice to ensure that I continue to advocate for myself, my values, and for people who may still struggle with speaking up for themselves. I don’t always succeed, but for each year, I know that my ability to endorse for myself is getting stronger and better. And so I take each “failure” as a lesson in hopes that, if a similar situation arises, I will be able to rise to the occasion next time.
I try to remind myself, at the end of the day, that pleasing someone else by bending and moulding myself to suit their needs resolves the unsatisfying sensation of displeasing them temporarily. But if I compromise my own values or desires that are valid for someone else, the cognitive dissonance of letting myself do so will most likely have a lasting value.
And I want to be proud of myself for making the right choices for a better tomorrow.
My name is Eri Ikezawa and I have an extended minor in psychology and a major in linguistics. I’m still on the path to quelling questions about myself and the direction I want to head in, but in the meantime, I have always wanted to find a way to help others and contribute to a community dedicated to personal development and self-love.
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