By Habiba Hassan
Careless respect for and belief in society’s opinions is the greatest enemy of your freewill and mental well-being. Maybe it is going to be easier for you if I replaced the word opinions with trends, whether it is trending music, trending workouts or trending problems. Yes, I did mention problems – you might hear your friends always talking about their problems with the extra fat they have on their arms or their stretch marks, and you want to fit in so bad (even if you are comfortable with your body and nothing about it bothers you) that you say ‘I can totally relate!’ You start looking for all the flaws in your body, looking for something to actually complain about, that you find your belly too soft, your hip-dips unattractive and your shoulders too wide. BAM! You can never look in the mirror and be satisfied with who you see anymore.
Kelman (1958) introduced three types of conformity: compliance, internalisation and identification. Compliance is you wearing a hoodie because your friends thought it was cute, even if you don’t like it, but you desperately want their approval. Internalisation is when you wear that same hoodie that was approved by your friends and you also privately believe it’s nice. Identification refers to when you match hoodies with your friends because you want to be part of their belief system. You don’t necessarily dislike it, but you won’t wear it when going out with someone else. It doesn’t matter which type, we all tend to conform in some way. Yet the question that comes up is, why?
Cognitive dissonance is a theory, developed by Festinger (1957), which explains why we choose to follow the majority’s beliefs. Simply put, cognitive dissonance is when we are stuck between two opposing points of view, which leads to mental discomfort at the confusion, and we feel like we’re forced to choose one. Generally, to ease this discomfort, we usually choose the point of view which is shared by others. Let’s go back to our first example; you’re content with your body shape and you find all types of clothes that suit it, but you spend your time telling your friends about all your imperfections. Naturally, you won’t be able to keep up with both thinking of your body negatively and thinking of it positively, so you drop the positive and start viewing your body depending on the way you’ve been talking about it.
This negative change in all your mirror encounters is going to reflect on other aspects of your thinking as well. You zealously try to follow all trends without considering the damage on your mental well-being and ignore options that truly enhance who you are. This also includes your beliefs and opinions, and it might be even more of a threat than following a trend. Let me give you an example from my own life; sometimes people around me could be discussing a certain topic that I do not agree with, and yet I just listen and side with the thing being said, even if it goes against my fundamental beliefs, because I do not want to voice my disagreement. To be honest, part of the reason is that I do not care enough to have an argument. It is still dangerous, and that is where it relates back to conforming by following trends, because when I listen and start pretending that I agree, eventually the act will turn into a reality. You, and I, want their love and approval, but we will never feel either one of them, unless we give it to ourselves.
Soldiers in war have no means of communication with the outside world and no entertainment, to keep their spirits up they sing their own songs, play their own music and they give each other the cheerfulness they need. This is how it’s supposed to be with your mind, to protect your mental well-being, you have to appreciate and love your own self. Those trends and the supposed approval of society do not give you the positivity you need. You give it to yourself.
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