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Many adults mistakenly believe that the influence of social conditioning is deep in the distant past, particularly during the tumultuous period of adolescence when fitting in seemed like the only thing that mattered.

Yet, social conditioning persists into adulthood, shaping our behaviors and expectations in many social settings.

The Persistent Influence of Social Conditioning

Social conditioning is a pervasive force that guides individuals in how to act and what behaviors are expected (and acceptable) in modern society. 

According to the Health and Human Rights Journal, it involves training society members to behave in ways deemed appropriate by the majority. This conditioning can manifest in various widely held beliefs, such as the notion that a college education is crucial for financial success.

 Just like adolescents who dare not deviate from the "cool kids" at school, adults often adhere to these unspoken rules to avoid social alienation.

The Risks of Following "The Herd"

Humans, like many animals, are naturally inclined to form groups.

This herd mentality offers safety and acceptance to a certain degree but also pressures individuals to conform to group norms, sometimes at the expense of their values and beliefs. This pressure initiates the cycle of hiding our authentic selves at a young age, telling us that we're not "okay" if we act differently than what's acceptable and expected.

When Personal Values Clash with Social Expectations

The challenge arises when individual beliefs act in ways that are different from the group's norms.

Questions about right and wrong come into sharp focus, reminiscent of parental warnings about following friends blindly. The dissonance between personal values and group expectations can lead to confusion, a sense of loss, or feelings of betrayal, particularly if the group fails to honor individual perspectives. In some cases, individual perspectives are actively discouraged, and those who continue to fight to express themselves are ostracized or even punished.

Questioning and Overcoming Social Conditioning

Realizing a mismatch between one’s values and those of one's social circle can prompt a deep reevaluation of one's conditioned responses. This introspection may lead to distancing oneself from current social groups in search of others that better reflect one’s true self and values. The continued stress of having to hide your authentic self for fear of repercussions or social alienation can cause long-lasting effects, even if they take years to surface.

Finding a New "Tribe"

The journey to find a new social circle that aligns with one's essential and intrinsic personal beliefs can be transformative but certainly is not guaranteed to be quick or easy.

 Joining a group that shares values similar to your own not only satisfies the innate herd instinct of perfectly imperfect human beings but also encourages stronger, more meaningful connections.

This alignment enhances personal integrity and satisfaction, reinforcing the importance of living in accordance with one’s true beliefs.

Expressing Your DIVA: Practical Paths to Authenticity

Building on the core ideas explored in our discussion, this section offers adaptable strategies for incorporating these principles into your daily life. Tailor these practical paths to authenticity to fit your unique journey and personal definition of being dynamic, intriguing, vivacious, and authentic. Embrace these suggestions with your head, heart, and spirit, and step confidently out of your comfort zone as you manifest your authentic self.

  • Dynamic: Challenge social norms by initiating new ideas and discussions within your groups that reflect your true interests and passions.
  • Intriguing: Share your unique experiences and insights that arise from following a path less conforming to societal expectations.
  • Vivacious: Bring energy and enthusiasm to your interactions, showing the positive aspects of living true to your values.
  • Authentic: Be honest and transparent in your communications, demonstrating the value of authenticity in building genuine connections.
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    About the Author Dianne M Daniels

    Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and currently residing in Norwich, Connecticut, Dianne M. Daniels' mission is to empower women 50+ to Amplify their Self-Confidence, Deepen their Self-Knowledge, Inspire Creativity, and Glide into the next phase of their lives with the Power of Journaling, Affirmations, and Assessments.

    You can learn how to use these time-tested, proven practices to create and manifest the life you want (and deserve) to live.

    Dianne is an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister with a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry. She's an avid reader, a lover of old houses (she renovated an 1850s vintage Greek Revival home with her family) and has been journaling since the age of 9.

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