“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.” – Rumi
Social norms are unspoken rules that most people live their lives according to. These rules range anywhere from how you greet a stranger for the first time, to how you raise your children.
But are all these social norms actually good for us? What about the ones that suppress and stunt us from being our true selves?
I’ve been on a mission myself to break a few social “rules” holding me back, so let’s dive in and tackle some of these outdated norms!
1) Following the crowd
“Don’t be the sheep that follow the herd; be the wolf that leads the pack.” – Unknown.
In today’s world, it might feel easier to follow the crowd rather than take your own path.
Most of us, especially when in our teens, desperately want to fit in. We’re (usually) easily influenced by our friends and family, so it feels natural to follow their lead!
But here’s the problem with following the crowd:
You can lose yourself in the process.
And that’s not all…
I’m sure at one point or another you’ve heard the expression “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” – this signifies that what the crowd is doing isn’t always good for you.
In fact, it can be harmful to your well-being, both mentally and physically.
2) Accepting whatever life throws at you
Granted, going with the flow can be handy in some situations, but it’s certainly no way to live your life.
By going with the flow, you’re accepting the fate being handed to you. But in the words of the famous William Ernest Henley:
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
If you take this approach, you’ll quickly realize that going with the flow doesn’t always guarantee to live a life in line with your dreams and desires.
And when you’re not living on your own terms, you’re not being true to yourself.
3) Suppressing your emotions
Another social norm you need to break to stay true to yourself is suppressing your emotions.
Granted – this one is aimed more at men than women, but that doesn’t mean women don’t also face a backlash when expressing their feelings.
This is completely toxic.
There are generations of older men who simply can’t express their emotions. They can’t cry. They struggle to connect with their loved ones.
Because they were taught that “men don’t cry” or to “man up and get on with it”. Times are slowly changing now, but if you’ve ever been told to hide your tears, please know that you can release your emotions however you feel fit to.
And if you struggle to do so?
I highly recommend watching this free breathwork video, created by the shaman, Rudá Iandê.
Rudá isn’t another self-professed life coach. Through shamanism and his own life journey, he’s created a modern-day twist to ancient healing techniques.
The exercises in his invigorating video combine years of breathwork experience and ancient shamanic beliefs, designed to help you relax and check in with your body and soul.
After many years of suppressing my emotions, Rudá’s dynamic breathwork flow quite literally revived that connection.
And that’s what you need:
A spark to reconnect you with your feelings so that you can begin focusing on the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.
So if you’re ready to start tapping into your emotions, check out his genuine advice below.
4) Living according to tradition
Traditions vary on cultural, societal, and familial levels.
They might include:
- Getting married a certain way
- Going into specific professions
- Attending annual events such as family celebrations
- Celebrating holidays such as Christmas/Easter even if you’re not religious/have no interest in such holidays
In my own experience, I “had” to get married in the spiritual/religious sense because of family pressure. This did not sit well with me or my partner, but we did it for the sake of “tradition”.
It certainly took me away from what I felt was right for my life, and this was a BIG turning point in my journey of self-discovery.
So, every time you’re faced with a tradition that YOU didn’t sign up for, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you enjoy it?
- Does it make sense to you?
- Are you doing it to please others?
- What are the consequences if you decide to not follow it?
When you get to the heart of it, many of us follow traditions because it’s all we know. We learn from our parents, who learned from their parents.
And while some traditions are beneficial in bringing families and friends closer, some go by for years without ever being questioned.
So if there’s a tradition that really doesn’t sit well with you, start asking yourself the above questions and think deeply as to whether it’s a tradition that benefits you or hinders you.
5) Following in the footsteps of your parents
The last point ties in well with what I’m about to say…
You don’t need to follow the path your parents took!
No matter how hard it might be to break away from their expectations, your life is yours and you MUST live it for yourself and no one else!
Whether it’s your dad wanting you to take over the family business, or your mum expecting you to have kids young because she did, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
And if they hit you with the line, “Well, we’ve sacrificed everything for you.” politely thank them but still stick to your guns.
Because the truth is…
That’s what parents do. They sacrifice for their kids, but not to trap their kids into an unhappy life. Their sacrifice should be so you can choose the life YOU want.
Help your parents understand that from the beginning, and you’ll have an easier time following your own path and staying true to yourself.
6) Caring about what others think
I grew up in a community where the most popular saying was (and still is) “What would people think?!”.
The truth is, caring about what others think about you is incredibly harmful.
Because you can’t please everyone!
There will always be one family member or friend who disagrees with your lifestyle choices, so what are you going to do?
Give up on what makes you who you are, just to please others?
While we should be considerate to others, that doesn’t mean living life on their terms. You can find a healthy balance between what you want to do in life whilst still keeping good relations with other people.
And if they don’t accept you as you are?
You’re better off without them! There are many people out there who’ll love you regardless of whether they agree with your lifestyle, so don’t get caught up in the toxic critics in your life!
7) Living through technology
It’s become a norm now to take your phone out while at dinner.
It’s become the norm to take pictures of everything you do and post them online.
But is this really enriching your life? Is technology helping you find your path in life or is it a distraction?
I’ll put my hands up – I used to be an avid social media user. A fancy meal out? A day at the beach? You can bet I put it on “the ’gram”!
Until I realized that I was missing out on living in the moment because I was too busy living online.
Now, when I see groups of youngsters sitting on their phones while in a restaurant or in the park, no conversation between them, I feel pity for the experiences they’re missing out on.
This may be a fairly new social norm, but it’s definitely one we can do without!
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8) Blending in with everyone else
I get it – if you’re self-conscious, it might feel like you need to blend in to survive.
In fact, even if you’re confident, if you dress a certain way, or hold views that don’t fit into the mainstream agenda, you might feel forced to blend in.
So many of us were told to keep our sincere opinions to ourselves to avoid upsetting others. So many of us were told to dress or act a certain way to fit in with the crowd.
But when we do this, we’re doing ourselves a disservice!
If you dare to, stand out from the crowd. Find your tribe and surround yourself with people who look at your heart rather than your clothes or haircut.
Stay true to yourself regardless of what others think. The right people will naturally gravitate towards you!
9) Following the advice of your nearest and dearest
This is a tough one. Our family and friends (should) want the best for us, but quite often they can’t advise us objectively.
Put simply – they’re biased!
Their love and protectiveness for you may actually hold you back from being your true self. Case in point; when I wanted to go solo traveling for the first time, my nearest and dearest harped on about:
- The dangers of traveling alone as a woman
- The natural disasters I might encounter (like, seriously?!)
- The cost of not having someone to share expenses with
- The risk of getting stuck somewhere without help
Wow…the list could go on for a while. The point is, I still went.
I broke the social norm of listening to my friends and family, and guess what?
I had the BEST time of my life. I grew during those solo trips. I discovered parts of myself I never would have come across if I’d traveled with a friend.
10) Toning down your dreams
This is a sentence I hate, especially when it comes to your dreams. But it’s a social norm to dream within limits. If you talk openly about the grand plans you have, most people will admire your imagination but laugh behind your back.
But as we’ve seen, people can achieve incredible things if they put their heart into it. They go beyond people’s expectations when they refuse to tone down their dreams!
So if there’s a goal you want to achieve, don’t feel like you have to dream smaller to avoid judgment.
Go for your dreams, regardless of whether people believe in you or not. Use the haters’ comments as fuel and you’ll have the last laugh when you come out on top!
11) Distracting yourself through consumerism
“Why don’t you treat yourself to a little retail therapy? Go on! You’ll feel better after!”
Former shopaholic here. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I would often buy crap just to feel better about life.
But here’s the thing…
Month after month I’d watch my bank account empty on things I didn’t need, and I’d be back to feeling miserable again.
That’s because distracting yourself through consumerism will not improve your life. It may improve your mood temporarily, but in the long run, you’re digging a deeper hole for yourself.
Break the social norm of not understanding how to manage your money. Break the norm of spending more than you have.
And certainly – break the norm of needing “things”. Once you get over this, you’ll find it much easier to connect to your true self.
12) Living to please others
Here’s the thing when you live to please others:
You stop living for yourself.
Now, I know there will be times when you have to do something to make your mom, or a loved one, happy. We all have to sometimes.
But if you make it a habit, you’ll quickly lose your sense of “self” and what makes YOU happy.
Sometimes you’ve just got to make a stand and fight for your right to live how you like, regardless of whether others are pleased or not.
A gay friend of mine is still living a double life because he doesn’t want to upset his family. He’s forced himself to accept that he’ll never marry a man, never adopt children.
He’s given up on his dreams. It’s a tragedy in my eyes but I understand why he does it.
Quite simply, he doesn’t want to break the social norms of his (middle-eastern) country by a) being a homosexual and b) hurting his parents.
Who loses out?
So if you have the opportunity to break this norm and truly be yourself, take it. Do it for those who can’t. And most importantly, do it for yourself!
13) Conforming to your “role” in society
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about the roles we play in society.
If you’re from a poor upbringing – don’t dream too big.
If you’re a woman – your place is at home with the kids.
If you’re a man – you’ve gotta be tough and earn money.
If you’re an ethnic minority – [insert anything negative here].
Who made this crap up? Who told us what we can and can’t be?
If you’re a guy who dreams of staying home with the kids while your wife puts the food on the table, go for it!
If you’re from an ethnic minority but want to get into politics or join one of the most prestigious colleges in your country, don’t let society hold you back!
Many of these roles are being broken down, so be part of the change. Do it for yourself, do it for the next generation.
14) Avoiding taboo subjects
Growing up, the word “sex” was taboo in most households.
- Different sexual preferences
- Pregnancy in all its aspects (including abortion)
- Drugs and addiction
- Opposing religious views
- Opposing cultural views
- Mental health
- Gender equality
But guess what?
When people start having conversations about these taboo topics, they start opening the doorway to understanding one another.
They open the doorway to acceptance of others. These conversations may even save lives.
But what if the people in your life are still reluctant to break this social norm?
- Break it to them slowly.
- Introduce them to the topics you’d like to discuss in a non-confrontational way.
- Encourage honesty without causing offense or shutting down the conversation.
And if they still don’t want to talk about it?
You can’t force them.
Instead, find like-minded people, especially if some of these subjects directly relate to your life or lifestyle – it’s important to have people you can talk to about these things.
15) Overworking and feeling proud of it
“She’s the first to arrive and the last to leave the office. She’s our best employee!”
The society we live in heavily promotes work, and conveniently leaves out the need to have a balance between work and life.
Those who kill themselves for their corporation are praised, whilst those who are adamant they want to spend time with their families, or on their hobbies, are vilified as lazy.
There’s no glory in taking part in the rat race. Especially if you sacrifice yourself in the process.
So the next time you cancel on your friends to work “extra shifts” or leave your partner hanging because your boss wants you to work late, ask yourself this:
Is it worth it?
Does it bring you closer to your true self? Does it inspire you and bring you joy?
If not, I don’t see why you should reach burnout for it. That being said, if you need the money, I understand. In this case, work hard, but play hard too!
Are you ready to break your social norms?
We’ve listed the top 15 norms to break to stay true to yourself, so, how are you feeling?
Confident? Scared? Excited?
I feel a mix of those emotions every time I tackle a social norm in my life. It gets easier each time you overcome one, trust me.
The moment you start living for yourself and speaking your truth is the moment you liberate yourself from societal pressures and expectations.
And man, it’s a good feeling!
One which you can experience too…just take the first step, gather your courage, and put yourself out there! Who knows, you might inspire someone else to reconnect with their true self as a result.