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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Depression and the Pressure to Conform

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 13th 2011

Depression and the Pressure to ConformAre you dissatisfied with the way you look? Are you dissatisfied with the fact that you are more introverted than extroverted? Are you dissatisfied with your level of achievement? Do you wish you could be more like someone else? If the answers to any of these questions are "yes," you are not alone.

Each of us has an "Ideal Self" that is aspired to and wished for. The reason for using the term, "Ideal Self,"is that it represents perfection. The trouble is that perfection is unattainable. The degree to which an individual believes they have failed to reach that perfection, is the degree to which they experience low self esteem, self hatred and depression.

To an extent, too many of us wish we could be different from what we are. These wishes have to so with body size, shape, appearance, personality, intellect, temperament, facial features, and what is considered to be attractive. These things are shaped by powerful social forces that demand conformity. The social forces for conformity are such that people are not even aware of their presence and power. Psychology categorizes these forces into the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spheres of influence.

One of the most powerful of the social and environmental influences to which we are all subjected is mass media. Popular magazines, television, movies, advertising, the modeling industry, all present images of males and females that are perfection personified. As such, we are made to feel inadequate with ourselves. After all, if you are a man who does not play football or basketball, there must be something wrong with you. You are not a real man if you cannot defeat muggers and gangsters with the martial arts. If you are not the head of a corporation, medical doctor, lawyer, or a Donald Trump, you are not masculine.

I recently saw a television advertisement for a device that makes it smoother and easier for men to shave their body hair and look younger and more attractive. I guess this means that all men had better shave themselves or be thought of as old and ugly.

If you think that being a muscular male is enough, think again. Now, men must be thin. Men must have shaved heads. Men must have shaved heads and short beards. Do you notice how many bald men there are today? Conform to this idea or be less than manly.

Women are affected even more so than men. The entertainment industry continues to push the ideal and feminine woman as being thin and buxom. Let's not forget that women must also be athletic and physically powerful.

The pressure to conform is so powerful that people are now giving breast implant surgery as birthday and graduation gifts to young women. These girls requested this prior to their celebrations. In point of fact, plastic surgery is now a major industry. It is not just for breast surgery but for "fixing big noses," implanting perfect looking teeth and removing wrinkles to make everyone look younger.

One of the healthiest things each of can do reduce dissatisfaction with ourselves is to accept who we are. After all, what is wrong with having a big nose. People from the Middle East, both Jews and Arabs, have big noses. Are more than 250 million people ugly because of their noses? If your tendency is toward introversion rather than extroversion, why not accept it and use it in your favor? Why should us introverts and shy people allow ourselves to feel terrible just because peer social pressure tells us to be extroverted?

The list of examples can continue but I suspect the reader understands the point. We live in a democracy and are taught to believe we can make our own choices. We can do that but, it's necessary to fight those influences that tell us how we should be rather than accept who we are.

In the end, if a person finds it too difficult to find who they are and accept it, then psychotherapy is called for. Self acceptance is key to reducing depression.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD




Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Enlightening - Emily - Aug 30th 2014

I have been looking for sources to help with my argument essay for English. The topic I've chosen is "To be human is to be an individual human." I agree with this, and the information here was very helpful and will definately persuade many of my readers that conformity can be very dangerous, and it is easier to be happy with who we are. Thanks for your article, it was great!

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