5 Social Norms You Should Break to Stay True to Yourself

By Barbara @ Follow Your Own Rhythm

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Social norms are unwritten rules about how to behave in a society.  These social norms evolve over time and get hardened the more that people follow them.  This becomes a problem when we become so accustomed to following these social norms that they start to limit us. 

It’s quite ironic, but when you boil it down, it is us who create these norms, through our actions and decisions, by choosing to follow them…and then eventually, we become enslaved to these norms by becoming afraid to go against them. 

The good news is that social norms change as the people of that society change, so they are not set in stone.  As our society becomes more conscious and starts to think for themselves, outdated norms will dissolve and get replaced by new ones. 

The main goal, however, isn’t to create new social norms, it is to free yourself from the need to follow them in the first place if they don’t feel right in your heart.  Social norms are necessary and there are plenty that are purposeful, however, there are some that instead of making us better, actually limit us from being who we truly are. 

Nowadays, we rely on these norms and rules so much to tell us how to be and what to do, that we forget to be ourselves.  Or we become afraid to be ourselves because we don’t want to be ridiculed or outcasted.

But how far are we willing to go in abandoning our true selves for the sake of being accepted by others?  How much of our true desires and beliefs are we willing to give up so that we can fit the perfect mold of who we are “supposed” to be?


At what point do we say “enough is enough” and start thinking for ourselves and doing what we feel is right for us EVEN if it goes against what everyone else is doing?  

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” –Andre Gide

So today, I will cover the 5 most limiting social norms that keep us encaged and hold us back from living our best life.  These are norms that I have personally broken so I know of their potential to change your life. 


NORM 1:  Following Traditions

Here are 3 definitions of “tradition” from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1.     An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)

2.     The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

3.     Cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

Most of the time when we follow traditions, we don’t do it because we made a conscious choice to do so, but because this is what our parents and our family does, it’s what other people do, or it’s what our religion or culture tells us to do.

But how many times do you reluctantly do something for the sake of following a tradition?

How many times do you get stressed out and overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities that living up to this tradition requires? 

How many times do you follow a tradition and don’t even know why the heck you’re following it?

And how many times do you follow a tradition as a means to please someone else or to be accepted?

When I got married, I definitely felt the pressure to have a traditional wedding.  Bridal shower, bridesmaids, local wedding, lots of family and friends, church, reception with music, dinner, and dancing, photographer, etc.  The pressure came from some family members as well from society as a whole.

However, staying true to myself was more important than following the rules, so I went against tradition and did my own thing and I had the BEST WEDDING EVER.  I recognized that so many of the joys of the wedding planning process get overpowered by the stresses of trying to conform to the rules, that I just didn’t include anything that wasn’t authentic to me or had potential to create more stress.  And I can proudly say that on my wedding day, I was the most calm, peaceful, and present person I have ever known. 

So following traditions is great if they have purpose and if they mean something to you.  But if you are doing it so that you don’t disappoint your family and friends, or so that you don’t get shunned from society, then you need to think again and reevaluate.  

Some traditions I can think of that might be limiting are doing something year after year because it’s something that you grew up with in your family, doing what everyone else does during a holiday instead of doing what you want to do, hosting all of the expected parties for having a baby, getting married, buying a house, graduation, birthdays… feeding into the messages that “being 30, 40, 50 is so old” and complaining about your age, and overall just living your life according to convention because it’s comfortable and safe, but not exactly fulfilling and authentic.

This doesn't mean that when your lil' ole grandma wants to see you for Easter even though you don't celebrate Easter that you tell her "sorry grandma, not gonna happen."  It means that if it gives you a sense of purpose and meaning to please your grandma because you know it would mean a lot to her, then you do it.  But at that point you do it willingly and consciously.  You sacrifice yourself for the sake of the higher good, which in this case, is to make your grandma happy.  Of course there are limits to this too, but you just have to find that balance that makes you feel content. 

The point I am trying to make here is not to encourage you to abandon tradition, but rather to follow them consciously.  Get clear on what you do and why you do it, and then consciously choose to follow the traditions that work for you, and give yourself permission to abandon the ones that don’t.  You don’t like stressing about Christmas shopping? Then create a new tradition where you give each other non-physical gifts or only homemade gifts or artwork.  Yes?

NORM 2: Living the expected life

What do I mean by “expected life?”  I mean living the life that is expected of you by others or society whether the expectations are made up in your head, or actually exist in your life.

Every culture has different expectations but this pressure to do and be x, y, and z usually begins at an early age and is most often created by our parents and our immediate environment.  We subconsciously absorb these messages and try to live out the rest of our lives fulfilling these expectations (most of the time without even being aware that we are doing it). 

The expectation to go through the general steps of life such as getting good grades, going to college, getting a degree, having a professional, traditional and respectable career, making lots of money, getting married, buying a house, having kids, settling down, living nearby family, are some that we have to deal with.  

While this lifestyle may work for some, for others it is limiting.  Not everyone feels the urge to live life this way and in this particular order, but our society almost demands this from us. 

When you constantly hear the question “so when are you guys having kids?” right after getting married, it becomes clear that society expects that you have kids after you get married. 

You don’t have to do any of this if it doesn’t feel right for you.  Don’t feel pressured to fulfill the expectations of your external environment if it doesn’t align with your own rhythm.  You are not bound by these rules.  You are a free spirit.  You can live your life the way you choose to, the only thing you have to do is stop caring about what others will think of you when you do start living this way.

Now let go of these expectations and start living that life!



NORM 3: Acting, talking, looking, and thinking like everyone else

When I first moved to the US from Hungary at the age of 10, I immediately felt the exclusion and isolation that comes with being different from everyone else.  Obviously I didn’t like to feel this way, so I figured out the key to social survival: fitting in with the crowd.  

This is what we do.  We try to act, talk, look, and think like everyone else so we don’t get made fun of for being different.  But WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.  WE ARE ALL UNIQUE.  And it is our uniqueness that makes us so special.

So after years of hiding behind an ideal image, I began to embrace my differences.  And I’ve been on that journey ever since.

The clothes that you wear, the hairstyle that you have, the way you talk, the words you choose, the conversations you have with people, the thoughts you think, the things you do… are they your own? Are they authentic to you? Do they represent, to the best of their ability, who you are at your core?  Do they reflect your values?  Or do they represent who the general public is?

Again, choose wisely and consciously.  Be yourself.  Don’t be afraid of being different.  Own your “you-ness” and it will inspire others to do the same.

NORM 4: Looking to authority, the media, TV, or people with money, fame or power for what the truth is, how to be & what to believe

Oh this is a big one.  How many times do we believe something because we heard it on the news?  How many times do we label something as true or untrue because a so-called expert said it was true or untrue? How many times do we do something because a celebrity on TV did it?

In this society, we are conditioned to believe everything that we hear or read.  We are not conditioned to question things, find our own answers, do our own research, and dig deeper.

So if you want to stay true to yourself, I recommend that you stop listening to other people and start finding your own answers.  Especially when the messages come from mainstream media as most of them are controlled by big corporations whose aim is to brainwash you into being a submissive victim who fears authority and therefore does everything they ask of them.

This might sound harsh and even negative, but this is how it is.  If you do enough research and start paying attention to the “behind the scenes” activity of our systems, it always comes down to how people can make the most money and have the most control.  Their intentions seldom have anything to do with our actual well being unfortunately, so we have to take back control of our lives.  

NORM 5: Judging, excluding, making fun of, or belittling someone who is different, strange, odd, awkward or doesn’t “fit the mold” 

This is a social norm that I was born to break.  There is nothing more ignorant than people making fun of someone for being different.  As we talked about earlier, our differences complete us, not limit us, so why ridicule someone else for being something other than what we are used to? Just because we haven’t been blessed with diverse and eye-opening experiences doesn’t mean that we can’t accept people for who they are, how they are.

There is always more than meets the eye, so this is a social norm that we MUST break if we want to live in a more loving and peaceful world.  We need to stop assuming that those who think, act and look differently are less than us.  We have to start respecting other people and appreciating them for who they are.

Some ways to do this are keeping an open-mind and always giving people the benefit of the doubt.  When you feel like judging someone, ask yourself “could this person have a really good reason for being that way or doing that thing?”  The answer is most often a yes, so don’t jump to conclusions.  Get curious about people who are different from you and ask them questions and try to get to know them on a deeper level.  You will probably learn a lot from them and gain a good friend out of it too.

When you witness other people ridiculing another, stand up for what is right and put an end to the behavior by simply saying: “you don’t know anything about this person, so please stop bullying them.”  

The bottom line is, people come into our lives from all walks of life, all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of cultures, all sorts of conditionings, and all sorts of pain.  We have to respect that and try understand people for who they truly are without putting them in a box first.

If you can break these 5 social norms, I guarantee your life will transform.  And remember, WE are the ones who create the norms of our society so we can change them too.  By each of us taking action and making the right decisions, we can collectively shift the norm to be something that is more empowering and authentic, so that we can live in a better world.  But it honestly starts with your courage to break away from the pack.

So tell me, which norm, if you had the courage to break, would give you the most relief? Share it in the comments below!