Do you sometimes feel like you’re being left out and excluded by your friends and family? Or you get a sinking feeling that you were the topic of conversation anytime you walk up to people? You may just be battling feelings of exclusion.

Has this ever happened to you before? You overhear your friends talking about an exciting experience they shared together without inviting you and you immediately feel jealous and left out. Well, you’re not alone as this is a common human experience that can happen as often as once a day or more [1].

As you would expect, feeling excluded isn’t any fun and worse yet it isn’t only caused by close friends or family members, we also feel hurt when we are excluded by total strangers. This may make you feel like you’re not cool enough, not popular enough, or you don’t fit in the same way others do. There have been several psychological investigations into the impact of this unpleasant feeling on an individual.

Feeling excluded hurts literally

It can be difficult dealing with feelings of exclusion and psychologists have discovered that the emotional pain we feel when being left out can hit us as hard as a physical injury [2]. Neuroscientists have found evidence that we use the same area of the brain that processes physically painful feelings to process feelings of exclusion [3]. This means that your brain processes the physical feeling of pain (for example, stubbing your toe) the same way it does the emotional feeling of ostracism.

There is also some evidence of the long-term effects of exclusion. Some people have admitted that they are still suffering from the effects of being excluded by their friends and family earlier in life. In this story by Amy Weatherly, she admits that “Sometimes I feel like the same 16-year-old girl who didn’t know where to sit in the cafeteria.” [4]. If left unchecked, they may end up pouring their hurt feelings on close friends and family or distancing themselves completely, leading to more feelings of exclusion.

Dealing with feelings of exclusion

Luckily, there are several ways you can deal with the feeling of being left out irrespective of whether you’re dealing with a one-off instance or an ongoing exclusion from a social group. You can still retain your self-confidence and motivation by putting your exclusion in perspective and overcoming your hurt feelings by following the four tips below [5]:

1. Accept what happened
The first step is accepting that it was not your fault you were excluded. The truth is that sh*t happens, people forget or expect you to pick up on some barely visible hint. Holding in the pain of exclusion will leave you temporarily unable to connect well with others.

2. Put your exclusion in perspective
Most times we take exclusion much too personally even if it is caused by factors out of your (or your friends’) control. The important thing is to understand your exclusion could have happened for any number of reasons.

3. You are who you want to be
Even though you may have been excluded in the past, you’re not the same insecure, trying-too-hard, person that went through that experience [4]. You may look the same but you’ve learned too much, grown too much, and been through too since then to still be harboring the pain of the past.

4. Find inclusion elsewhere
The fact that you were excluded by a person or group doesn’t diminish your value in any way. You can seek inclusion elsewhere with people in your life who make you feel wanted to boost self-esteem.

References:

  1. The Psychological Effects of Feeling Excluded“, Social Psych Online. November, 2015.
  2. The pain of social rejection“, American Psychological Association. April, 2012.
  3. Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion”, Science. October, 2003.
  4. I wonder why I wasn’t invited“, Love What Matters. May, 2019.
  5. How to Deal With Exclusion“, wikiHow. March, 2019.
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