by Hayley Doyle
Emma Watson stumbled with emotion in a recent interview, after saying, “Have you ever felt that you weren’t included, not welcome somewhere, not invited?” The interviewer asked if she’d ever felt like this, and she could hardly respond, acknowledging her struggle and nodding. Then, Emma added, “Making people feel not included is just such a painful, awful thing to do.”
Perhaps Emma Watson was referring to something that happened during her childhood, as we presume anything associated with feeling left out will be related to kids, a tough life lesson from the book of growing up. But something about the way she hesitated, how she seemed so vulnerable in that moment, led me to believe that this pain she felt was raw. And it struck a chord.
When I was 30, I heard about a friend organising an overnight boat trip for their big 3-0. I awaited my invite, knowing this friend can be a little disorganised, and even presumed they’d already told me and forgotten. Until the ugly truth reared its head. I wasn’t invited. When I asked why, I was told that it was only couples going, and at the time I was living the single life. “You’d hate it,” I got told. And that was that. But my friend hadn’t seen the harm in what they’d done. They thought they’d done me a favour! It’s like when somebody has a baby; they can feel isolated from those who leave them “to it”, assuming they’re too busy with parenthood to do anything else. Sure, the likelihood is they are, but hey, it would be nice to be asked. And when the shoe is on the other foot, your friend who hasn’t got kids might really appreciate the invite to your baby’s first birthday, whether they’re struggling to conceive or have no intention of having children at all. And why? Because feeling left out is horrific.
You get that sickly feeling sitting heavy, right in your gut.
You’re determined to distract yourself, but it niggles and niggles. It won’t go away. You tell yourself that you’re probably imagining it, or that there’s a reasonable explanation, or you don’t even care anyway. But the feeling twists. The deep knot starts to give you a headache. You’re irritable. It takes over. Ultimately, you feel like a loser.
Plans have been made, on the grapevine. And you’re not part of them. There was a get together the other night. Only, you didn’t know about it. Oh, and that joke everybody in your office laughed at, but you just didn’t find funny, remember? You questioned your sense of humour or wondered why you weren’t part of the clique. Or maybe you did laugh. Maybe you did attend the party. The coffee morning. The girls weekend away. But despite being with the gang, you never felt like you were in the gang. You were the outsider. And in a room full of people, you felt incredibly lonely.
Feeling left out isn’t restricted to just friendship groups and family dynamics either. What about your first day at a new job? You receive a good luck text or two. Maybe even a card. Although you’ve got the apprehensive jitters, you’re also quietly brimming with hope. This is a new chapter. A fresh start. Then, you reach the end of the day and you get some more messages; Soooo, did you enjoy your first day? And you don’t answer. You ignore. Because you want to go home and cry.
No matter how old you are, feeling left out doesn’t end in the playground. Something like starting a new job can bring back all that uncertainty, making you question whether you’ll ever fit in. It’s not just the office in-jokes, because let’s face it, when you first hear them, you cringe. These people are so not your kind of people. It’s the simple things that spiral from feeling left out, like where to eat your lunch. Or where’s best to grab it from without wasting half an hour finding a decent sandwich. You might get lost. Disorientated. Your workload could turn out to be either too much or too little, creating instant doubt about whether you’ve made the right decision in taking on this job in the first place. You question your life choices. So, no. You didn’t enjoy your first day.
The thing is, none of us are on the same path. Our relationships form and breakdown at various points. Our rocky patches rarely align with another’s. We were all once the new kid on the block. We’ve all had fresh starts. Made mistakes. Got stuck in a rut or gone off-piste. So where’s the compassion? Why, as adults, are we still feeling left out?
It’s not easy to brush this feeling off, either, even if you’re usually pretty level-headed. The combination of various emotions and thoughts are complex, and they intensify as you try to deal with being left out. This may include feeling betrayed, worthless, unimportant, and angry. That’s one hell of a cocktail, that when mixed together can really mess you up.
According to psychologist Tina Tessina, from an early age, humans would stay in packs to increase the chances of survival. So, feeling excluded from a group rings a bell that creates an innate fear of your survival being at risk. Also, a recent study confirmed that social alienation triggers the same part of your brain as physical pain. It’s natural to feel lonely when friends or family are away from you, but when you feel they’ve rejected you, it can eat you up inside. You begin to think that you aren’t good enough, that their reasons are your fault. But although feeling left out is a very natural response to social isolation, it can take an ugly turn if you fail to manage your emotions properly.
Your emotions are 100% valid
However, help with balancing perspective might help you to swallow such a hard pill. Rather than avoid or deny these feelings - which can only make matters worse - take time to unpack them so that you’re able to process them, making any following decisions more rational. You could try journaling, deep breathing or meditation, or exercise.
Avoid jumping into a worst case scenario
This thought pattern is common, but not helpful. Emotional tension increases anxiety and can make it even harder to consider reasonable explanations. Stick to logical thinking. Look at the facts. Do you have any proof to support the conclusion that your friends don’t like you anymore? And even if you’ve truly been excluded, it might not be for the reasons you’ve told yourself exist.
Who are you on the outside?
Is there a recurring pattern in being excluded? Perhaps your outward actions are playing a role. If your friends are off to play netball every Thursday, are you conveying the desire to be invited along through your body language, or are you displaying something totally different? Do you seem closed off, when really, you’re open to the idea? Maybe you don’t offer anything specific to the conversation, so it’s assumed you’re not interested. Ask a close friend or relative what they see when they’re around you. This might help you to understand how others see you too.
Indulge in YOU
Being excluded is out of your control. You may never get a satisfying explanation. But that’s only your problem if you make it so. You’re in control of your own destiny and can always do something that makes you happy. Rather than other people ruining your day, work towards changing your mindset. Make a decision to make today fabulous. Eat your favourite food. Buy yourself a treat, a cute top or a lipstick, or go for a massage. Rewatch the movie that makes your heart sing. Pick up the phone and talk to the person responsible for always making you laugh. Pour yourself some bubbles whilst soaking in bubbles. Because, why not?
Take the lead
All too often, people assume; you’re busy, you’re disinterested, you’re socially anxious. Maybe you’ve turned down invitations in the past and people don’t want to irritate you or put you under pressure to say, No, again. So make the move. Rather than waiting to be asked out by your colleagues or to visit your friend and her new partner, you should suggest meeting up or going for a drink. Choose something you will enjoy too, whether that’s Italian food, an intimate gathering or a trip to the theatre, so others can learn what makes you tick, and they’ll remember that in the future.
New friends will become old friends
There was once a time when you didn’t know your friends. So, maybe your future gang is out there, keen to meet you. Forming new friendships is healthy and can give you a new lease of life. As humans, we’re constantly evolving. We’re not meant to stay the same all the time. A colourful rollercoaster ride is out there for the taking. Sure, your school friends share your history. You stumbled into adulthood with your uni mates. But a new crew of firecrackers might be just around the corner, waiting for the chance to make new memories with you.