All of us, humans are social creatures. We thrive in communities and have a deeply rooted need to belong, traced all the way back to prehistoric times. Whether a tribe or hunter-gatherers, your co-workers or school friends, it’s vital for our mental well-being to find a group where we fit in and are accepted.
Research shows how fulfilling that basic emotional need of belongingness can be highly beneficial, increasing happiness and reducing the risk of struggling with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.
On the contrary, facing rejection from others and being bullied or excluded can be incredibly painful to experience. Feeling like an outsider takes a toll on mental health, leading to significant issues like low self-esteem, hopelessness, loneliness, or depression.
If you’re struggling with feeling out of place, there are many steps you can take to cope with that issue effectively. In this article, you can learn more about the symptoms and the root causes of feeling like an outsider and tangible ways to overcome this issue for good.
What Does Feeling Like an Outsider Feel Like?
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, proposed a theory of human motivation driven by a hierarchy of needs, with belongingness taking a central spot. Meeting these needs contributes to our well-being and fulfilling our potential.
Besides, we are simply hardwired to connect with others. It’s been scientifically proven that:
- the same brain region is activated when we crave social interactions and when we crave food,
So, what happens when we feel like we don’t belong anywhere?
Here are some common signs you might be struggling with feeling like an outsider:
- overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation,
- feeling self-aware and awkward in a social setting,
- avoiding social interactions / social withdrawal,
- using alcohol or drugs as a social lubricant,
- acting like a social chameleon instead of being authentic,
- being sure that others dislike you despite lack of proof,
- difficulty trusting others and being emotionally vulnerable.
Where Does Feeling Like an Outsider Come From? Root Causes
If you’ve been experiencing these feelings of inadequacy for a while now, chances are they might have started in your childhood.
Being raised by emotionally immature parents means being emotionally neglected as a child, which can result in forming an unhealthy belief that:
- your feelings don’t matter,
- you shouldn’t display your emotions,
- craving connection means that you’re being “too much” / needy.
While that way of thinking helped you survive your childhood, it’s counterproductive as you enter adulthood, negatively affecting your ability to express yourself emotionally and form genuine relationships with others.
The environment that we live in has a massive impact on our health, both physically and mentally. If you always feel like the odd one out, I invite you to closely examine how you feel at home, at work, or in your friend circle. Perhaps:
- Your partner you live with is overly critical or demanding, making you feel like you’re never good enough, no matter how hard you try to please them.
- You’re often the butt of your friends’ jokes, which makes you feel inferior.
- Your boss likes to remind you how other co-workers are more successful than you. As a result, you think that your career is a failure.
While painful at first, it might be a good idea to cut out these people in your life who mistreat you. People who actually care about you will make you feel welcome and celebrated just as you are.
Our thoughts create our reality. By that, I mean that your self-image or negative self-talk can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy:
If you perceive yourself as an incompetent, boring, or annoying person that no one will like, you’ll most likely:
- struggle with taking the initiative when meeting new people,
- avoid speaking your mind,
- have trouble with acting authentically around others,
- worry excessively if you’re not annoying anyone,
- compare yourself to others,
- believe your inner critic,
- feel rejected by others, even if there’s no proof to back it up.
As a result of feeding your inner critic, your self-esteem further diminishes, strengthening the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere.
Overcome Feeling Like an Outsider in 3 Steps
Step 1: Keep Your Thoughts in Check
Let’s say you’ve just arrived at a party and walked into a room full of people. You feel like everyone’s paying attention to what you’re doing or who you’re talking to, and you think they must be judging you. It makes you uncomfortable, and you start overly monitoring your behaviors.
But what if I told you that what’s happening is a different story? Everyone at a party is having a good time, and since you just arrived, some people looked at you and then resumed their activities. That’s it.
This cognitive bias, the spotlight effect, is just one of many examples of how your thoughts can trick you into thinking they’re facts. We all perceive ourselves as the main characters in the story of our lives – usually, there won’t be anyone fixating on you like you imagine.
Don’t believe everything you think. Your negative thoughts are not facts but part of your inner dialogue. Since they can distort your view of reality, it’s a good idea to:
- look at them with a grain of salt,
- question their validity,
- recognize what triggers these thoughts that cause you a lot of pain.
Step 2: Face Your Emotions with Self-Compassion
While feeling like an outsider can be distressing, trying to suppress or avoid that emotion will only worsen your state. The only way out is through. To overcome this issue, it’s best to befriend it first with an open heart.
Rather than judging or scolding yourself for struggling, try your best to accept your emotional hurdle and embrace yourself with self-compassion and kindness.
Journaling is a powerful tool that can help you reduce stress or anxiety and create a safe space in which you learn to:
- get rid of judgment,
- replace it with warmth and curiosity,
- achieve enough inner peace to explore any underlying painful emotions or dysfunctional beliefs that make you feel like an outsider.
Plus, the more vulnerable, open, and empathetic you will be towards yourself, the easier it will be to treat others similarly. Sooner or later, your attitude and actions will attract your tribe. Start by giving yourself some grace.
Step 3: Reach Out for Help
Don’t give in to your inner critic. Instead, take the initiative and start coping with your issue proactively:
1. Seek out new friends. Look for communities that share your interests or hobbies. The options are endless.
Step out of your comfort zone and try something new:
- Join a local book club.
- Try going to a stand-up comedy show.
- Look for hikes organized by your local community.
- Find out how to become a volunteer at an animal shelter.
Whatever it may be, look for a group to join with a shared sense of purpose, similar goals, and core values that align with your personal moral compass.
2. Reach out to your close friend or a trusted family member and open up about your struggles. Their reaction might show just how differently they see you. Plus, simply venting can help you release the built-up tension.
3. Perhaps you’ve already tried different things to no avail. Maybe you’re just beginning this journey and have no idea where to start. Remember that you don’t have to go through this mental health problem alone.
Getting professional help and starting psychotherapy creates an amazing opportunity to:
- identify your emotions or negative patterns,
- process them in the safety of a therapeutic setting,
- learn healthy coping ways to overcome feeling like an outsider.
Don’t hesitate to contact Harbor Psychiatry today & set up your first appointment.