There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing your own thing, living an independent life, or waving a giant “loner” flag as you eat lunch all by yourself. It’s confident and cool. But it’s possible that, at one point or another, you may be worried that you don’t fit in and understanding why those emotions might be coming up can help you tackle the issue and feel more at ease in a group environment.
Plus, after spending more than a year in isolation, it’s no surprise if you feel more awkward socializing than you did pre-pandemic. And the transition back to in-person life can be bumpy for some as your friendships and social skills adjust to the shift – hence nerves or the feeling that you don’t fit in anywhere.
Whether you’re a self-described loner or a lifelong extrovert, everyone feels weird in social situations from time to time. There’s actually a scientific reason for that – humans have a fundamental need to belong that is rooted deep in evolutionary survival instincts. Evolution aside, rusty social skills from lock down from seeing your friends only on Instagram can also add to feeling as an outcast.
But even though it’s normal to feel lonely, sometimes that doesn’t make it hurt any less. To help you get to the bottom of your social discomfort, experts share 15 reasons you might be thinking, “I don’t fit in anywhere,” and what to do to overcome those thoughts.
1.) Your Friends are Changing
Remember when you were really young and assumed that your middle school best friend would be in your life forever? If that’s the case, congrats on the long-lasting friendship. But know that it’s also very common for people to drift apart as time passes. It can happen for all sorts of reasons: Maybe you moved to another city and have trouble staying in touch, or perhaps you’ve grown as a person and are no longer as compatible with certain friends.
Regardless, these shifts are normal, so if you feel on the outside of your usual friend group, it might be a sign that your dynamics are naturally changing and you’re in the market for new pals whose lives better match your own.
2.) You Haven’t Found “Your People”
If you feel like a stranger at work or live on the periphery of your friend group, it could be that you haven’t found the right community for you. This may be the case because you don’t yet know yourself well or haven’t settled on what you value most in friendships.
The solution? Reflect on what you value the most in relationships, whether that’s by yourself or with the help of a coach or a therapist. Once you have a clear idea of who you are and what you want, she says the friendships will come in time.
3.) This isn’t the Social Environment for You
Sometimes being in the wrong setting is to blame for your struggles. For example, if you prefer to have one-on-one conversations with lots of eye contact and few interruptions, a massive party might not be your ideal forum for social connection. If the atmosphere doesn’t suit your social preferences, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it just might signal that you’re better suited to a different environment.
4.) You Aren’t Opening Up
Feeling part of a group isn’t just about meeting people you like. It also requires people to open up to each other, and if that isn’t happening then it can be hard to connect.
Sometimes this is easier said than done if you tend to be more shy or private. But you don’t have to change who you are or pretend to be something you’re not to forge those connections – it’s just about being a little more open a little more often.
What’s my tip? – If you tend to be quiet but still want to engage with others, try asking them questions about themselves and their life and then actively listen to their responses.
5.) You Worry Too Much What Everyone Thinks
If ever there was a way to come across as uncomfortable or nervous in public, it’s by caring too much about what other people think. While this habit might be challenging to break, consider how it might cause you to put up a wall, or project standoff-ish vibes.
To help you focus more on the present moment and less on what others may or may not be thinking, its great to visualizing yourself leaving the brains of the people around you and going back into your own body, where you can instead focus on how you’re feeling.
6.) You’re In Your Head
If you’re constantly thinking, “I don’t fit in”, while in a group, then you’re directing much of your attention inwards. It is hard to successfully socialise when you’re channeling all that energy towards yourself and these kind of thoughts.
One way to get out of your head is by getting those thoughts out of your mind and into the open. If you feel like there’s somebody you can confide in about feeling nervous, you might get the comfort that you need or learn that they’re feeling the same. We assume that everyone else is doing well and that socializing is natural for them, when in reality, they probably feel a lot of the same feelings that we do.
7.) You’re In A Self-Conscious Cycle
Discomfort in social situations can spiral into a cycle of feeling like an outsider. If you feel like you’re strange or not like everybody else, then you’ll be more closed off and when you’re more closed off, it limits people from getting close to you. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To help break the circle is to remind yourself that everybody feels weird sometimes and it doesn’t define you. In fact, your uniqueness is what makes you shine and can help you build those bridges.
8.) You Haven’t Owned Your Uniqueness
On that note, dulling your uniqueness in order to fit in might actually have quite the opposite effect. Pretending to be someone you’re not will only leave you with shallow friendships and a sense that no one understands you. The more you embrace who you are and the things you like, the more likely you’ll attract folks who feel the exact same way. Consider this permission to be confidently yourself.
9.) You are Painfully Shy
It’s OK to be shy. After all, not everyone is a life-of-the-party type. But feeling shy to the point where you’re unable to chat with new people can make it hard to insert yourself into a group dynamic.
Being shy might make it hard to meet people in big groups, so maybe try to stick to smaller group settings when you can. That being said, if there are certain people you feel more shy around than others, this might help you better understand the people who are ‘your people’ versus the ones who aren’t.
10). You Ignore What You Want
Not prioritizing your well-being in a social situation can also cause you to feel alone in a group. When we don’t connect with ourselves, we can’t truly connect with others. We may end up feeling not only empty inside, but also left out and isolated from others. People tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves, so when we ignore our feelings and wants or judge ourselves, we might experience being ignored or judged by others.
This pattern can be challenging to overcome, but understanding that you can set an example for how you want to be treated is step one. Working on these concerns with a coach or therapist to help you reconnect with yourself and, ultimately, connect with others too.
11.) You Aren’t Listening Properly
Connection is a two-way street. You talk a bit, your friend talks a bit, and the dynamic stays relatively balanced. So if you feel disconnected from those around you even though you’re confident in a social setting, she says that could be a sign that it would be helpful if you listen more.
The next time your friend tells a story, try to really hear them. Instead of offering a story of your own, trying to one-up them, or launching into a monologue. Simply listening can go a long way. Once this becomes a habit, they’ll also be more likely to pay attention to you in the same way and so you create a deeper bond.
12.) You’re Trying Too Hard
There’s nothing wrong with putting effort into your relationships, but pay attention to where and why you’re putting in that effort. If you’re “trying too hard” in a caring way but you still can’t connect, it may be better to move on and find a group that will truly appreciate you. But it’s also possible to try too hard in an effort to seek approval on something in return. That can be off-putting to the people around you, and if you notice that happening, it might be best to take a step back and reflect on why you feel the need to please.
13.) You Aren’t Trying Enough
It’s also possible to not try hard enough. This might be the case if you’re always waiting around for people to come to you. If you’re at work, for example, and wondering why no one is talking to you, take it upon yourself to move things along. Be chatty, be nice, ask people about their day.
And consider getting outside your comfort zone by attending events, joining clubs, and saying yes to invitations and opportunities to connect even if you’d rather stay home. You don’t have to commit an entire evening to a party, but it never hurts to attend events or even create a few of your own.
14.) You Aren’t Expressing Yourself
While it doesn’t really matter what you wear, there is something to be said for expressing yourself outwardly as a way of connecting with like-minded people. While clothes, jewelry, and haircuts won’t make friendships, they are conversation starters and can let people know what you’re all about.
15.) You Have Social Anxiety
If you constantly struggle with that tension of feeling left out, you may have social anxiety. If you suspect you’re dealing with more than the usual jitters, it may be very helpful to seek professional support and find ways to cope with your anxiety.
It’s never fun to feel left out, or as if you don’t fit in. But there are plenty of things you can do about it, should you be interested in creating new relationships. After all we are a social being and ‘pack animals’ and we need one another. It may take time and may even require a few tweaks to how you think or move through the world. Yet, it can result in much more positive interractions, more and deeper friendships which then lead towards greater fulfillment in life.
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