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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you cope with the feeling of not fitting in. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.
Everyone on the planet feels like they don’t fit in at times.
This can be for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from having different interests and views from family members, to not quite understanding social cues and expectations.
Other times, one might personally feel that they don’t fit in with those around them, but that perspective is wholly internal. It isn’t shared by their peers, who can’t understand why this person would feel this way.
The feeling of not fitting in can be very isolating. It can make a person insecure about their own role in the world around them.
If you’ve been experiencing this, there are quite a few things that you can do. Some of them revolve around shifting your mindset, while others are more about adjusting certain behaviors in order to make life run a bit more smoothly.
First, we have to determine why it is that we feel a certain way, and then we can take action to change things accordingly.
Determine who you’re trying to fit in with, and why.
Before we dive into the list of things you can do if you feel like you don’t fit in, it’s important to take a good, thorough look at what’s going on around you.
First and foremost, who is it you’re trying to fit in with?
Is it a social group that you want to be more involved with, either because you think they’re great or because you’re new to the area and want to be accepted by your peers? Or is this a situation where you feel like you don’t fit in with the rest of your family because you’re simply different from the rest of them?
Is feeling like you don’t fit in a daily occurrence, or something that only happens occasionally? This is important to discern, as it’ll influence the actions you take from here on.
Furthermore, be honest with yourself about why it is you want to fit in with these people.
Are you trying to live a life that’s very different from how it is right now? Or are you in a situation where being different from those around you means feeling uncomfortable around them all the time?
When you understand your own motivations for fitting in, you can have a better idea of how to go about shifting things around. This might involve changing aspects of your life so you do in fact fit in better, or changing your perspective and overall mindset.
Why don’t you think that you fit in with them?
This expands upon the previous self-examination, as it forces one to take a look at the big picture, rather than being driven by high emotion.
Try to put emotions aside for a moment and be a bit more analytical. Instead of going by what you “feel,” try to analyze the situation.
Are there very tangible clues that you don’t fit in with those around you? For instance, has anyone told you straight out that you don’t fit in with the group? Have you been informed that others are uncomfortable with your presence or behavior? Or that they don’t want you around?
Alternatively, have people been trying to encourage you to dress or behave differently than you normally do in order to “fit in” better? If so, are they saying these things for your own benefit, or for the sake of their own comfort level?
This is important to discern, because many people are uncomfortable with those who are different from themselves. As a result, they might try to offer what they think is “helpful” advice for the other person to “fit in” more with the group. In fact, there isn’t anything helpful going on at all, except toward themselves. What they’re trying to do is change the other person’s life choices so they don’t feel awkward around them anymore.
Some examples of this might include things like encouraging a woman who is wearing a hijab to uncover her hair at work so as not to “draw too much attention,” solely to try to get her to conform. Similarly, parents might encourage their offspring to dress the same way everyone else does so as not to be “weird.”
It’s a method of control, and an attempt to cultivate sameness within the group dynamic. Quite simply, if everyone looks and acts the same, then nobody stands out.
The phrase “you think you’re better than us” is often used to try and control others’ behavior, specifically for this reason. People who might feel insecure about their vocabulary might bully others for using “snobby” language to try to act superior. Same thing goes for people who are insecure about their dietary choices, fitness level, clothing choices, home decor, or work ethic.
As a result, they’ll try and bring everyone to the same level. In doing so, they’ll make the other(s) feel that they “don’t fit in.” They’ll exclude them and insult them until they fall into line and behave the way others feel they should. Then, once they’ve paid what seems to be sufficient lip service, they’ll be welcomed into the cool clique.
What are the ramifications of not fitting in?
We touched upon this earlier when we asked whether you’d like to fit in better to avoid feeling uncomfortable in family situations, though this can be a pretty wide spectrum. Furthermore, it isn’t limited to family dynamics. One can feel that they don’t “fit in” at work, at school, and in various social groups.
For the most part, the effects of not fitting in are quite mild, such as being excluded because you don’t look or act the same as others do. Other than feeling a bit awkward or uncomfortable, there aren’t going to be serious issues associated with not fitting in here.
In other situations, however, not fitting in can have some serious implications.
Let’s say you get your dream job in a city across the country. You might have been an active member of a vibrant community where you’ve been living, but the one you moved to has very different values. Many people can be quite xenophobic when it comes to others, and newcomers may be scrutinized and ostracized for being different.
While this might be fairly benign for the most part (like simply being “polite,” but not warm toward you in social settings), things might get ugly in other situations. For example, if you follow a different religion than the majority of people there, and they find out about it, you could end up facing a lot of serious consequences.
People have lost custody of their children after other parents reported their concerns to CPS over “dangerous” spiritual beliefs. You might end up losing your job, or even being charged with outlandish things simply for being different from those around you. While these types of scenarios might be less of an issue in many parts of North America, they can be very real in other countries.
Take into account what the long-term effects might be of not fitting in. I’ve always been a proponent of staying true to one’s own beliefs, interests, and other leanings, but there are exceptions to every rule. If not playing along and trying to fit in can result in dire repercussions, then that’s something to take into consideration.
14 things you can do to feel like you belong:
The tips and techniques mentioned below are a few of the things you can do to feel more like you belong.
1. Examine other people’s motivations in excluding you (if they’re doing so).
If you’ve been feeling excluded or ostracized by those around you, try to take a step back and look at the big picture. To start off with, write down all the instances you can think of when you felt left out, or felt like you didn’t fit in.
Once you’ve done that, try to look at the results from many different perspectives. See if you can find recognizable patterns, either in the situations themselves or with the people involved.
For example, if you felt that you didn’t fit in because you spent most of your time alone at a party, was that because you didn’t know anyone else there? Were you too shy to mingle with people you didn’t know? And similarly, could they have been shy about approaching you—possibly even trying to respect your space by leaving the ball in your court—to socialize?
2. Try to stop assuming that you’re either too much, or not enough.
This can be a really difficult one to navigate, as just about everyone has to deal with self-esteem issues. A person who has a typically amazing body or conventionally attractive face might be paralyzed with anxiety because of dyslexia or sensory processing issues. Alternatively, someone who’s brilliant and talented might feel like they don’t fit in with their peers because their body or facial features aren’t considered “hot” by the majority.
Maybe you’re quieter than the others around you because you’re an introvert, or because you prefer to observe rather than take part. In contrast, you might be super bubbly and enthusiastic because you’re naturally energetic and really excited about life in general.
For the latter situations, try your best to pick up on subtle social cues. Let others talk if they feel frustrated by your prattle, or speak up a bit if they seem uncomfortable with your silence.
As for everything mentioned above, the people who actually matter are those who care about you because of how you are, not despite. If they’re choosing to hang out with you, then they like you, and you fit in just fine.
3. Determine whether you’re assuming things about others.
In the past, if you have felt like you didn’t belong someplace, or that other people were being critical toward you, ask yourself if that was actually true or if there could have been other reasons.
Many people are hypervigilant about any perceived criticism or negative thoughts about them. As a result, they often worry a great deal about what others think about them and generally assume the worst. If someone looks at them from across the room mid conversation, then they’ll assume they’re being gossiped about.
4. Analyze who’s giving you grief, and why.
In contrast, have you been insulted or otherwise been put down by people who were trying to encourage you to look or behave differently because you were being too weird, or not meshing with the rest of the group? If so, who were these people?
If you’re constantly receiving this kind of feedback from family members, then it might be a cultural thing. They might feel that they have the right to control your life because they’re related to you. Furthermore, they might even believe that your choices will reflect poorly on them. This is the whole “What will people think/say about us?” situation.
This can go for those in your social groups as well. They might worry about being ostracized themselves if they associate with someone “weird.” It’s possible they actually really like you, but they’re so worried about becoming personae non grata (Latin for “person not welcome”) that they’ll try to change you so you don’t attract negative attention.
5. Ask yourself whether you’re intentionally keeping other people at a distance.
This may not be the case, but it’s a good idea to examine the possibility anyway.
A lot of people are so wary of being excluded or rejected that they preempt this by not giving others the chance to hurt them in the first place. They’ll keep people at a distance and exude an aura that tells others to give them a wide berth. This often has that exact effect: it’ll make the person seem standoffish, which will inevitably stop others from approaching them.
Many who have been abused in the past have had to put up protective walls in order to get through difficult times. Problems occur when you’re no longer in an abusive situation, but the walls are still up—even if they don’t realize it!
You might really want to cultivate some new relationships, but you’re still giving off vibes that keep others at bay. As such, you feel that you’re not receiving a warm enough welcome, when in fact you’re unknowingly pushing others away.
Once you’re aware of this kind of behavior, you can then take steps to adjust it so you can let people “in” a bit more.
6. Do you think you might be trying too hard? Or not enough?
The efforts we put into social groups can make or break our dynamics with them.
For example, you’ve probably noticed that some people make friends and other social contacts quite effortlessly, while others struggle with real connection. The key thing here has nothing to do with fitting in per se, but everything to do with being comfortable and confident in oneself.
Let’s say you’re interested in being friends with a particular crowd, but they dress and act differently from how you do now. As a result, you might buy similar clothes, change your hairstyle, take up their vocal cadence, etc. This is all done in an attempt to fit in with all of them, but the fact that you’re trying so hard to be one of them will make everyone very uncomfortable.
Rather than embracing you as one of their own, they’ll see that you’re wearing a costume and trying to play at being one of them. There’s no sincerity here; just a masquerade.
The opposite can also be true. You might be trying so hard to be your own unique unicorn self that you alienate those around you. Instead of celebrating you for the masterpiece that you are, they might find your intentionally different behaviors and choices off-putting. This is especially true if you’re very vocal about things that they don’t particularly care about on a regular basis.
Take a close look at the effort you’re putting into these interactions, and see if there’s room for improvement.
7. Try walking the middle road.
There’s always a way to compromise, including adjusting things just enough so one fits in a bit more, while still being true to themselves.
Many people who feel that they don’t fit in will abandon the things that make them unique and special in favor of being more easily accepted. This isn’t a great long-term solution, as the person who’s trying to fit in will inevitably end up feeling as though they’re living a lie.
They have to wear masks that don’t fit them properly and pretend to be something they’re not, just so they’re not left out. And that sucks.
In situations like this, an option is to find that magical middle road between authenticity and amalgamation. It’s adapting to be a bit more accepted by the social circle, while still having some zesty, unique spice for good measure.
I’ll use my partner as an example here because I can think of one way in which she was able to bridge that very gap. The gothic velvet gowns she preferred weren’t ideal for the conservative office job she ended up getting.
In order to fit in a bit better, she adjusted her style to a Dita Von Teese esthetic. She chose fitted skirts and blazers (mostly black), and heels reminiscent of 1930s/40s styles. The result was that she got to be the “quirky” girl at the office, while still being accepted by her peers. Therein lies the magic of the middle road.
8. Mirror the surroundings you find yourself in.
Further to the previous point, you can also be a social chameleon as situations require.
If you’re given a hard time about speaking or acting differently than a friend group or around family members, then adjust your cadence and behavior when you’re around them. This isn’t to belittle or insult them, but rather to make them feel more comfortable.
Think of it like adapting how you speak to children, or to those of high status. You’re not condescending to kids, but you’ll use simpler vocabulary that they can understand. And you’ll likely be a bit more formal with heads of state or royalty than you would be with your buds.
Adapt to circumstances, walk that middle road, and you’ll be able to adjust to just about any situation you find yourself in. Think of it as emotional camouflage: you can sink into your surroundings, becoming one with the landscape, while being true to yourself underneath the outfit you’re wearing.
9. Alternatively, pick a lane.
If walking the middle road isn’t an option and you run serious risks if you don’t fit in, then you may have to pick a lane. This involves either masquerading in an attempt to fit in with everyone else or choosing an entirely different lifestyle so you don’t have to compromise anything about yourself.
The first option sucks, but might be necessary as a temporary measure. Many people have had to pretend to be something they aren’t just to keep the peace. If you choose this route, know that it will be an uncomfortable one. Try to ensure that it is in fact temporary, so you don’t end up anxious and depressed about playing a role you hate for too long.
Similarly, some people have refused to compromise on their authenticity, and have instead chosen to cut ties with those around them, and live a life that’s true to themselves. It’s often better to leave a situation rather than masquerading in order to fit in with those you don’t really like anyway. But this, too, will lead to some challenges and difficulties at times.
10. Become the version of yourself that you’d like best.
This expands upon the previous one a little bit, and some might disagree with it. But there are countless different approaches out there when one feels that they don’t fit in, and being the best version of yourself—the one that makes you feel happiest—is a valid option.
If you feel that you don’t fit in because you are the largest person in your social group, you are less educated, or you don’t have a great job, then put in the work to change yourself or your circumstances.
Body shape and facial features can be changed through diet, exercise, and/or surgery (though you should want to change for yourself, not for anyone else). It’s never too late to go back to school, nor change careers. Look into distance degree programs if in-person education isn’t an option, and speak with a career counselor about changing direction with your job.
11. Find your tribe.
If you find that you really don’t fit in no matter what you do, then you might have to find an entirely different group. It’s likely not a situation that you don’t fit in with anyone, but simply that you don’t fit in with those you’ve been associating with up until now.
Remember the story of the ugly duckling? How it was picked on for being weird looking, only to find out that it was actually a swan rather than a duck all along? You might be in a situation where you are that swan, surrounded by ducks as far as the eye can see. But you’re not the only swan in the world. In fact, there may be dozens—even hundreds—of other swans in the area, but you just haven’t found them yet.
Use social media or sites like Meetup to do searches for topics that are important to you. Then connect with other like-minded people in your area. If there aren’t many, because you live in a remote location (or your interests are super niche), then cultivate some friendships online. The great thing about not being a tree is that you have the ability to travel when and if you ever want to.
You’ll likely find some great groups that you grok with really well! You just needed to search for them a little bit.
12. Or create your own tribe.
Alternatively, if you do these kinds of searches and keep coming up empty, then consider starting a group of your own. There are likely many other people just like you who are also looking to connect with their tribe, but are also coming up empty.
Remember how we suggested looking for groups on Meetup or social media? Well, feel free to start one of your own! If the mountain isn’t coming to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain, right?
Start a group that bridges a couple of your most beloved interests, and create some corresponding social media pages for it. For example, if you make a Meetup group, then create related pages about it on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. This will widen the options for people who are looking to connect with those with similar interests.
Before you know it, you’ll have people coming out of the woodwork who are also interested in the combinations you love. Then you can decide from there how and when you’d like to interact further. Do you want to keep these connections at a distance? Or host an event where you all get to hang out in person? There are several options to choose from, all of which are valid and exciting.
13. Consider getting evaluated for neurodivergence or social anxiety.
A final thing to consider is the possibility that you might be experiencing the world in a different way from most others. For example, many people who are on the autism spectrum have experienced the feeling of not “fitting in” with those around them.
That said, it’s important to be aware that there are often trends toward blanket diagnoses in psychiatry. For example, in the 1990s, the default diagnosis for many young people was ADD/ADHD. Nowadays autism diagnoses are so common that just about everyone seems to have some degree of it.
That isn’t to decry the reality of the very wide spectrum of neurodivergence that’s out there. It’s a huge tapestry and can manifest in countless different ways. Rather, the key is to get a good evaluation done by a respected professional who has a great reputation and impeccable track record. Being misdiagnosed can cause more problems than it solves, so if a diagnosis doesn’t feel right, challenge it and ask for second or third opinions.
14. Talk to a therapist.
Of course, you don’t need to be tested for anything in particular to benefit from time with a therapist. Therapists are familiar with a very wide range of issues that we might not even be aware of. As such, they can offer insights and solutions that may not have been considered.
For example, you might feel that you don’t fit in when in reality you’re dealing with crippling social anxiety.
At the very least, they can ask questions to help dig to the root of a problem, and then work with you to determine the solution that’s best for you.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
One of the most important things to remember is that just because you feel like you don’t fit in doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with you. If you’ll indulge a moment of garden-related metaphors for a moment, there’s nothing “wrong” with a cactus because it won’t flourish in the tundra, nor is there anything “wrong” with an orchid because it won’t grow in a desert.
For life to thrive, it needs to be in an environment that will best allow it to flourish. If it’s in the wrong soil, or doesn’t get enough light or water, it’ll falter. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the soil or the plant. They’re just not suited to one another. The key is to pair the plants with the environments that are best for them.
Once that happens, they’ll be able to grow into the best versions of themselves with ease.
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