Walking right behind your three friends on the sidewalk, not being invited to plans that are made right in front of you, and being whispered in front of...every single teen, no matter how popular they are, has been there at some point. Being excluded is like someone telling you non stop that you’re not good enough and completely unwanted. It’s painful and lonely. It can have a deep negative impact on your self esteem and happiness, even years later.
How come social isolation leads to these feelings? Since human beings are biologically social animals, evolution has selected us to live with and depend on one another. By causing aversive feelings, being left out indicates to us that social relationships are at risk and there is a crisis. This is similar to how our bodies indicate to us that we need to rest by making us feel sleepy. Studies have shown that similar areas in the brain are activated when we experience physical and social pain.
Teens are known for being cliquey. Having the ability to exclude someone else feels so superficially validating and powerful. It’s easy to give in to doing it, especially if you’re lacking self assurance and identity, which teens often are.
Being socially rejected is really degrading. It’s important to cope effectively and overall stay as unbothered as possible so social exclusion doesn't have the power to have long term consequences on your identity. Here are my tips on how to do so that have worked for me based on my experiences:
1. Seek inclusion elsewhere. Build a full life in areas where you are not excluded so you can draw confidence and happiness from other sources. This will make up for the happiness and confidence you lose through being socially rejected. For example, if you are excluded in school, build strong friendships outside of school and join extracurricular activities outside of school. This way, you have a strong identity outside of school and you don’t confuse your identity with the low self image you have at school. This also might help people see your worth and exclude you less.
2. How other people perceive you does not need to be your reality. Know that you will naturally be a more self conscious and insecure version of yourself if you are in a space where you feel judged, but who you are forced to be in that space doesn’t need to be who you truly are. Don’t let how the people that exclude you view you turn into how you view yourself and who you truly are. As cliche as it sounds, you are enough, even if others don’t see your worth.
3. Remember that this is temporary and soon enough you will be in an environment where you are appreciated, valued, looked up to, and feel comfortable being yourself. While you are in this situation, you can choose to keep to yourself or push yourself to be involved as much or as little as you feel is comfortable and beneficial for you. For example, if you think that making an effort to join more conversations and be friendlier to a group of people will make them include you more, then you can do so. On the other hand, if you feel that trying to hang out with people who don’t want to hang out with you makes you feel drained, then you can just keep to yourself and do your own thing.
4. Communicate that you feel left out to the people you feel that way around, if it fits the situation and makes sense to do so in your case- I highly encourage this.
5. Let it out. Vent to your family, therapist, friends, or urstorymatters to find support and solutions. Let yourself grieve.
6. Use not having many friends as an opportunity to get closer to your family.