For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with fitting in. I used to believe it was an isolated issue that only I and few others struggled with. As I have gotten older, I realized this universal problem has been around for decades and affects more than most know. If you have ever felt excluded, you know that it hurts...literally! Emerging evidence in neuroscience has suggested that a single instance of rejection (from both, someone close, or a stranger) causes a response that overlaps the same area of the brain as if you were to be physically injured! So the heavy heartache that occurs when we feel left out is far beyond just an emotional response. Scientists have even experimented with patients taking acetaminophen when an instance of rejection occurs to see if it would aid the pain felt psychologically. What can we do to prevent these injuries and how can we bring healing from situations where we have been left out or even ostracized?
The first problem with a feeling is to see it as just that; it is only a feeling. It is an emotional response to something that has happened. It is not always truth and can be tricky to distinguish the reality of a situation when emotions are present. Reflecting on factual evidence can really ease the pain of an offense involving being left out. A friend who had your email wrong or family member who is always less than organized may not have intentionally left you out. “Inconsiderate” could be a more accurate describing word, but, knowing their intentionality is innocent, can help sooth or lessen some of the pain.
Trying the distraction method. Have you ever had or seen a child get injured, and the parent’s immediate response is to have them focus on something else? When my daughter was three, she slammed her finger in the back door so hard that not only was the finger broke in several places but the nail bed detached and required a surgical procedure. The doctor was ingenious as he brought in a hospital volunteer that had an all white little dog that he placed on her lap to pet with her available hand, keeping her distracted. When you feel rejected, distract yourself. Do something you like. Take some time out for self care with a nice bubble bath and book, or go window shopping and dream of possibilities. This will help you get your mind off the matter at hand.
Lastly, find something to be grateful for. The inner pessimist inside all of us screams for our attention and tries to keep us prisoners in our own minds. Overcoming pessimism can be the simple act of writing down people, things, or relationships you DO have and are grateful for. There may be awkward social events where you feel rejected, but remembering the healthy and sometimes small moments where you were desired and wanted can be helpful in staying optimistic. Finding a way to be thankful can also be very healing. It sets our thoughts on what is good and pure, making the pain fade.
Feeling a sense of social belonging is a psychological need. We were designed to be in communities and surrounded by each other. There is bound to be moments or groups we won't always feel wanted at, but tactfully processing facts, distracting yourself, and finding gratefulness for those we do have in our lives can ease the pain from these moments.