Everyone feels left out sometimes – here’s what you can do:
As we mature, our emotions grow and change with us. We develop the tools to communicate succinctly instead of having that ginormous meltdown in the toy aisle at Target. Even as adults, though, there are some feelings that can still hold the same sting as they did in our childhood — like feeling left out. However, with some sage guidance and helpful tips, we can learn to move through these feelings to a more positive and inclusive space.
“I think everyone probably feels left out at some point in their lives,” says the Rev. Ron Loughry, who upon his retirement celebrated 50 years of service focusing on community ministries in the area. “These ideas of isolation and exclusion have always been,” Ron says. He goes on to say factors like “ill health, loss of family or friends, and even retirement can all lead to feelings of isolation.” Maybe you remember feeling excluded on the playground as a child or feel like family isn’t keeping you up-to-date on their outings. Feeling left out is an emotion that stays with us.
Sally Connolly, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Couples Counseling of Louisville, says, “We are all born with the desire to be liked and included.” This desire to be included is a basic human instinct and the reason this urge can come on strong. This is why when you feel unaccepted by a particular friend or peer group, emotions like frustration and hurt can rise to the surface.
Sally says, “Sadness, disappointment, hurt, lowered self-esteem, and thoughts of inadequacy that can start with, ‘What is wrong with me?’” are all possible emotional responses to the powerful feelings of being left out. With this large Pandora’s Box of emotions opened, what can you do when experiencing feelings of exclusion.
Make sure it is really happening.
A first step is to “make sure that what you think is real is really real,” Sally says. She says that many of us “mind read” and in doing so can be off-base in our assumptions. “How many times have I forgotten to add someone to an email invitation without meaning to do that?” she asks. Mistakes are a common occurrence in any relationship, so set up a time to have a check-in with friends or family.
Invite a conversation.
One way to touch base is to “invite one or two members from the group for coffee or lunch and see if there’s a connection still there,” Sally proposes. You can use a phone call or video conference to achieve the same result and then “choose to bring it up or not.” If a conversation becomes your path, both Sally and Ron suggest using “I” statements. “Concentrate on using language like, ‘I feel excluded when…,’” Ron says. The use of these statements keeps the focus on your experience and the blame away from the listener.
Look to form new connections.
Once you’ve talked through the situation, you might decide a new, emotionally healthy social circle is for you. Sally says, “Look for natural ways of finding friends.” This can be trying out safe group activities you enjoy like hiking or online book clubs. Ron also suggests creating new hobbies or connecting with others through volunteer work. “If a person is part of a faith community, that can sometimes provide some connection, too,” he says.
During challenging emotional times, “Finding ways to nurture a healthy sense itself is important,” Ron says. He encourages checking out local groups such as Highland Community Ministries or the Louisville Public Library because both offer services, information, and a conduit to social connection.
Sally says it’s alright to acknowledge your feelings of grief when they come up, but “don’t spend too much time there.” When you feel ready, you have the power to create a more optimistic outlook for yourself, and you can start by finding “two or three positive memories or statements and focus on them.” And then Sally encourages, “get busy and do something different.”
By Tonilyn Hornung
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