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 AF. But it's possible that, at one point or another, you have worried that you don't fit in.
And haven't we all? This world of ours is so ridiculously social. We not only have our phones on us 24/7 (which may or may be blowing up with messages), but we also have to contend with the overwhelming presence of social media. It all serves as a near-constant reminder that people are out leading much more social lives with all of their friends. Meanwhile, your phone is cold from lack of use, and nobody has liked one of your Instagram pics in days.
And that's just in the digital world. There's still your office, where you can feel like you don't fit in. And school, where you might be the "outcast." It can even get to the point where you wonder if eating lunch alone is a choice, or something you have to.
A sense of isolation can really hurt, mostly because the fundamental need to belong is rooted deep in our evolutionary history, Dr. Kim Chronister, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist tells Bustle. "Not fitting in can affect us both psychologically and physiologically," she says. So how can you fix it, if you want to feel better? Here are some reasons why it might feel like you don't fit, as well as what to do about it.
1. Your Friends Are Changing
Remember when you were really young and thought wholeheartedly that your BFF would actually be your BFF? If they're still in your life, congrats on the long-lasting friendship. But know that it's very common for people to change and drift apart, as the years go by.
"This can be for a number of reasons such as moving to another city or changing jobs, which may make staying in touch hard," Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "It can also be because you’ve grown and changed or your friend/s have grown and changed."
So if you're going through a phase right now where old friends are changing and no longer reaching out, it may simply mean you're in the market for some new ones, 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 your people yet, AKA the friends who truly understand and value you.
"Sometimes this is because you don’t know yourself well at this point in your life," McBain says. You might be drifting in and out of friendships, and never really settling in, because you don't know what you're looking for.
It can help to take some time to reflect, possibly by going to therapy, McBain says, as a way to figure out who you are and what you like. With time, people who share similar interests will start showing up in your life, and friendships will form.
3. You Aren't Opening Up
Remember, to find and fit in with your people, it'll be necessary to actually open up and reveal a bit about yourself, which may be tricky if you're naturally kind of quiet.
"If someone is too quiet during social interactions, it can make getting to know them on a personal level very difficult," McBain says. "That being said, 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."
You don't have to change who you are or pretend to be something you're not. It's just about being a little more open, a little more often.
4. You Worry Too Much About What Everyone Thinks
If ever there was a way to come across as awkward and uncomfortable in public, it's by caring too much about what people. While this habit might be difficult to break, consider how it might cause you to put up a wall, or project standoffish vibes.
"Caring too much about what other people think might make you come across as awkward or anxious," McBain says. So give yourself permission to loosen up a bit. Or go back to asking questions and being a great listener, until you warm up.
"This might be a way in which you can connect with others in a way that doesn’t make you feel so put on the spot," McBain says. "And, often people really enjoy talking about themselves and their own lives."
5. You Haven't Owned Your Uniqueness
While you may think you have to tamp down your uniqueness in order to fit in, it can actually be quite the opposite. By pretending to be someone you're not, it'll only leave you with shallow friendships and a sense that no one understands you. So go ahead and confidently be yourself.
"This might make you feel like you don’t fit in with the masses, but if you embrace your individuality, it might not matter so much," McBain says. "Meaning, if you’re able to be who you truly are, then fitting in might not be your ultimate goal here."
And yet, the more often you embrace who you are, and the things you like, the more likely you'll be to attract folks who feel the exact same way, which can help you form new relationships.
6. You Are Painfully Shy
Its OK to be shy. After all, not everyone is a center-of-the-circle, life of the party type. But being too shy — to the point where you are totally unable to chat with new people — can be quite the hinderance when it comes to fitting in. And yet, there are things you can do to get by.
"Being shy might make it hard to meet people in big groups, so maybe try to stick to smaller group settings when you can," McBain says. "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."
7. You Ignore What You Want
If you tend to judge yourself, or get too "in your head" about life, you can end up feeling alone, Dr. Margaret Paul, PhD, relationship expert and author, tells Bustle. "When don’t connect with ourselves, we can’t truly connect with others and we may end up feeling not only empty inside, but also left out and isolated from others," she says. "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 can be tough to overcome, but is something you can work on over time, or with the help of a therapist. Once you do, you might notice that you feel a little less isolated.
8. You Aren't listening carefully
Connection is a two-way street, Paul says. You talk a bit, your friend talks a bit, and the whole relationship stays equal and balanced. So if you find yourself being shunned by friends, or feeling like no one likes you, it could be that you need to listen more.
The next time your friend tells a story, try to really hear them. Don't offer a story of your own, try to one-up them, or launch into a monologue, Paul says. Simply listen, and they'll be more likely to do the same for you, thus creating a deeper connection.
9. You Are 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, as it may all be futile.
If you're "trying too hard" in a caring way, Paul says, and 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 to hard in an effort to seek approval. That can be off-putting, and may be a sign you need to step back for a while, and do some inner work.
10. You Aren't Trying Enough
It's also possible to not try hard enough, which 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, even if you'd rather stay home. You don't have to commit an entire evening to a party, McBain says, but it never hurts to attend events. Or even create a few of your own.
11. 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. So if you don't already, consider the image you're projecting to the world.
Things like clothes and jewelry and haircuts won't make friendships, but they are conversation starters, as they can let people know what you're all about. If you don't already, consider being more intentional with your personal style, as a way of drawing people in.
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. It takes time, and may require a few tweaks to how you think or move through the world. And yet it can result in more positive interactions, and maybe even new friendships.