“I don’t belong”

A few years ago, my younger child confided that she didn’t have good friends at school, and she felt she didn’t belong. She could name a few girls she got on with, but there were times even they didn’t seem to welcome her in their lunchtime games, so she would sit somewhere with a book, alone. (She always has one or more books in her bag, because she is an avid reader.)

My heart ached for her.

As an introvert, there have been many times — as a child, teen, and adult — when I felt as she did, that I did not belong. I would watch enviously as others seemed to fall easily and effortlessly into conversation and invariably form a clique, with their own inside jokes and jargon, while outsiders hovered uncertainly on the fringes.

I am sure they did not intentionally exclude others.

But what these incidents did was to shake my sense of self-worth (which can be tenuous at times, in spite of years of personal development work), and reinforce that little voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t belong.

So the next time this happened, I paid extra attention.

I noticed the pattern:

  • watch others chat together and pair up
  • start to get self-conscious
  • feel excluded and feel sorry for myself
  • worry that others might think I’m a loner, have no friends, or am not welcome in that place
  • feel ashamed and start thinking “I’m never coming back to this place.”

I decided to tune everything out and just focus on what I was doing. I tuned out other people, and I replaced my negative thoughts with a new intention: I was here to do what I had come to do i.e. train, and I would do my best.

When the others formed a circle to do certain exercises and I found that there was no room for me, I remained in my spot – on the outer behind everyone else – and continued with my exercises unapologetically.

It was actually the most empowering moment of the night for me, because for the first time, I had fully embraced the situation as it was without betraying any sign of physical or emotional discomfort. I simply waited as I did my exercises – when I noticed a gap in the circle further away, I moved there as soon it was appropriate, and carried on as though nothing had happened.

Avoiding eye contact helped me stay focussed and grounded. I intentionally stayed emotionally neutral — so I did not accidentally take on any negative vibes (which as an empath I am sensitive to).

The old me would have felt awkward and acted awkward, and possibly (unintentionally) drawn even more attention to myself.

The new me sized up the situation and responded gracefully and discreetly.

No one likes to feel that they don’t belong — and for an introvert who tends to live in their head, often with a whole lot of negative stories about unworthiness — it is even more important to change course as soon as you notice yourself starting down this path.

Take charge.

Tune out.

Tell yourself a different (and more empowering) story.

And give yourself permission to be at peace with what is, without adding to it the extra pressure of what you wish it were.