Feeling like you don’t fit in can be an alienating feeling. You often look inwards, wondering what it is about you that others do not seem to like. You draw comparisons between yourself and the people you believe fit in with the group. Sometimes you might even try to change yourself so that you can win the approval of others and be invited into their group. Many of us are first introduced to this concept of fitting in during our younger years, particularly in secondary school, as we go through the process of trying to understand which groups we belong to and who are friends really are. Unfortunately, there are situations in adulthood where you may still feel like you are back in high school.
You might feel like your partner’s family doesn’t really like you all that much. They plan fun family events and invite your partner, but never invite you. When you do end up going to these family events you feel like nobody really makes an effort to have a conversation with you. You might love your job, really enjoy what you do, but feel like you don’t fit in with the company culture. Maybe the people you work with are younger or older than you, and are therefore at different life stages and/or have little in common with you. Maybe you feel that no matter how hard you try, nobody is interested in having work lunches with you or invites you out to happy hour drinks. This situation can happen when making friends too. You might be putting yourself out there to try different hobbies and meet new people, but still get the feeling that you just don’t fit in.
Several years ago, when I lived in Texas, I worked at a company where initially I didn’t feel like I fit in. I felt out of place, awkward and although I did participate in company events, nothing seemed to click with my coworkers and I genuinely felt that we didn’t really have anything in common. This went on for a year. One day I came into work and decided to have a fun, down to earth conversation with a co-worker who I knew shared a similar interest to me which was hiking. This was the gateway for me to finally feel comfortable being myself and surprisingly I ended up becoming good friends with the people I worked with. Suddenly, after a year, I was in a situation where I loved coming to work because I genuinely loved being around my coworkers. Those coworkers once asked me why it took me so long to just be myself, because they felt like the person I was during that first year was so dramatically different from the person they had come to call a friend. All I needed to do was to be myself.
Here are some things you can do when you feel like you don’t in.
Know yourself. The first step to fitting in is to just be honest with yourself about who you are. In high school, I often forced myself to like certain types of music, wear different clothes, or even be friends with certain types of people just to try and fit in. I spent so much emotional energy and money to try to gain the approval of people who I didn’t really enjoy being around. The process of knowing yourself will take time and experimentation. It’s okay if you don’t really know what you like just yet, but follow your heart and see where it takes you. Try different interests and be honest with yourself about when you don’t really enjoy something. Admitting that you love or don’t enjoy something can be difficult but it’s a necessary step to finding people who really understand you and enjoy being with you.
Be open and authentic. The best way to allow yourself to fit in is just by being yourself. When you can open up to others, you get a really good idea of who is part of your tribe and who is not. In my work situation, by closing myself off and not being authentic, I was actually making it more difficult to connect with fellow coworkers. Once I allowed myself to just be natural and authentic, it was much easier to establish relationships with my coworkers. There are situations where I struggled to connect with another when I was being authentic, but this just meant that we are not for each other.
Find groups that cater to your interests. Once you know what you like, try to go to groups where people share that particular interest. I’ve made good friends from hiking groups, wine tasting, playing board games with a group of people and so forth. When you surround yourself with people who share similar interests, you will have a much easier time finding people that you connect with.
Accept that relationships change. You may have once been part of a group that you felt close to, and as you get older realize that it’s harder to maintain these connections. Some of us are lucky to have close friends that stick around throughout our lifetimes. However, usually it can be a struggle to maintain a connection as our life paths change and diverge. Your best friend from school may have gotten married and had children or the co-worker you used to always catch up with may have moved overseas. Relationships can and do change. It’s completely normal for a relationship to change so remember that you are not alone. Many people go through periods in their life when they feel friendless and struggle to fit in. I’ve personally felt this way every time I have moved to a different state or when I ended up moving to Australia. Starting over and meeting new people and making friends was often very lonely at first.
Work on any negative feelings about yourself. A potential huge barrier to you feeling like you don’t fit in could be completely related to how you feel about yourself. Low self-esteem can make you incorrectly feel like people don’t like you or make you feel that you are being judged by others. Often times these negative thoughts are not based in any form of reality. You might be so busy drawing incorrect comparisons between yourself and others, that you miss opportunities to truly connect and form great friendships. Having low self-worth is not remedied overnight. Be honest with yourself about if you struggle with low self-esteem and pursue therapy or consider taking classes that naturally help with confidence, such as public speaking or an acting class. Reach out to support groups if you feel overwhelmed by the negative feelings. As you work through your self-esteem, you will realize that it’s much easier to be yourself around people and you can appreciate how wonderful you are.
Find a good balance between putting yourself out there and not trying too hard. Making meaningful connections is going to take time, energy and effort. However, you should not feel exhausted. Some of the best friendships I have did not happen right away. It took the occasional hanging out, random catch ups and sometimes months or even a year to truly connect with that person. However, there are many people I’ve met where there reached a point where I realized we don’t connect and I stopped trying to actively be friends. Some platforms for making friends might be perfect for you and others will not be. Don’t force yourself to continually do something that doesn’t make you feel comfortable. It’s great to try and give something a chance, but if you don’t like being part of a group then it’s okay to accept that this may not be for you and to move on. The first time I did improv comedy, I absolutely loved being around the people I did comedy with. We hung out after every class and show. I felt like I connected with these people and that I fit in. The second time I did comedy with a different group of people, I felt completely uncomfortable and like I didn’t fit in. I put myself out there and tried to form connections but nothing really stuck. Eventually I accepted that I didn’t really connect with those people and that’s perfectly okay. Keep making an effort but don’t overdo it. Find the right balance for you.
You may not always fit in everywhere and that’s actually a good thing. Those people may not be for you. Those people may not be part of your tribe. Don’t worry about this. It takes time to find the right people for you. Start with being happy with who you are and accepting your uniqueness. Put yourself out there and see what happens!