I don’t belong here. I don’t fit in. I’m too different.
Drop me off at a barbecue, a kid’s birthday party, a book club, a work meeting – any kind of group setting, really – and that’s how I will almost certainly feel.
Everyone else seems to be having a good time. Laughter. Jokes. Banter. Small talk. Topics I have no interest in.
Or worse. Topics I vehemently disagree on. Topics I gave up arguing about a long time ago.
So I put on the fake smile and hold it in. I stay silent. The misfit.
And yet, human beings have a basic need to feel like they belong and to feel like they are accepted and appreciated. It’s called belongingness in psychology literature.
How can us misfits make sure we meet this need to belong without totally compromising our innate nature and beliefs?
How To Deal When You Are Feeling Like You Don’t Belong
1. KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE
The feeling of not fitting in is very lonely, but remember that you are not alone. It may seem like everyone else at the birthday party is having a grand time, but there may be others, just like you, who are hiding their true selves. And not just at that particular party, but all the other parties and meetings and conferences too. Us loners are everywhere. 🙂
2. BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH WHO YOU ARE
Try to figure out why you feel like the misfit. Which parts of you do not mesh well with others?
Here are a few potential scenarios:
- Your preferred communication style is different. For example, you are a quiet introvert while most of your friends are boisterous extraverts. Maybe you are more of a deep discussion type than a banterer.
- There is some other kind of personality clash. For example, you are a sensitive feeler type, while most people you work with are logical thinker types.
- There is a values conflict. For example, you are the one liberal in a family of die-hard conservatives.
- You simply have different interests. Maybe your neighbors are all into football when you’d rather talk about reality TV.
If you are ALWAYS feeling like the misfit (like me!), you probably have a not-so-common combination of personality traits, values, and interests that makes you different from most people you are likely to run into.
When you are an Always-Misfit, it’s easy to start thinking that there is something wrong with you. And someone may even have told you that you should just get on with the program and be more like everyone else.
But here’s the thing. All you are is different.
You are unique. And special. And yes, you may even be weird. But that’s ok. It’s ok to be different. If nobody ever stood apart from the mainstream, if nobody ever dared be different, there would never be change. There would never be progress. Things would never get better.
Different = Potential for Change.
3. DO YOU EVEN WANT TO FIT IN…?
Once you have really honed in on the whys, the next question to ask is if you even want to fit in. Is this group worth the trouble? Can you do things to fit in better? Are “the others” willing to meet you half way?
Maybe you really love your extravert friends and you just need to come out of your shell a little.
Maybe your family is willing to consider a truce and not talk about politics when you are around.
4. …OR IS IT TIME TO MOVE ON?
Or maybe not. Sometimes the differences are just too great.
I’m not saying that we should only look for and hang out with carbon copies of ourselves. With some groups of people, it’s possible to feel right at home DESPITE your differences. But if fitting into a group would require you to constantly act out of character or to change your values, take the feeling of not belonging as a sign that it’s time to move on.
It doesn’t feel good to feel like the weirdo of the group. But it actually IS a good thing. It’s a sign that you are supposed to be somewhere else, doing something different. Let the feeling push you away. Let it shove you. Let it force you onto a new path.
5. START LOOKING FOR YOUR PEOPLE
While you may not fit in with your current group of friends, neighbors, or colleagues, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever fit in anywhere. There are seven billion people in the world, and that means that even if you are somewhat of a misfit, there are a whole lot of people out there who share with you the things that matter most.
But since those people are probably not going to come knocking at your door, asking if you are allowed to come out to play, here are a few ideas for proactively seeking a new community:
- Take a class in something that you are interested in.
- Join an organization fighting for a cause you feel passionate about.
- Start planning a career change if it’s work where you feel out of place.
- Attend a conference.
- Read books, blogs, and articles and watch movies and documentaries that are well aligned with your worldview.
- Stop following “those people” (you know who I mean) and fill your Facebook feed with updates from people and organizations you feel at home with.
To summarize, the solution here is to become comfortable with who you are and then figure out where you actually want to belong. The real breakthrough for me has been to stop fighting the mistfit-feeling and stop trying to make it go away. I don’t belong in places most people belong, but that is not always a bad thing and it doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with me. Once I stopped trying to make the square me fit a round hole, I could focus on making a life that I do belong in with people who I feel comfortable being myself around.
What do you think about all this? Do you struggle with feeling like you don’t belong? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. 🙂
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