Feeling Left Out? Reasons Why and What to Do

Do you keep feeling excluded at work, with friends, or in group conversations? Humans are herd animals. We all want to feel included.[1] As much as we will hear “don’t care about what other people think,” that’s not how we’re built.

Belonging and fitting in are core needs. Long-term social exclusion can lead to emotional pain and numbing of emotional distress when the exclusion gets too difficult to deal with.[2]

One study even found that social exclusion can lead to impaired self-regulation, meaning that people may struggle to make healthy decisions for themselves when they are being socially excluded.[3]

So it’s completely normal and understandable that you feel rejected if you feel left out of plans your friend group is making or if no one acknowledges what you write in a group chat.

If you feel left out regularly, there are some things you can do to deal with these feelings and minimize the chances you will be left out in the future. We all get left out and ignored sometimes (no one can be liked by everyone), but we can learn to surround ourselves with people who want us around. In addition, we can learn to manage our feelings better, so we don’t feel as bad in the times we will be left out.

Sections

  1. What to do when you feel left out
  2. Signs you’re being left out
  3. Reasons why you might be left out
  4. How to tell someone you’re feeling left out
  5. How to not be a third wheel
  6. Common questions

What to do when you feel left out

Feeling left out hurts, and it can be tempting to lash out or do something else that just leaves you feeling worse. Here are some helpful, constructive ways to deal with your feelings when you’re being excluded or left out.

1. Accept your emotions

A lot of our suffering comes from trying to deny, suppress, or run away from our feelings.[4] Giving space for our feelings can paradoxically make them more manageable.

Accepting your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to love your current situation as it is. You can still try to change and improve the things that are bothering you in life.

What does accepting your emotions look like in practice? Let’s say you’re feeling left out of family gatherings. Accepting your feelings means saying to yourself, “Right now, I’m feeling rejected, and that’s tough. There is nothing wrong with how I feel. I can be kind to myself.”

After you process your emotions, you can consider your next steps.

2. Make sure you haven’t misread the situation

Sometimes we assume that we have been purposefully left out or rejected, but that isn’t always the case. Try examining the situation and alternative explanations.

Note that examining your emotions doesn’t mean shaming yourself for them. Your hurt feelings are still valid even if you misread the situation. Shaming yourself isn’t going to help.

Let’s say that you saw a picture of two friends hanging out together on a day you were free. You may feel hurt and sad because they didn’t ask if you want to join them. Feelings of envy, jealousy, and shame may creep up. You might have thoughts like, “I guess we’re not so close after all.”

But later, you may find out they ran into each other at the dog park and decided to get lunch together. They didn’t think about inviting anyone else along because it was spontaneous. Or perhaps they got together to study for a class they’re taking together.

Make sure you haven’t jumped to conclusions about being left out or ignored. Look at our list of signs that you’re being left out later in this article for ways to tell whether you’re being excluded.

3. Remember that everyone feels left out sometimes

Everyone feels left out occasionally. In group conversations, people often get overexcited and may not notice when someone else is trying to speak. They may not think of including someone because they have too many things on their mind.

The difference between a socially confident and a socially anxious person is that the socially anxious person takes these rejections more seriously. They feel worse about the occasion, tend to take it more personally, and think about it longer. Instead of feeling hurt and then moving on, they will believe it has something to do with them personally. They have less experience dealing with such situations and don’t know how to handle them at that moment.

If it’s a rare occasion, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel left out. If you’re in a group and feel left out of the conversation, look around. You may notice that someone else feels left out too. You can start a side conversation with them or have another opportunity to participate.

4. Make yourself approachable

How do you deal with the feeling of being left out? Some people share their feelings, while others may pull away in an attempt to protect themselves.

It may come out of fear of burdening others with your presence. Or perhaps it’s a deep fear of rejection. Maybe you’ve turned out several invitations, and people assume you’re not interested. In any case, some people pull away when they feel rejected. This may lead to even more rejection, as people around you may assume you want to be left alone.

Some people “test” their friends by not responding to their texts for a while. They wait to see if their friends check up on them and prove that they care. This plan often backfires because people don’t want to be friends with someone who can’t be relied upon to respond to messages.

You can learn how to make your body language appear more friendly and approachable. Make sure you reply to messages and calls. Let people know you’re looking to make friends. Give and receive compliments with grace. These actions send the message that you’re available for new connections.

5. Enjoy time spent alone

You’ll feel left out more if you’re not enjoying the time you spend by yourself. We all “do nothing” sometimes, but if you spend most of your time browsing social media and playing video games, you may compare yourself to others more. On the other hand, if you genuinely enjoy the time you spend by yourself, you won’t mind as much when you notice people doing things without you.

You can use your time to practice a new language or pick up a hobby, like sculpting, woodworking, skateboarding, hula hooping, or video editing. If you have a pet, you can try teaching them new tricks. You can create scrapbooks and collages from old magazines you have at home or learn how to do tricks with a jumping rope. Get some ideas through our article, 27 Best Activities for Introverts.

Advertisement

6. Remind yourself of your good qualities

When we feel left out, we might come up with all sorts of stories about ourselves.

“No one invites me because they don’t like me. I’m boring and weird. If I were fun to be around, I’d have more friends.”

Unfortunately, we can then start to believe those stories. We feel that we don’t have anything to offer others which affects how we interact with people and leads to a vicious cycle.

Work on your inferiority complex. You’re not worth less than anyone else because someone didn’t invite you to a party. You deserve love and compassion. Your positive qualities don’t disappear just because someone else can’t see them.

Try to make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them often. You can use daily affirmations or notes on your mirror if you find those helpful.

Let yourself celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a mental high five when you remember to buy toothpaste before the old tube runs out. Tell yourself you’re awesome when you try something new or go for a run.

Being kind to ourselves sets the standard for what kind of behavior we accept from other people.

7. Don’t wait for others to invite you

Shy and socially anxious people often try to figure out how to get invited to events rather than extending invitations themselves. Taking the risk of organizing a get-together that no one shows up to doesn’t seem worth it due to fear of rejection.

We have a guide about what to do if you never get invited. But that’s just one step of the process. Part of being included in a group is being an active part of it. That means organizing get-togethers and including others, and not just waiting for others to include you.

Invite people to do things with you. Pay attention to other people who may feel left out and uninvited, and make an effort to include them.

8. Meet new people

How do you know if you have flaky or toxic friends? If you find yourself extending invitations to others and not receiving the same effort back, it may be time to make new friends.

A friendship that leaves you feeling consistently feeling left out and rejected may be doing more harm than good.

A good friendship should feel overall balanced and reciprocal. There are often periods in a long friendship where one person is busier than the other or needs more support. That’s normal and something you can work through together.

But if you feel like you’re the only one giving in your relationships, you may consider taking a step back.

You can meet new people while volunteering, taking a multi-week course, or through social hobbies and events. Making friends with like-minded people makes it more likely that they will include you.

9. Talk to a therapist or coach

If you find yourself feeling left out frequently, there may be something deeper going on.

It may be that you’re misreading situations and feel left out even around people who enjoy your company and want to include you.

Or you may be struggling to recognize when someone wants to be your friend, leading you to choose unhealthy friendships or put yourself in situations where you will be hurt.

In either case, you may benefit from working one-on-one with someone who can help you identify where you’re stuck. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to remove these blocks.

A good therapist will make you feel heard and understood. You can ask people if they know of good therapists in your area or find a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp.

Signs you’re being left out (and alternative explanations)

Sometimes you are being left out deliberately. Although it’s painful to think about, it’s helpful to know when this is happening so you can do something about it.

In this section, we’re going to look at some signs that suggest you’re being excluded. It’s important to know that these signs aren’t always proof that you’re being left out, so we’ll also talk about alternative explanations to consider when you’re trying to understand people’s behavior.

1. They ignore your messages

Missing one or two messages is normal, especially if your friend is a bad texter. They might have been busy when you sent a message or wanted to talk in person instead.

If it happens a lot, or if they suddenly change how quickly they respond, they might be excluding you.

Try asking them about the missed messages. If they apologize or explain why they’ve struggled to reply recently, they’re probably not trying to exclude you. If they don’t take your feelings seriously or attempt to gaslight you, they’re probably trying to leave you out.

2. They cancel plans

Unexpected things sometimes happen. Canceling plans once or twice shouldn’t be a major concern, especially if there’s a good reason behind it. For example, people with social anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder may be especially prone to canceling plans for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

If someone cancels all of your plans or always cancels at the last minute, it might be a sign that something deeper is wrong. This is even more of a problem if they cancel in a way that inconveniences you, for example, texting you after you’ve already turned up or when you’ve spent money on tickets to an event.

3. They never make time for you

It’s entirely normal for people to have busy periods in their lives, but if someone never has time for you it might be a sign that you’re being left out. If you’re not sure, try asking the other person to suggest a time when they would be free. If they don’t make time, there’s a chance it’s because they don’t want to.

However, make sure you don’t jump to conclusions. There are some life events, such as having a child or the death of a loved one, that can become all-consuming. If the other person is having a major upheaval in their lives, expect them to have less time for you for a while.

4. They’re not honest about what they’re doing

No one owes you an explanation of how they’re spending their time. If they say they’re busy, that should usually be enough. That doesn’t give them the right to lie to you, however.

If someone is dishonest about what they’re doing or makes excuses that are clearly untrue, they’re clearly not treating you with respect or trying to include you.

5. They emotionally ignore you

Feeling left out isn’t just about spending time with other people. Sometimes you can feel rejected or left out because the people you care about aren’t emotionally connected with you in the way they are with others.

For example, if your parents attended the high school graduation of all of your siblings and cousins but not yours, you’d rightly feel left out. Similarly, if they praise everyone else’s career success but ignore yours, you’d feel emotionally left out, even if you all spend the same amount of time together.

Feeling left out can be especially acute during family gatherings, as lots of us have emotional baggage left over from our childhood.

If you’re feeling emotionally excluded at an event, ask yourself whether this is reminding you of something from your past. If you see strong resemblances with childhood events, you might be being especially sensitive.

If there’s a pattern of this particular person excluding you, trust your instinct. If it’s someone who hasn’t excluded you before, consider that they might have just pressed on an unhealed wound from your past.

6. You struggle to feel heard in a group

Your friends may also spend time physically with you but not engage with you properly. They might not make eye contact with you, ignore questions you ask, or speak over you when you’re in a group.

They may also cut you off with their body language. This is when they put themselves between you and the rest of the group, leaving their back to you. This is a powerful sign that the person doesn’t want you involved in the group, and it’s often really hurtful.

Consider the overall energy of the group and what is going on. Is there a reason someone else is taking center stage? If one person is talking about something really important or personal, others might not want to move their attention until that person feels better. If people are really excited and high energy, you might find that lots of you are struggling to be heard.

If you look at the situation and decide that you’re the only one not being heard, someone is probably trying to exclude you.

7. You find out about events once they’re over

Sometimes people make plans when you’re not around and simply don’t realize that you’re unaware of them. If there’s a pattern of you only finding out about events once they’re over, especially if you find out via social media, it might be a sign that you’re being actively excluded.

Reasons why you might have been left out

If you are being excluded, it’s important to think about why as well as what you can do about it. This isn’t about assigning blame. It’s about understanding the possible reasons you’re being left out. Here are some of the most common explanations.

1. Others don’t realize you’d like to be included

This is a really common problem. The people around you might not always realize that you’d like to be included in their group events. For example, if you’ve said no to the last five invitations they’ve given you, they’ll probably decide that you don’t actually want to hang out with them.

Telling people that you would like to hang out more can make you feel vulnerable, but it’s a good way to make sure other people know you’d like to be more included.

2. You’ve misunderstood the type of relationship

It’s easy to feel left out if you feel that your relationship with a friend is closer than they see it. For example, you might think of someone as your best friend, but they see you as a good buddy.

This kind of mismatch can leave you feeling left out because you’re expecting more from the relationship than they realize.

Although it can be embarrassing, these kinds of misunderstandings happen more than you might think, especially with friends. This may be partly because we don’t categorize friendships in the way we do romantic relationships.

3. You’ve made someone uncomfortable

One reason people leave others out is if they don’t feel comfortable spending time with them. This is especially the case if you haven’t actually done anything ‘wrong,’ but they still feel uncomfortable. They don’t feel they can say anything. Instead, they limit how much time they spend with you.

This can be hard to deal with, especially if you didn’t mean to make someone uncomfortable or didn’t even realize that you had. It can help to be completely honest about what you’ve noticed and ask whether you’ve offended someone.

You could say, “I’ve noticed that we’re not hanging out as much as we used to and I’m getting the feeling I might have said or done something that has upset you. If I have, I’d really like the chance to apologize and see if I can put it right.”

4. You have toxic friends

Not everyone you meet and befriend will actually be the wonderful person they seemed at first. Some people just aren’t actually very nice and will exclude someone from their group as a show of power.

While being excluded by a toxic friend is a horrible feeling for you, it can become freeing once the pain fades. If someone is excluding you for petty reasons, it gives you more time and energy to look for real friends who are going to be there for you and support you properly.

5. You’ve triggered something in them

Sometimes, you might feel rejected or excluded by a friend when you’re going through a really rough time. For example, your friend might stop replying to you or spend more time with other people without inviting you while you’re going through a bad relationship breakup. This could be because they’re still struggling with their last breakup and seeing your pain has brought it all back up again for them.

Even if this is the case, it’s not a great way for them to handle it. In an ideal world, they’d tell you how they were feeling and let you know when they needed time apart for their own self-care. That’s really hard to do, but it’s OK if you feel hurt that they haven’t made their needs clear.

6. You don’t quite fit in

For most people, having friends or family who have their own quirks and interests is a good thing. You get to learn about new things and can see the world from a different perspective. There are some people who find it stressful and awkward.

Being different can also leave you feeling rejected, even if the people around you don’t see things that way. For example, being the only person in your family with different religious or political views can make you feel isolated and left out even though your family still loves you as much as they always did.

This doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with being different or that you should change who you are to feel more included. Instead, try to build your own tribe of like-minded people, and look for ways to connect with your friends despite your differences.

7. Your friends’ lives are changing

When you’re in school, friendships can be relatively easy to maintain. You see your friends every day, and you have lots of time to talk and connect. When you move away to college, get jobs, or start to build a family, it can become harder and harder to make time for the people you care about, especially if they’ve taken a different path from you.

As your friends’ lives change, you can feel more and more excluded. For example, if they have children and you don’t, they might spend more time with other parents. This isn’t just about how much time you spend together. You may also feel a barrier between you because you don’t understand each other’s lives the way you used to.

In some of these cases, friendships can adapt and grow. You may not see a friend for several months as she adjusts to a new job or parenthood but hear from her again when things have settled down. Another friend may have moved away but pops in to have lunch together several times a year when he’s visiting family.

Sometimes we feel ignored or rejected by a friend, but it’s nothing personal. They may just be busy or have different expectations of the relationship than you do.

7. You struggle to make time for others

Any kind of change in life circumstances can leave you feeling left out and excluded. It’s normal to feel left out when your friends’ lives change. For example, they might get a new job with more responsibilities or have a child. It’s also normal to feel left out and alone when your life changes and takes you away from the people you care about.

There are lots of factors in your life that can take you away from others. You might be the one with a difficult new job or business that takes up a lot of your time. If your friends carry on as normal, you might feel unimportant and left out when you can’t attend many of their events anymore.

How to tell someone you feel left out

If you’re feeling left out in a relationship you value or with people you need to interact with, like coworkers or family, it may be worth having a conversation about it. Honest communication is an essential foundation for a good relationship. You might want to read our article on strategies for improving communication in relationships.

When bringing up sensitive topics, it’s always best to focus on I and we-statements. Talk more about how you felt than what the other person did. This strategy can make it easier to raise a topic without leaving the other person feeling as though you are attacking them. When people feel attacked, they are likely to respond defensively, and the conversation can turn into a conflict rather than coming up with solutions.

For example, if you want to share that you feel left out and deepen your relationship with the person, avoid saying things like:

  • “You’ve been ignoring me.”
  • “I’m always inviting you, but you never invite me.”
  • “If you cared about me, you’d have invited me.”

Instead, try something like:

  • “When the three of us talked about how much we wanted to see the movie, I understood that we decided to see it together. I felt hurt when the two of you went without me.”
  • “It seems to me like we’re spending less time together lately. Can we meet up sometime?”
  • “I’ve been feeling some distance between us. I just wanted to check in and see if everything is all right. I miss you.”

Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t expect your friend or partner to “fix” them for you. Listen to what they have to say and try to come up with a solution together.

How to not be a third wheel

Our friendships can change when our friend enters a relationship. Particularly in the initial stages of a relationship, a couple tends to want to spend a lot of time alone together, causing their friends to feel left out.

Here are some ways to hang out with your friend who’s in a relationship without feeling like a third wheel.

Ask if you can invite a friend

If you’re meeting up with a couple or several couples, you may want to invite a friend or friends so it becomes a group gathering rather than a collection of couples and you.

Engage both people in the couple

If your friend starts dating, after a while, they will naturally want to include their partner in some of their social plans. You may be disappointed and wish things were back as they used to be. Purposefully or not, you may try to take advantage of the few times you see your friend, talking to them as though their partner wasn’t there.

This method can backfire because your friend may feel torn between talking to you and talking to their partner. Then, when they talk to their partner, you will end up feeling left out.

Instead, try to get to know and include your friend’s new partner. Consider them as a new friend rather than someone who is taking your friend away from you.

Don’t get involved in their fights or personal affairs

It can be very uncomfortable when people argue in front of us, especially if they ask for our opinion. Say “I don’t want to get involved,” or step out if people around you start talking about personal matters.

Common questions

Is feeling left out normal?

The need to belong is one of our basic needs as humans. So it’s completely normal to feel hurt and left out when you feel like you don’t belong or when people don’t invite you along. People often feel left out even when other people do want us around.

What are the effects of being left out?

Feeling left out can leave us feeling hurt and rejected. As a result, we may feel sad, angry, and jealous. When these feelings are persistent, it can lead to depression, anxiety, shame, and lashing out.

Show references +

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (3)

For clever tips & secrets on social interaction, follow us on Instagram 👇

instagram post

Comments

Leave a Comment