Roughly 22% of Americans often or always feel lonely or left out. Even if other people don’t mean to make you feel isolated, being excluded can be painful. Fortunately, you can choose how to respond, and your reactions can make you much more fun to be around. I’m going to give you some lessons I’ve learned about coping with feeling left out.
1. Question whether you’re actually being left out
Feeling left out in group conversations is incredibly common, but it doesn’t always mean that you’re actually being excluded. Before you decide how to react, it can be helpful to think about what exactly is making you feel that way and whether there’s a different explanation for how people are reacting to you.
Look at the people around you and try to see how much each of them is talking. Many conversations are focused on just a few people in the group. Noticing that others are listening rather than joining in can help you feel more included in the group and less singled out.
It turns out that most conversations only actually involve up to 4 people. If you’re in a larger group than that, most people in the group won’t really be talking much. Remember, being on the fringe of a conversation happens to everyone from time to time. We really only notice when it happens to us.
Think about what being included would look like. Is it that people ask for your opinion? Or that they try to draw you into the conversation? Or that they respond to your contributions to the conversation?
It’s easy to set a high bar for feeling included. Ask yourself whether you always include others according to those same criteria. If not, try to adjust your own expectations. Try actively looking for signs that people are aware of you, rather than looking for signs that you’re being ignored.
2. Show that you’re engaged with the conversation
Sometimes we feel left out because we haven’t said anything in the conversation for a while. We might feel that this means we’re not contributing, and then we don’t feel like we’re included in the group.
Try to remember that listening, and showing that you’re listening, is actually essential to a good conversation. To feel more included, without needing to speak, try to make eye contact with the person speaking, nod your head when you agree, and offer small words of encouragement.
You can also engage with people in the group who aren’t currently speaking. Think about how other people in the group are likely to be responding to the conversation. If the topic turns to parenthood, make eye contact with the person you know just had a new baby but isn’t speaking yet. They will often notice your attention and respond, flattered that you have thought about what is going on in their life.
3. Understand why you might not be invited
One of the most awkward moments I can remember of being excluded from a conversation was when some friends of mine started to discuss an upcoming ice skating trip they were planning. I hadn’t been invited, and I felt more and more isolated as the conversation went on.
It was easy for me to assume that they hadn’t invited me because they didn’t want to hang out with me. It wasn’t until one of them turned to me and said, “I wish you could come, but your ankle’s still not better, is it?” that I realized they were worried about me having sprained my ankle badly a few days before. They’d actually been being really thoughtful.
Most people don’t like having invitations turned down. It doesn’t feel good. If the group has gone to several events and you’ve declined every time, they will probably assume that you don’t like those kinds of events and not invite you.
Think about what evidence your social group has about what you might or might not like doing. Ask yourself whether they have any reason to assume that you might not want to go to the event they are planning.
If you want to be invited to more things, try to change their expectations of what you might do. Be positive about their events. You could say
“That sounds like fun. I’d love to come along next time you arrange something like that.”
Talking about the next event, rather than the one they’re working on now, makes your comment more about resetting their expectations than about trying to get them to invite you to this one. That makes it much less awkward.
4. Build your individual relationships
Being part of a group might feel different from being close friends with one person, but it’s still about forming relationships with each of the members of the group individually. You don’t need to be close to everyone in the group to feel included, but making close friends with several people in the group will make it less likely that you feel like you’re being excluded. It will also make it easier for you to ask whether you’re being excluded from group conversations if you have friends you can trust to be honest.
Try to remember that each person in the group has the same kinds of thoughts and internal monologue going on that you do. They’re all thinking about their experiences and feelings and what they might want to add to the conversation.
The next time you’re feeling left out, try to make eye contact with one of the people you know well. Often, just a little bit of eye contact and a smile can remind you that people in the group still like you and care about how you’re feeling.
5. Allow yourself to feel sad
When we’re feeling left out, it’s tempting to also berate ourselves for feeling upset about it. We can tell ourselves that we’re overreacting or that we “shouldn’t let it upset us.”
Trying to suppress feelings can often make them worse. Feeling left out is normal, and it’s OK for it to feel bad. While you are working on including yourself in conversations more, it’s OK to take a minute to acknowledge how you are feeling and to accept that. When you stop trying to fight those feelings of being upset, you might find that you feel better sooner than you expected.
6. Avoid focusing on yourself too much
When I felt left out, my thoughts started spinning. Why was I left out? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t they like me? I’d start focusing exclusively on ME.
I’m someone who pushes, so my instinct is to break in with jokes or take up more space. But because I was in my own head, I forgot to pay attention to the mood of the group.
One time, people had a thoughtful conversation about children and marriage, and I, feeling left out, made a joke that got a few chuckles, but then they continued without me. I just wanted to be funny. But it backfired.
I didn’t pay attention to realize that this was a thoughtful conversation because I was in my own head and just wanted to get attention. Instead, I should have focused on what they were saying and what the mood was, and added something thoughtful that matched this mood.
Bam! That’s how you become a part of a group of friends.
We don’t need to withdraw nor push. We want to match the mood, energy, and topic of the group we’re in. When we don’t, people just get annoyed, because it’s frustrating when someone tries to change the course of whatever we’re into.
(I go more into detail about how to join a conversation in my article “How do you join a group conversation if you’re not supposed to interrupt?”)
7. Decide to trust your friends in online chats
Being left out of an online chat group can really hurt, especially if it feels like the others have been hiding it from you. Often, not being included in a group chat feels like an active effort to exclude and isolate you.
There are many reasons that you might have been left out of a group chat. It could be that the chat group is for a specific event that you’re not attending. The group might have thought that you weren’t interested. They might have simply forgotten to add your name (which can be pretty hurtful as well).
Even if they have deliberately chosen to have a group chat that doesn’t include you, that doesn’t mean that they dislike you or are trying to exclude you. Large groups will often have smaller sub-groups who are close.
For example, I’m included in my scuba diving club’s group chat, but I know that there are lots of sub-groups of people who will have their own chat. Try to remind yourself that these other chats aren’t about excluding you. They’re about sharing more personal information with a smaller group of people.
If you trust them, try to recognize that it’s OK for them to have smaller groups that they share different things with. Concentrate on building up your 1-2-1 relationships with them, rather than on pushing your way into the sub-group.
If you don’t actually trust them and are worried that they might be laughing at you in the group chat or that you’re being deliberately excluded, think carefully about whether you want to keep these people in your life. Some people are just toxic, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the time to find people you can trust and rely on.
2 mistakes when dealing with being left out
You can divide people into two groups depending on how they tackle being left out of a group. One group pushes, and the other withdraws.
When some people feel left out they try to push their way back in by cracking jokes, talking more, or doing anything that attracts attention.
Other people do the opposite and withdraw when they feel left out. They get quiet or walk away.
Both these strategies move us further away from everyone else. We don’t want to push harder, and we don’t want to withdraw. We want to find the balance between these two extremes where we can engage with the conversation as it is.
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Even though I have several friends and we chat a lot online, there are times they talk about things I don’t have any interest in or care about. I find it awkward to even speak during these times and I feel left out when they carry on for a good while. And it happens a lot. I don’t care about badly produced movies or any of the shows and games they like, so it’s hard to feel like a part of the group at times. The thing is, they’re genuinely good people and I’ve known them for years, so why do I feel like constantly withdrawing and even leaving the group when this happens? I know they’re not doing anything to make me feel left out on purpose, but I end up feeling constantly left out. Add that to the fact that I’m a very dull and boring person and I have these nasty thoughts that they wouldn’t really care either way if I stayed with the group or not.
I, female, used to be more the withdrawer than the pusher. But I have learned that I just have to join a group standing or sitting together, and listen to them. Then sooner or later someone is turning toward me to ask me something. Or after I was with them some minutes I felt encouraged to say something myself. But really, it depends on the group… if they don’t like you, if they are an unfair bunch of people or if one of them had incited everyone against you before, it is not easy or impossible to join the group. But normal and friendly people will always let you in.
I guess I am more like a pusher, always trying to say something funny and then being left out and then turn to be the withdrawer.
That’s great self-insight. It sounds like if you just try to stay more engaged in the conversation without trying to be funny you will have a lot more success. Remember that you don’t have to do anything extraordinary to be accepted in the conversation, just listening attentively and reacting appropriately is all that’s needed for people to like you.
I’ve done both, withdrawn and pushed, when I feel left out. Push when I feel comfortable with the group, Withdraw when unsure.
I too am up in my own head most of the time, and I don’t pay attention to the group mood. Great advice. I need more empathy and patience and self-worth so I can stay in the moment and just BE, connected with others.