I used to think that the grade school and high school years were the worst times for feeling like I didn’t belong. There were the “cool” kids and the “not-so-cool” kids, and fitting in was so important to me and my young friends. I look back now and shake my head at some of the things I did and said in order to feel like I was part of the group. Even though we all grow up and (most of us) mature, we still feel a need to belong. You might not have the need to feel cool or popular like you did when you were 12 years old, but no one wants to feel like an outsider.
In my adult years, I’ve struggled with feeling like an outsider from time to time. I raise my kids a little different than how I was raised or how many of my friends are choosing to parent. I have dreams of moving to a farm, growing my own food and homeschooling my kids. I want a simple life for me and my family, which isn’t always understood by those around me. For a long time I thought that moving somewhere different and totally changing my life was the only way I was going to find true happiness. I’m slowly realizing that I can create the life I want for myself no matter where I live or what I do. If people consider me an outsider because I don’t do things the way they do, that’s okay. I’d rather be friends with those who are willing to accept my differences and be my friend anyway, whether they agree with me or not.
Maybe you’ve struggled with feeling like you don’t belong. Your situation might be different from mine, in that it’s not your parenting or lifestyle choices that set you apart. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle when others around you don’t support it. You go to a restaurant with your friends, and suddenly you’re no longer sharing the chips and cheese dip that come before the meal. When they suggest heading to the ice cream parlor for dessert, you politely decline because you don’t want to be tempted by sights and smells of high-calorie, high-fat treats. All of a sudden something you once shared with a group of people is now something you don’t have in common. That can certainly make you feel like you don’t belong.
Perhaps your weight is a new struggle in your life. In the past, you were able to eat whatever you wanted without worrying about whether or not your pants would fit. Your friends are still like that, but suddenly you have to think twice about whether or not you should eat that second serving of pasta. You’re dealing with issues related to self-esteem because you don’t look like you once did, but your friends and family are unable to relate to your feelings. That can certainly make you feel like you don’t belong.
So what can you do? I think the first step is to talk about how you’re feeling. Getting it out there can make you feel better, and can also help those around you better understand what’s going on. Maybe there are things they can do to help you feel less like an outsider, such going out for frozen yogurt or skipping dessert and talking a walk together instead. Although there are some things you may no longer have in common, I’d bet there are other things that you do. Even though we don’t parent the same way, my friends and I still have many of the same likes, dislikes and interests. Focus on those ways in which you can relate, instead of putting all of the emphasis on the ways you can’t.
I think I’ll always feel like I’m a little different from those around me. As I get older, I try to embrace those differences instead of trying to fight them or convince others about why I’m “right.” We are all different, and that’s what makes us interesting.
What do you think? Have there been times in your life when you felt like you didn’t belong?
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