‘Why don’t I belong?’ Sometimes we go through moments in our lives where we don’t fit in with a certain group or place.
For some of us, we might feel like we don’t belong anywhere most of the time.
Either way when we don’t belong often that means we feel different. The feeling of not fitting in comes in different forms. For instance, we don’t get along with family and never seem to say much around our parents or siblings. Can’t identify with ‘where you are from’ or our heritage. Don’t get the latest trends or TV series everyone is so into.
In other words, our tastes, preferences, background, experiences and opinions could be very different from those around us.
Throughout my life I’ve felt like I never fit in on countless occasions. Never felt like I fit in at school as the bookish nerd who loved the library. Never felt a part of the writing classes I took at university to be a comedic journalist. Never felt welcomed as an introverted wearing bright colours standing alone in the corner at a party.
When you feel you don’t belong, why would that be? Why would you find it hard to relate to anything? Perhaps you don’t belong because of how others perceive you, and also because of the way you are.
Why you don’t fit in
1. Differences in cultural background
Today it’s a privilege to live in a multicultural world where there is a diverse mix of cultures, traditions, celebrations and beliefs. We can all learn from differences. The sad thing is not everyone is accepting of diversity and racism is very real. Racism, and poking fun at cultural nuances, makes many of us feel on the sidelines.
As an Asian Australian, my whole life I’ve straddled between being Chinese and being Australian. One day I might be more stereotypical Chinese and another day have a more Western mindset.
For instance, I could feel too Asian for wanting to share food in a restaurant when my white friends insist on having individual dishes to themselves. Too Asian for living with the Chinese-Malaysian folks when my white Australian friends moved out at 18 and wondered why I haven’t. Too Asian and clueless walking down the street as someone yells, ‘Go back to where you came from!’ in your face. Or ‘Ni hao’.
Too Australian to be Chinese when I don’t speak Chinese fluently and my Chinese-speaking relatives call me ‘that white girl’. Too Australian when I rather be alone relaxing than spending time with family and being called out by them for being selfish – facing racism within one’s own race and not fitting in ‘at home’.
Often ignorance and a lack of education is to blame for discrimination and making you feeling an outcast. That said, sometimes no matter how much you try to explain the nuances of your background, others simply might not get it or dismiss it – too foreign and unbelievable to them and they have a right to believe what they want to believe.
Or perhaps you’re too stubborn to assimilate and be open-minded about walking into another culture. You might stubbornly stand by your cultural values, wanting to preserve your heritage and feeling you have the right to be who you are. For Asian Australians and third culture kids, these conflicting worlds are what makes us wonder what it’s like to be fully a part of a culture.
2. Clash of personalities
Hard working vs party person. Shy vs social butterfly. Extrovert vs introvert. You might be the odd personality among a group of people. Others all might fit a certain character but you aren’t that type.
The world is arguably an extroverted one: if you want to get ahead at school or work, you have to network, speak out and put ourselves in the spotlight. Having fun is typically associated with socialising, traveling and painting the town red. I don’t relate to extroverted kinds. I could spend a whole month at home not talking to anyone in person or online, busying myself with my imagination and writing. In fact, in the past that was how I enjoyed my annual leave from work.
Turning down late night rendezvous invites is nothing new to me. Standing quietly in the corner with a glass of water surrounded by drunks at parties is also nothing new. Finishing things way before the deadline at work, yes that’s me.
It’s hard to change the way you are. As someone once said, changing your personality is kind of like building a new house. Studies have shown while your personality traits can change, they don’t change overnight. Different personalities come with steadfast individual quirks, quirks which can make each other frustrated, anxious, upset and left out. Some of us simply don’t gel with each other.
3. Different lifestyles
Single mingle vs settling down, routine homebody vs traveling nomad, vegan vs raw diet are just a few contrasting lifestyles. Different points in life speak of different wants and needs, expectations, priorities, schedules and interests. It can be hard understanding and relating to how someone lives their life – different things are important to each other.
These lifestyles are normally the ones accepted: climbing the corporate ladder. Going after that next big job to afford a luxurious life. Living each week hoping it’ll be Friday. Living the white picket fence life.
The things I stand for makes me feel on the outside at times: it’s okay to be a struggling artist living pay check to pay check or living in a van. It’s okay to be any part of the LGBTQI+ spectrum while not shooting down other faiths. It’s okay to be polygamous or living a life like Artemis. How it’s okay to have ten kids or absolutely none at all.
I’ve never pushed my life choices onto others. Don’t want to make others feel guilty of the lifestyle they choose; we find middle ground and are great friends. But as time goes on, your lifestyle might make it hard to stay in touch and old friendships become no friendships, and you wonder where you belong.
4. Mental illness
Not everyone will relate to living with mental illness. There are different forms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder and other conditions. Going through mental illness can be a dark time with conflicting voices in your head; you feel hopeless and so find it hard to make connections.
Similarly trauma, stressed out times, chronic illness and chronic pain can also make you feel on the sidelines and want to retreat. You might feel left out as you can’t go about an ordinary life, can’t live without pain of some sort.
At the height of my anxiety and chronic pain issues, I didn’t want to answer questions about if I was okay, let alone think about these issues. Keeping quiet and isolating was my way of coping. Also, mental illness is a taboo topic and often dismissed as weakness in Chinese cultures, all the more reason for feeling on the sidelines.
5. Lack of listening
People can talk, but that doesn’t mean they’ll listen. When someone doesn’t listen, it could be a one-sided conversation: one person’s thoughts dominate, your opinions not acknowledged. When your voice isn’t heard, it can feel like you don’t exist, except maybe as a dumping ground for someone else’s emotions. When no one listens, you feel like you’re not understood and not worthy of being appreciated.
Sometimes others don’t listen because they are intent on sticking with their mindsets. Or they could be quick to judge and talk over you. Maybe you are guilty of this too. Everyone wants to offer their opinion, everyone wants to help by offering suggestions to make things better, but sometimes it’s best to listen.
By listening, we learn what makes others tick. A study on psychology suggests feeling someone’s emotions comes from listening to their voices instead of reading facial expressions. Never the chatty one in a conversation, I like to listen. I’m quieter than most and sometimes people around me chat on and on about their thoughts and lives…at times not getting to the point. I might get to know them better…but they might not get to know me better.
6. Reluctant to change
Change is a constant in life. People switch jobs, travel, move away, get married, pass away and acquire new interests. Places where we once were get shut down and rebuilt.
Sometimes old habits die hard because some of us like routine for the sense of security it brings, and we resist adapting to what comes our way. When you get stuck in routine, you get stuck with people and stuck in ways that don’t serve us anymore. Life moves on and you wonder why you feel left out.
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When you feel you don’t belong, these feelings can be all too familiar: loneliness, abandonment, alienated, confusion, sadness, resentment and misunderstood. You might even feel the world exists perfectly fine without you. There could come a point where you’ll question your place in the world, your purpose and even the meaning of life.
When you don’t belong again and again, you learn to live with being a misfit. You find ways to cope with being the odd one out. You set no expectations to make solid friendships or relationships when hanging out with others. You take up quiet hobbies at home like writing and crafting. You talk to your cats for company. You get used to never agreeing with others, accepting how others live their lives and go down your own path.
Not fitting in isn’t all a bad thing. You could love being the odd one out, being proud of your unique personality and glad you aren’t another wallflower. Maybe because you’re so different, you embrace that, see the world in a different way and your life is much more exciting because of that. Maybe you like spending time with yourself so not being the popular one is something you don’t mind. Most importantly by spending time with yourself, you learn what you actually like and what truly matters to you, and who really has got your back.
Being a misfit has taught me how to be self-sufficient, independent and never to rely on anyone. It has taught me how to travel alone, be the realistic one in relationships, buy a half a million dollar house on a single income, eat alone at a restaurant knowing that’s normal and how time buys friends. In short, being a misfit can teach us important life skills.
We all want to belong, even the most introverted among us. Psychologists Roy Baymeiser and Mark Leary studied this phenomenon in their paper The Need To Belong, suggesting we all have the ‘need to belong’ is a fundamental human motivation; close relationships boost immune systems and when we feel close to each other their personalities rub off us. In his book The Painted Mind, behavioural science researcher Alfonso Troisi mentions humans evolve in groups that depend on close connections in order for survival. In short, we can’t help but want to belong to somewhere, someone.
While I’ve never had a problem being left out of things, it’s always nice to be a part of something. Nice and peaceful to walk down the street and not get yelled at for nothing. Nice to spend time with introverts whom don’t spend every second talking to you. Nice to hang out with others living a similar lifestyle so you don’t have to explain yourself. Nice to talk and be with someone who is just like you because they understand you.
At the end of the day, feeling a sense of belonging first starts with accepting yourself in your own skin. Accept yourself for who you are, be comfortable with who you are, own your life.
Are there moments when you don’t belong?