Why You Feel Like An Outsider Even As An Adult — And How To Overcome It

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feeling like an outsider and don't fit in

Legions of people walk around feeling that they do not fit in. It doesn’t matter where they are or who they are with, they never quite feel that they belong. They are always out of place.

 “I feel like I'm on the outside, looking in.”

“Whoever I'm with, I don't feel I fit in.”

“I may look fine, but I don't feel fine.”

At first glance, it doesn't make sense. Why would a person carry around a pervasive feeling of being out-of-place? Of not fitting in? Of being on the outside, looking in? Even when among people who love you?

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It's a difficult to identify, difficult to name feeling; yet it can hold tremendous power over a person. It can make it hard to go to a social gathering, and difficult to stay very long. Perhaps you get irritable when you're around other people and you're not sure why. Perhaps you're good at putting on a show to look like you're having fun, but only you know that in reality, you're not.

Perhaps you are actually looking around at other people laughing and talking and appearing comfortable, and wondering what you're missing.

Everyone uses different words to describe the feeling, but they all have one common factor which links them. They all grew up in a household in which their feelings were ignored. They all grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Childhood Emotional Neglect happens when parents fail to respond enough to the child's emotional needs. When you are a child whose feelings are largely ignored, you receive an indirect, usually unintended and subtle, but very powerful message from your parents. That message is, "Your feelings don't matter."

When children receive this message, they automatically adapt. They push their feelings down and away so that they will not bother anyone. This may help the child survive, or even thrive, in a household that is not welcoming to the feelings of its members. But in adulthood, being disconnected from one’s emotions definitely becomes a problem.

As adults, we need our emotions. Emotion is the glue that connects us to other people and the spice that keeps things interesting. When your emotions are pushed away, it's hard to feel the emotional connection that binds people together at a party. It's even harder to experience the spontaneous, happy synergy that occurs when people are truly fully emotionally present with each other.

Instead, you are living your life missing something. Like a baker without yeast or a musician with no instrument, you are operating without a key ingredient that you are meant to have. You are missing something vital that everyone else has. And you feel it.

If you find yourself identifying with this, please remember that while the "on the outside" feeling is a real feeling, it is not a real thing.

The people around you do not see you that way. They don't see you on the outside. They don't feel that you don't belong. They want to connect with you and enjoy your company, and they are waiting for you to let them in.

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The best thing about the “on the outside” feeling is that it can be overcome.

Here are 4 ways you can approach feeling like an outsider to move past it:

1. Become more aware of your "on the outside" feeling.

Start a log, and write down when you feel it. Take notice of the power it has over you. Keep it in the back of your mind at all times. Remind yourself that it's just a feeling.

2. Identify when you feel it most.

Once you're more aware of the feeling, its source, and its power, start to fight it. Force yourself to go to social gatherings, and constantly fight the feeling while you're there.

3. Talk to someone trusted about it.

Tell someone (your spouse, a sibling, a good friend) about this feeling. Explain the source and your struggle. Ask that person for their support at family functions, parties and other gatherings.

4. Take steps to move past it.

Begin to work through your Childhood Emotional Neglect. It's key to attack it from all angles. One of the best ways to do this is to start trying to accept and feel your own emotions more. The better you get at this, the weaker your "on the outside" feeling will become.

Once you realize what's wrong, you are on your way to recovery. You're on the path to accepting the connection and warmth that’s been there all along, waiting for you to accept it.

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Jonice Webb has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and specializes in Childhood Emotional Neglect. She is the author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.