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

You don't have to feel this way!

Last updated on Nov 11, 2023

man standing alone, struggle to fit in KatieDobies | Canva 

Legions of people walk around feeling like they do not fit in. It doesn’t matter where they are or who they are with. They never feel like 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?


RELATED: How People Who Were Emotionally Neglected Can Break The Cycle With Their Kids

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.


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 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.

2. Identify when you feel it most.

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

Perhaps you look around at other people who laugh, talk, and appear comfortable. You wonder what you're missing.

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


RELATED: 10 Things Emotionally Neglected Kids Grow Up Believing — That Are Simply Not True

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.

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 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 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 becomes a problem.


RELATED: 5 Questions To Ask When You Just Can't Bring Yourself To Say 'I'm Angry'

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 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.

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 when people are 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 identify with this, remember that feeling "on the outside" is a real feeling, but it is not a real situation.



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. They are waiting for you to let them in.


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

RELATED: 4 Signs You Were Emotionally Abandoned As A Kid (And It’s Affecting You Now)

Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.