It doesn’t feel very good to be excluded from things.
Say two of your friends mention another friend’s upcoming barbecue (one you didn’t get an invite to) or co-workers regularly fail to invite you to lunch or happy hour.
Best-case scenario, they simply forgot. But it’s hard not to wonder if they intentionally left you out. Focusing on this possibility can lead to a range of uncomfortable feels, from sadness and anger to downright confusion.
Everyone experiences social rejection or exclusion at some point in life, but the following tips can help you maintain a balanced perspective and soothe the sting.
It’s normal to feel upset when others exclude you, even if they didn’t do it on purpose.
You might feel annoyed when co-workers get coffee every morning and never ask you to join, lonely after finding out your friends have a group chat without you, or hurt when your sister chooses not to include you in her wedding party.
No matter the situation, you’ll likely experience a complex mix of emotions. Taking time to unpack these feelings can help you process them and decide what to do next.
To get started, you might try:
You feel hurt no one told you about your friend’s impromptu get-together. What you don’t know, however, is that your recent ex (a mutual friend) showed up before your friend had a chance to invite you. Your friend, knowing you’re not entirely over the breakup, simply wanted to avoid causing you more pain.
If you tend to jump to worst-case scenarios, you’re not alone. This thought pattern is common, but it’s not very helpful. This kind of emotional tension can increase anxiety and make it even harder to consider reasonable explanations.
Instead of letting fear run rampant, stick to logical thinking by looking at the actual evidence.
If you believe your friends no longer care about you, ask yourself if you have any proof supporting that conclusion. Then, consider whether you have proof that they do care. If you end up with more evidence suggesting they really do care, there’s most likely another explanation for what happened.
Even if you’ve truly been excluded, it might not be for the reasons you believe.
When you notice a pattern of people excluding you, it may be worth considering whether your actions might be playing a role.
If you want others to include you in social activities, ask yourself if you’re clearly conveying this desire through your body language and behavior — or saying something totally different.
Maybe you have a habit of crossing your arms during conversations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but it can make you seem closed off, even if you don’t intend to give this impression.
Or, maybe you get very absorbed in activities and lose track of things happening around you, such as friends making plans for a party. You don’t respond or offer anything to the conversation, so they assume you don’t have any interest.
- Do you tend toward shyness? Others may want to give you space by waiting for you to make the first move.
- Do you try to make conversation and include others?
- Do you have a short temper when others make mistakes?
- Do you use rude or offensive language or bring up heavy or distressing topics? It’s not always a bad thing to discuss serious issues, but this can put some people off, especially if you aren’t close.
It’s pretty difficult to know how you come across to others, so if you’re at a loss, a trusted loved one might be able to offer some honest guidance.
Having only your side of the story can limit your perspective.
When you feel left out, talking to others involved can help you understand what happened. It’s typically better to talk things over than worry about what other people might think or feel.
Explain why you felt left out using “I” statements, or things that focus on your experience and prevent others from feeling accused.
Be sure to mention specific instances and avoid generalizations.
- Instead of: “You always leave me out! No one ever invites me to anything.”
- Try: “The Zoom movie parties I keep hearing about sound really fun. I feel a little left out because I haven’t been invited to any of them. Is there some reason why? I’d like to join next time, if that’s all right.”
If you feel like you don’t fit in at work or school, and friends often forget (or “forget”) to invite you to events, you might start wondering why no one wants to spend time with you.
Believing you don’t belong can contribute to a loss of confidence and self-esteem. This can happen whether you’ve been left out for the first time or experience social rejection on a more regular basis.
- “My friends and I have a good relationship, and they always say how caring I am. They wouldn’t drop me for no reason.”
- “I have a great sense of humor.”
- “People have always enjoyed spending time with me before, and they will again.”
Plus, feeling more confident can empower you to try connecting with others instead of waiting for an invitation.
You might not always get a satisfying explanation after being excluded. Sometimes, you just have to accept the possibility that others really did exclude you, perhaps intentionally. That’s on them. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
Say you tell your co-workers you’d love to join them for lunch. They agree, but the next day you notice them leaving without asking you along.
Understandably, you feel hurt and angry. But don’t let that ruin your day. Instead, ask a different co-worker to lunch, or grab takeout from your favorite restaurant and picnic outdoors with a book.
Next time you’re not invited to a group hangout, use the evening for your favorite self-care activity:
- take a long bath
- watch a favorite movie
- catch up with loved ones on the phone
- cook a fancy meal
Do you get the feeling people exclude you more often than they include you? Your past participation in events might offer a potential reason.
If you frequently turn down invitations, people could assume you aren’t interested and stop inviting you.
Remedying this is often as simple as sending a quick message along the lines of:
- “I know I’ve been busy lately, but I’ve got plenty of free time now! Do you have time to catch up next week?”
Also consider that people may leave you out of events they believe you won’t enjoy. If you prefer not to socialize in large groups, for example, friends who know this probably won’t invite you to their latest shindig.
You might need to make the first move if they don’t know what type of interaction you prefer, so invite them to a movie night or other quiet get-together.
When you feel rejected, talking to someone you trust can help. They may not have any solutions, but getting things off your chest can be therapeutic.
They can also help point out possible explanations you might not have considered. At the very least, their presence can remind you of the people in your life who do want your company.
If your existing relationships don’t provide the companionship and emotional support you need, it may be time to consider forming new friendships.
People change over time, and new interests and relationships often accompany these changes. People might still care but lack time or space to devote to your friendship, for some reason or other. This can be difficult to accept, but you can’t do much to change it beyond letting your friends know you’re available when they are.
In the meantime, you can avoid loneliness by forging connections with people at work or in your community who share your interests.
Ongoing loneliness and experiences of social rejection can take a toll on your mental health.
If you’re struggling to deal with being left out, a therapist can help you:
- explore new approaches to communication
- challenge negative thought patterns
- address mental health symptoms related to loneliness
- learn to reframe thoughts of unworthiness or self-criticism
People generally want to feel like they belong, so it can feel pretty rotten when those who matter most ignore you.
But remember this: They’re the ones missing out on your friendship. You get to decide how you spend your time. You can choose to spend it with people who show their interest in your company, instead of waiting around for people who don’t seem to care.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.