Feeling Left Out? Reasons Why and What to Do

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“Whenever I get to know new people, my new friends stop inviting me after a while. I see my friends post pictures of times they get together to hang out without me. Why do my friends leave me out?”

Do you keep feeling excluded at work, with friends, or in group conversations? Humans are “herd animals.” We all want to feel included.[1] As much as we will hear “don’t care about what other people think,” that’s not how we’re built.

Belonging and fitting in are core needs. Long-term social exclusion can lead to emotional pain and numbing of emotional distress when the exclusion gets too difficult to deal with.[2]

One study even found that social exclusion can lead to impaired self-regulation, meaning that people may struggle to make healthy decisions for themselves when they are being socially excluded.[3]

So it’s completely normal and understandable that you feel rejected if you feel left out of plans your friend group is making or if no one acknowledges what you write in a group chat.

If you feel left out regularly, there are some things you can do to deal with these feelings and to minimize the chances you will be left out in the future. We all get left out and ignored sometimes (no one can be liked by everyone), but we can learn to surround ourselves with people who want us around. In addition, we can learn to manage our feelings better, so we don’t feel as bad in the times we will be left out.

Sections

What to do when you feel left out

1. Accept your emotions

A lot of our suffering comes from trying to deny, suppress, or run away from our feelings. Giving space for our feelings can paradoxically make them more manageable.

Accepting your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to love your current situation as it. You can still try to change and improve the things that are bothering you in life.

What does accepting emotions look like in practice? Let’s say you’re feeling left out of family gatherings. Accepting your feelings means saying to yourself: “right now, I’m feeling rejected, and that’s tough. There is nothing wrong with how I feel. I can be kind to myself.”

After you process your emotions, you can consider your next steps.

2. Make sure you haven’t misread the situation

Sometimes we assume that we have been purposefully left out or rejected, but that isn’t always the case. It’s worth examining the situation and how we feel about it.

Note that examining your emotions doesn’t mean shaming yourself for them. Your hurt feelings are still valid even if you misread the situation. Shaming yourself isn’t going to help.

Let’s say that you saw a picture of two friends hanging out together on a day you were free. You may feel hurt and sad because they didn’t ask if you want to join them. Feelings of envy, jealousy, and shame may creep up. Thoughts like, “I guess we’re not so close after all” may fill your mind.

But later, you may find out they ran into each other at the dog park and decided to get lunch together. They didn’t think about inviting anyone else along because it was spontaneous. Or perhaps they got together to study for a class they’re taking together.

Make sure you haven’t jumped to conclusions about being left out or ignored.

3. Ensure that you’re making yourself available

How do you deal with the feeling of being left out? Some people share their feelings, while others may pull away in an attempt to protect themselves.

It may come out of a fear of “burdening others” with your presence. Or perhaps it’s a deep fear of rejection. Maybe you’ve turned out several invitations, and people assume you’re not interested. In any case, some people pull away when they feel rejected. Of course, this may lead to even more rejection, as people around you may assume you want to be left alone.

Some people “test” their friends by not responding to their texts for a while. They wait to see if their friends check up on them and “prove that they care.” This plan often backfires because people don’t want to be friends with someone who can’t be relied upon to respond to messages.

You can learn how to make your body language appear more friendly and approachable. Make sure you reply to messages and calls. Let people know you’re looking to make friends. Give and receive compliments with grace. These actions send the message that you’re available for new connections.

4. Check if your expectations are realistic

People have different expectations from friendships and romantic relationships. Some people need a lot of time together, while others want to have a lot of alone time. While some people prefer to have two or three close friends they do most things with, others prefer to have many friends and acquaintances.

As we get older, our friendships change as well. As some people become parents, they spend more time with their children and other families. When they meet up, they cannot be as spontaneous as their friends with no kids. They have to be back home by a certain time to say goodnight to the kids or send the babysitter away. Sometimes they’ll need to bring their children with them and prefer to go to kid-friendly places.

We also tend to get busier as we get older. Obligations such as work and keeping up the house take more of our time. Our interests change as well. You may have had friends you bonded with over video games and pizza, but some of the friend group decided to cut pizza and video games out of their lives as they become more interested in healthy living and other hobbies.

In some of these cases, friendships can adapt and grow. You may not see a friend for several months as she adjusts to a new job or parenthood but hear from her again when things have settled down. Another friend may have moved away but pops in to have lunch together several times a year when he’s visiting family.

Sometimes we feel ignored or rejected by a friend, but it’s nothing personal. They may just be busy or have different expectations of the relationship than you do.

5. Remember that everyone feels left out sometimes

Everyone feels left out occasionally. In group conversations, people often get overexcited and may not notice when someone else is trying to speak. They may not think to include someone because they have too many things on their mind.

The difference between a socially confident and socially anxious person is that the socially anxious person takes these rejections more seriously. They feel worse about the occasion, tend to take it more personally, and think about it longer. Instead of feeling hurt and then moving on, they will believe it has something to do with them personally. They have less experience dealing with such situations and don’t know how to handle them in the moment.

If it’s a rare occasion, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel left out. If you’re in a group and feel left out of the conversation, look around. You may notice that someone else feels left out. You can start a side conversation with them or have another opportunity to participate.

6. Enjoy time spent alone

You’ll feel left out more if you’re not enjoying the time you spend by yourself. We all “do nothing” sometimes, but if you spend most of your time browsing social media and playing video games, you may compare yourself to others more. On the other hand, if you genuinely enjoy the time you spend by yourself, you won’t mind as much when you notice people doing things without you.

You can use your time to practice a new language or pick up a hobby, like sculpting, woodworking, skateboarding, hula hooping, or video editing. If you have a pet, you can try teaching them new tricks. You can create scrapbooks and collages from old magazines you have at home or learn how to do tricks with a jumping rope. Get some ideas through our article, 27 Best Activities for Introverts.

7. Remind yourself of your good qualities

When we feel left out, we might come up with all sorts of stories about ourselves.

“No one invites me because they don’t like me. I’m boring and weird. If I were fun to be around, I’d have more friends.”

Then, we believe ourselves. We feel that we don’t have anything to offer others, affecting how we interact with people, leading to a vicious cycle.

Work on your inferiority complex. You’re not worth less than anyone else because someone didn’t invite you to a party. You deserve love and compassion. Your positive qualities don’t disappear just because someone else can’t see them.

Try to make a list of your positive qualities and remind yourself of them often. You can use daily affirmations or notes on your mirror if you find those helpful.

Let yourself celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Give yourself a mental high five when you remember to buy toothpaste before the old tube runs out. Tell yourself you’re awesome when you try something new or go for a run.

Being kind to ourselves sets the standard for what kind of behavior we accept from other people.

8. Don’t wait for others to invite you

Shy and socially anxious people often try to figure out how to get invited to events rather than extending invitations themselves. Taking the risk of organizing a get-together that no one shows up to doesn’t seem worth it due to fear of rejection.

We have a guide about what to do if you never get invited. But that’s just one step of the process. Part of being included in a group is being an active part of it. That means organizing get-togethers and including others, and not just waiting for others to include you.

Invite people to do things with you. Pay attention to people who may feel left out and uninvited themselves and make an effort to include them.

9. Meet new people

How do you know if you have flaky or toxic friends? If you find yourself extending invitations to others and not receiving the same effort back, it may be time to make new friends.

A friendship that leaves you feeling consistently feeling left out and rejected may be doing more harm than good.

A good friendship should feel overall balanced and reciprocal. There are often periods in a long friendship where one person is busier than the other or needs more support. That’s normal and something you can work through together.

But if you feel like you’re the only one giving in in your relationships, you may consider taking a step back.

You can meet new people while volunteering, taking a multi-week course, or through social hobbies and events. Making friends with like-minded people makes it more likely that they will include you.

10. Talk to a therapist or coach

If you find yourself feeling left out frequently, there may be something deeper going on.

It may be that you’re misreading situations and feel left out even around people who enjoy your company and want to include you.

Or you may be struggling to recognize when someone wants to be your friend, leading you to choose unhealthy friendships or put yourself in situations where you will be hurt.

In either case, you may benefit from working one-on-one with someone who can help you identify where you’re stuck. Together, you can come up with solutions on how to remove these blocks.

A good therapist will make you feel heard and understood. You can ask people if they know of good therapists in your area, find a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp.

How to tell someone you feel left out

If you’re feeling left out in a relationship you value or with people you need to interact with, like coworkers or family, it may be worth having a conversation about it. Honest communication is an essential foundation for a good relationship.

When bringing up sensitive topics, it’s always best to focus on “I” and “we” statements. Talk more about how you felt than what the other person did, so it does not come out as an attack. When people feel attacked, they are likely to respond defensively, and the conversation can turn into a conflict rather than coming up with solutions.

For example, if you want to share that you feel left out and deepen your relationship with the person, avoid saying things like:

  • “You’ve been ignoring me.”
  • “I’m always inviting you, but you never invite me.”
  • “If you cared about me, you’d have invited me.”

Instead, try something like:

  • “When the three of us talked about how much we wanted to see the movie, I understood that we decided to see it together. I felt hurt when the two of you went without me.”
  • “It seems to me like we’re spending less time together lately. Can we meet up sometime?”
  • “I’ve been feeling some distance between us. I just wanted to check in and see if everything is all right. I miss you.”

Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t expect your friend or partner to “fix” them for you. Listen to what they have to say and try to come up with a solution together.

How to not be a third wheel

“I often feel like a third wheel, even in my family. It seems like everyone is in a relationship and I’m just there. I’m not sure if they even want me around or are just trying to be polite.”

Our friendships can change when our friend enters a relationship. Particularly in the initial stages of a relationship, a couple tends to want to spend a lot of time alone together, causing their friends to feel left out.

Ask if you can invite a friend

If you’re meeting up with a couple or several couples, you may want to invite a friend or friends so it becomes a group gathering rather than a collection of couples and you.

Engage both people in the couple.

If your friend starts dating, after a while, they will naturally want to include their partner in some of their social plans. You may be disappointed and wish things were back as they used to be. Purposefully or not, you may try to take advantage of the few times you see your friend, talking to them as though their partner wasn’t there.

This method can backfire because your friend may end up feeling torn between talking to you and talking to their partner. Then, when they talk to their partner, you will end up feeling left out.

Instead, try to get to know and include your friend’s new partner. Consider them as a new friend rather than someone who is taking your friend away from you.

Don’t get involved in their fights or personal affairs.

It can be very uncomfortable when people argue in front of us, especially if they ask our opinion. Practice saying, “I don’t want to get involved,” or stepping out if people around you start talking about personal matters.

Common questions

Is feeling left out normal?

The need to belong is one of our basic needs as humans. So it’s completely normal to feel hurt and left out when you feel like you don’t belong or when people don’t invite you along. People often feel left out even when other people do want us around.

What are the effects of being left out?

Feeling left out can leave us feeling hurt and rejected. As a result, we may feel sad, angry, and jealous. When these feelings are persistent, it can lead to depression, anxiety, shame, and lashing out.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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