Is What I’m Seeing Normal?
Most youth feel that they don’t belong or fit in at some point in their lives and in different situations. We may feel more confident in some situations than in others. Your youth also may feel like he/she doesn’t belong or fit in in new environments or social situations, like a new school, job, or community. Most people want to feel accepted by their peer group and to have friends that they feel they have things in common with.
Should I Be Worried?
When your youth is feeling like they don’t belong, that can put pressure on them to fit in so they don’t stand out and get labeled as “weird”, since that may lead to teasing or even worse, bullying. These thoughts of “I don’t fit in” can lead to feeling lonely and isolated. This often means that they may be giving up who they really are and as a result they may hurt themselves emotionally in the process. The loneliness and isolation could lead to feeling sad, angry or depressed. If they are harassed, bullied or experience discrimination based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, they may feel like they don’t belong or fit in and may be afraid to express themselves freely due to prejudice, hostility, or aggression from others. If you are aware that this is happening it is important to talk to the young person about it or encourage him/her to talk to their school, or someone in your community who can help. While it is important for them to know that it is normal to feel like they don’t always belong or fit in some environments and social situations, it is also helpful for them to know how to deal with some of these strong emotions and thoughts.
Tips for Prevention and Wellness
1. Remind your youth not to be hard on him/herself
Talk with them and let them know that sometimes it is not the people around them, but rather it is their thoughts and emotions that tell them that they don’t fit in. Let them know that they may actually fit in just fine, but they might still experience themselves as an outsider. Moreover, feeling like an outsider may even lead them to believe that there is something wrong with them, when in reality they are okay just the way they are. Eleanor Roosevelt said beautifully: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. ”
It’s important for youth to know that it is also okay to be different and to be themselves. Being themselves means that they give themselves permission to focus on their own talents, skills and goals, similar to many famous people who felt that they didn’t belong as kids or even adults. People who aren’t afraid to be different gain the freedom to be who they truly are and to express themselves in ways that are uniquely theirs. We need to keep in mind that often it is people that honor their uniqueness who make the biggest impact in our world and usually have something truly special to offer. Tell them that wanting to change who they are, just to fit in with a specific group of people, is not always best for them. They should know that changing who they are could result in them losing themselves in the process of wanting to have approval from others.
2. Encourage them to surround themselves with positive people and activities
Support your youth to find a place where they feel they belong, and to make friends with people who have similar interests, goals, and talents as them. Things they can try are:
- Joining a youth group that interests them or visit a local youth drop-in centre
- Developing a hobby by taking a class or connecting with someone else who has the same hobby
- Volunteering in their community doing something that interests to them
- Becoming a mentor or a community leader and giving back to their community
- Staying active—join a gym, sports team or group, running group, fitness class, dance class—whatever you enjoy!
3. Encourage them to get help with anger and aggression if this is a factor for them
People who are seen as angry and aggressive are often isolated by their peers. Usually we remember angry people because of how we feel when we are around them…mostly, we feel uncomfortable. So, if your youth is angry and aggressive most of the time, most people will steer clear of them. Often angry people end up hanging out with other angry people and they too feel like they don’t belong. Also, anger gets in the way of having positive relationships and positive life experiences. If you are concerned about your youth’s anger or aggression and that it is getting in the way of them having relationships with others, it may helpful for them to talk to a counsellor about this.
4. If your youth has trouble talking to new people, encourage them to practice!
Some people are shy by nature and have trouble starting conversations or forming friendships. This is very normal for many people, since not all people are “social butterflies”. But, they can learn to overcome shyness enough to be able to talk to new people and form friendships. All this usually takes is practice, so your youth needs to give him/herself the chance to build the skills and confidence. They should accept an invitation to a party, try doing something or joining a group they never thought of before, talk to that person they noticed in their class or in their neighbourhood and see what happens! If this is hard for them, suggest that they try spending time with an outgoing friend who can introduce them to new people and places. Or, if talking to people in general makes them nervous or they have [anxiety] and don’t know where to start, talking to a counsellor can help.
5. Help your youth to DREAM, EXPLORE and SET GOALS
Encourage your youth to focus on what they want in life:
What are their dreams?
What do they love to do and what makes them feel happy?
What do they want to explore and learn?
What goals do they have this year, next year, in 5 years?
What places, countries and wonders of the world would they love to visit some day?
Have them make a plan, break down the steps and work on one small step at a time. By focusing on what they want in their life, they will attract people with similar interests and a positive attitude. Living to their full potential and being true to who they are, doing the things they are passionate about, will truly bring them happiness and they will no longer be paying attention to “I need to fit in and belong” as they will be living the life they want to live.