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When You Don’t Fit In

Deciding what to accept and what to change about ourselves.

Even if you were student body president and get invited to more parties than Lindsey Lohan, you can feel like you sometimes don’t fit in, that you’re different from those other people, and that people don’t really get you, let alone accept you for who you really are.

Perhaps you feel you’re too quiet or too talkative. Or too serious or too much of a funster. Or your face or body isn’t traditionally attractive. Or you like to work long hours and are sad that people pathologize you as a “workaholic,” diseased like an alcoholic.

It’s tough to deal with feeling like you don’t really fit in. There are no easy answers but maybe there’s something in the following that may be helpful.

When you worry too much about what others think of you

Is it time to stop caring so much about what others think and start caring more about your self-appraisal? If you look at yourself dispassionately, should you feel pretty good about the overall person you are?

If you have flaws you want to remediate, fine (See below.) but all of us have characteristics that are relatively immutable. We’re like a rose bush: We’ll always have thorns but they don’t render our flowers worthless.

While the rose bush metaphor is valid, it may not actually make you more self-accepting. So play shrink with yourself: Why do you accept other people despite their failings but refuse to accept yourself?

Could it be that a spouse, teacher, or someone in your family of origin devastated you and their words continue to ring in your ears?

Or perhaps you made such a major mistake or three that you feel you deserve self-loathing. Consider this: Imagine an axe murderer were riddled with guilt and thus hated himself, perhaps even considering suicide. Would you encourage that? More likely you’d say something like,

It’s good that you feel remorse. That means that, at your core, you want to be a good person. If you commit suicide, you lose your chance at redemption. On the other hand, if you live and try to do good works—even if far from perfect--you’ll have done things to compensate for your crime and start to feel better about yourself.

So if you hate yourself for your errors, even if intentional ones, is there a baby-step or two you'd like to take toward redemption?

Is it time to change?

Perhaps your not fitting in is worthy of fixing. Examples:

  • If you’re painfully shy, even have social anxiety, is it time to work on that, perhaps even in a structured program?
  • If you’re been so aggressive that the costs have outweighed the benefits, is it time to focus on dialing it back until your modulated self becomes automatic?
  • Do you try too hard to be funny or bubbly for fear people won’t like you for your real self? If so, should you focus less on being the fun one and more on being a good listener and on sharing your real-life experiences and honest feelings?
  • If you’ve constrained yourself from expressing unpopular views, should you practice speaking out in a way that would minimize antipathy toward you and maximize the likelihood of changing people's views?
  • If you hate the way you look, is it time, for example, to get serious about losing weight? Doing more with your hair and makeup? Changing your wardrobe? Even cosmetic surgery? The latter is controversial but some of my clients have gained significant self-confidence from cosmetic surgery. One was 79 when she had a face lift and it gave her the confidence to start dating again---and she met two great guys!
  • If you’ve been lazy, is it time to commit to working more and procrastinating less? Conversely, if you’ve been working too-long hours, is it time to cut back?

Vive la difference?

In the end, despite accepting what we can about ourselves and changing what we feel we should, we still may end up sometimes feeling like we just don’t fit in. Perhaps there’s a silver lining in that: None of us are just like anyone else. We’re special. And that, in itself, can feel good.