When I was a little girl one of my biggest fears was being ‘left out’.
I was the chubby girl with glasses who most people generally liked, but not many paid a whole lot of attention to. I was smart, but not quite smart enough to be in the gifted ‘Astrolab’ class that a couple of other kids got to be in. (FYI, I really wanted to be in that class). My grade six teacher said I would never be good in Math like some of my other friends in the ‘high’ math group and that echoed in my head for years to come. (Only recently have I had the courage to overcome this by actually realizing that ‘teaching’ Math in a ‘different’ way makes both me and my students “good” in Math. But that is a story for another time.) Later in high school, an English teacher told me I would never be a creative writer like one of my classmates, only a technical and critical one, and I was/am determined to prove him wrong as well.
Growing up I was kind to others, which often resulted in me being a doormat (another hurdle I would strive to overcome in the years ahead) because I would forgive easily and quickly ‘get over’ whatever it was that had been done to me. I wanted to be liked by others so badly that when I wasn’t invited to sleepovers or birthdays, or included in secrets whispered in ears on the playground or shared behind hands at the lockers, it was devastating.
Maybe I tried too hard to fit in, I don’t know. Maybe I was my own worst enemy by worrying so much about being liked and ‘included’ that I wasn’t myself around others. I don’t know this for a fact either.
Here’s what I do know: being left out really stinks. Here’s what else I know: it doesn’t stink any less as an adult either.
A close friend recently told me that her daughter was struggling with issues with friends such as not being included in hang out plans, birthday parties, and movie nights. My heart broke for her because I knew how her daughter felt: how crushing, especially as a young preteen girl, that can be and how, as a parent, there isn’t much you can do about it except tell your child she is ‘better off’ without these people if they are going to treat her this way. (All of this being completely true but not overly comforting to the girl sitting at home while her friends are out together).
Social exclusion can be considered a type of bullying when it is done repeatedly, directly, and with the intention of causing someone discomfort or unease. Children and adults alike often use their own understanding of the desire to be accepted as the driving force in using the “exclusion tool” to have power over others. For some, the control they exert in leaving others out and excluding them leads to their feelings of superiority over others. It is seldom a good thing.
As we get older we tend to try to edge ourselves away from this type of pre-teen and high school drama. We try not to involve ourselves in the “high school” type of games of who will hang out with who and who will be better friends with who, but sometimes, even as much as we try to remove ourselves from them, those games end up involving us anyway. Sometimes, as much as we try to avoid these situations, we find ourselves caught in the middle of them anyway, even with the best of intentions.
Adults can be as mean as high school kids. Friends and acquaintances have shared with me stories of exclusion that they themselves experienced in adulthood, being left out of activities by people they thought were close friends, at times only finding out about their exclusion by reading about it on social media or in some other indirect way. Sometimes the ‘exclusion’ is unintentional and sometimes it is deliberate; however, I find it is more often the latter which occurs.
Now don’t get me wrong, we can choose who we spend time with and who we don’t; however, I think we have to be very aware of the fact that including some people and not others can be hurtful unless it is done in a tactful and respectful way. Openly speaking about an event that people have deliberately not been included in does not often bode well for our relationships with others. We can do what we want and with whom we want, but considering the feelings of others is important as well. Respecting others is a crucial part of being a considerate human being. Of course, again, this is just my opinion.
As adults we can attempt to slough off our feelings of hurt from exclusion, we can try to ignore the “inside” jokes or stories that we are not privy to, and we can choose to walk away or turn the other cheek when others discuss things we were not invited to be part of. As children and teens this is not so easy. Social exclusion is the new bullying and we need to help our children with strategies to cope and deal with these kinds of situations, as well as to teach them that these actions are not kind for them to bestow unto others either now or later in their lives.
As “grown-ups” we can tell ourselves that if people don’t want to include us then it’s ok because we don’t want to be around others if they don’t want to be around us. That’s what the adult in us says, but the child / teenager part of us still, at times, whispers ever-so-softly, no matter how hard we try to silence the voice, (just like the voice of so many others wanting to fit in and to be included), ‘Why not me?’