Being Left Out, Even As An Adult, Really Sucks
"I felt like I was being gaslit because how could I come along to something I had no idea was happening until after the fact?"
As a writer for a teen website (Kiss.ie), a big part of my job is to create informative and helpful articles discussing different issues that affect teens, from period shaming to studying tips. In a recent piece I wrote, I explored the topic of social exclusion – how hurtful it can be, and what to do if you find yourself in that situation.
Really, what I wanted to tell them was that ‘Don’t worry, it gets better, you’ll soon become an adult and never have to deal with this again’, but you and I both know that isn’t entirely true. Sadly, being left out of social settings doesn’t disappear when you leave your youth behind. You would think that with time and maturity people would learn to be thoughtful and inclusive, wouldn’t you? But no, instead social exclusion can follow you from the playground to the office, making adult you feel just as lonely and unworthy as you felt as a 14-year-old when no one wanted you on their team in PE.
“As a therapist, I hear about a lot of social exclusion, the sort that is a little more surface-based and relational. Social exclusion is a vast, multifaceted topic, but on a surface level it could be simply leaving a friend out of a dinner invitation list or being ignored by your neighbour three doors down,” explains Emma from Instant Counselling. Before the omnipresence of social media, it was somewhat possible to ignore, or rather be blissfully unaware, of some social exclusion that may be going on around you.
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But, with everyone sharing what they had for breakfast through apps like Instagram and Facebook, for many people picking up their phone on Sunday mornings can reveal a whole host of fun they were left out of the night before. For 26-year-old Nadine*, this was something she faced for a number of years after introducing two friends to one another. “I had two really good friends, one from school and the other from work, and knowing that they’d get along with one another, I one day introduced them over some drinks. They got on like a house on fire, as I imagined they would, but the introduction soon backfired on me when they began to make plans together and rarely invite me along,” explains Nadine.
Regularly clicking into her Instagram stories and seeing them socialising together at the weekends, Nadine says that while she tried to think about the situation rationally, it still hurt her. “At the time I was the only one in a relationship between the three of us, so I tried to tell myself to not get upset because they likely just wanted to have some single fun together without me third-wheeling, but it still bothered me to the point of crying.” As time went on Nadine began to feel more and more left out, “At first it was just the odd night out I was excluded from, but eventually then it was house parties with groups of people I also knew, festivals, trips abroad” she continues. “If I told them I would have liked an invite or a heads up, they would tell me ‘don’t be mad, you know you’re always welcome to come along’,
“I felt like I was being gaslit because how could I come along to something I had no idea was happening until after the fact!?”.
Eventually, the friendship between Nadine’s friends fizzled out, with Nadine now taking a step back from the two “They both got into relationships, and the nights out and trips away stopped pretty soon after. I’ve since changed jobs and moved county so I rarely see either of them now, but would of course still consider them my friends. My advice for anyone going through anything similar would be to nip it in the bud straight away, don’t let things go on for too long while you stay silent like I did. Tell them you would have appreciated an invite, let them know that your feelings are hurt, they might not realise they’re doing something wrong until you bring it up.”
Often being pushed to the point of tears, Emma assures that Nadine’s reaction to being left out isn’t unnecessary, as her friends tried to portray. “Being left out as an adult is literally like someone cutting the rope that keeps you tethered, you fall, you can feel panic then anger, unjustly wounded. Whether you identify yourself as an introvert, extrovert, private person, life of the party or the small circle of close friends, being left out sucks, it stings and it often is a wound that proves very difficult to heal.”
Social exclusion comes in many different shapes and forms, while you can be left out by people whom you call friends organising a get-together without you, exclusion sometimes takes on a whole different meaning when you’ve never made those ‘friends’ in the first place. 31-year-old Aoife looks back on her college days with few fond memories. Undertaking a bachelor’s degree in Engineering, Aoife’s reality of her four years studying was very different to how she envisioned it.
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“When I finished my leaving cert and told people I was going to Trinity College all anyone told me was that I would ‘have the time of my life’, and actually, the reality was far from that,” she begins. “I found it hard, if not impossible, to make friends. For my whole four years there I went through the constant cycle of getting on friendly terms with someone during a group project or lecture, and then never speaking to them again soon after,” Aoife continues. Going on to say how being excluded from the camaraderie that comes with college life is something she wouldn’t wish on anyone else, “I was miserable getting on the bus and going into college every day. I would see people chatting around me in seminars, dissecting the fun they had together at the weekend, but in my whole time studying, I didn’t get a single invite to anything.
I’m all grown up now and have left the bitterness I once felt behind, for sure. Since graduating, I got an amazing job as a software engineer with a tech company and have met some great people who I regard as close friends now through it. My college experience was what it was, I would just like other people to know that they’re not the only ones to ever feel left out, I think it happens to us all at some point in our lives,” Aoife concludes.
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Sharing advice on what you should do if you find yourself being left out, therapist Emma says that while the feelings that come with being excluded are nuanced, you should tackle the situation with a simplified approach. “I would recommend that you run it through your inner child filter. Is it adult you really upset or is your inner child wounded? Can the adult you reason with your inner child? Maybe you can say to your inner child ‘ Will we call them now and get clarity on this? You are triggered and upset and there is probably a different explanation to the one you are feeling, let’s get to the bottom of this?’ Imagine how an adult would help a young person that was upset by this , what would they say, how would they take charge of the situation?”.
As for the rest of us, as society begins to reopen, let’s consider how we can be more inclusive of others to ensure that no one feels the way Nadine and Aoife did again. “When we can open our hearts and minds to feel and connect more deeply with people, exclusion melts away, emotions, openness and connecting are the fabric that weaves our lives together with tiny beautifully connected threads.”
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