Why Social Rejection Does Not Have To Define You
By: Patricia Oelze
Updated January 11, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Avia James
The term "social reject" is a crude way to define someone who does not quite fit in. We hear that term and imagine someone on the fringes of society. Maybe in our minds, they are socially awkward, mentally unstable, rebellious or even dangerous. In reality, not all social rejection is equal, and there are even some benefits to not fitting in with everyone else. Social rejection, or the perception of it, does not have to define you, and here is why.
What Is Social Rejection?
Social rejection is what happens when an individual is not accepted into a certain society, culture, or group. There are many reasons someone may experience social rejection, ranging from difficulty managing social skills to dangerous behaviors to physical disabilities. Those affected by personality disorders, low social or financial status, and those with non-traditional beliefs or attitudes are particularly vulnerable to social rejection, too. Sometimes, we cannot define exactly why someone becomes a victim of social rejection. It may happen for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
From a sociological and evolutionary point of view, everyone who is involved in a large group must contribute something beneficial to gain acceptance. The group, even on a subconscious level, is looking to succeed by having the most unity and consistency possible. Anyone who disturbs the perceived uniformity is deemed a threat, an inconvenience, or at the very least, a potential source of disruption, whether the rejected individual intends to do any of the above or not.
Social rejection once served as a type of biological protection to our ancestors. In the early years of modern Homo sapiens, if one member was perceived as a threat to the group, it was in the group’s best interest to cast off that individual for survival purposes. Many other organisms engage in this practice – elephants cast out young males once they reach a certain age, as otherwise their developing hormones result in them being a threat to the rest of the herd. Bonobos will cast out, at least temporarily, group members that don’t act in the best interest of the group, such as if they steal food from a young bonobo.
Today, social rejection has now morphed beyond its original purpose and exists in almost every aspect of our modern lives. Now, social rejection may happen, particularly when we’re children and adolescents, if we do not wear the right clothes, if we do not listen to the right music, and (this often persists throughout life) if we do not agree with the opinions of those around us.
Social rejection is difficult because as humans, we need social interaction to survive. Loneliness is not only uncomfortable and depressing; it affects our physical well-being too. According to University of Chicago Professor John Cacioppo, extreme isolation increases one's chances of dying prematurely by 14%, a shocking statistic which speaks to the importance of how much we need to relate to others around us.
The good news is that social rejection, despite being a phenomenon that deeply affects our health, and is strongly embedded in us, does not have to define you. Everyone is a victim of social rejection at some point in their lives, and all it means is that we are trying to fit into a place not meant for us. When social rejection happens to you, remember these key truths.
Everyone Contributes Something
Currently, there are roughly 7 billion people on the planet, and each person comes complete with their own personality, knowledge, skills, and talents. Social rejection makes you think that what you have to offer others does not matter, or even worse, that you have nothing others desire in the first place. This is simply the product of negative self-talk brought about by the act of being rejected. It is very far from the truth.
There is no one in the world exactly like you. Each experience you have had throughout your life (good or bad) has given you a unique perspective that no one else on the planet shares with you. Think of each day of your life like a puzzle piece, each one perfectly fits in with the others to form the overall picture that is you, though it may not seem like it in the moment.
You will only truly belong to a group when that group recognizes and appreciates what you are capable of, and when you fill a special role within that group that cannot be substituted by anyone else. This means that your unique personality, the things you are good at, and your mental, physical, and emotional presence serves the others of your group, and they likewise serve you. Finding the group that you fit into will require you to see what you can bring to the table and connect with those who will appreciate those particular qualities.
Being Socially Accepted Is Not Everything
Although the desire and pressure to fit in with a certain group may weigh heavily on you at times, it is not the only thing that will bring fulfillment to your life. In fact, as soon as you start looking for validation from others around you to bring you happiness, you immediately begin neglecting the happiness that you can, and must, create for yourself.
Emotionally strong individuals have a healthy sense of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-love. Notice, all those concepts begin with the word "self." This is because these vital tools that help us build our inner selves come from within. Putting your worth completely in the hands of others means you give them complete power over how you view yourself, which is dangerous because no one will care for you as you will care for yourself.
If you are trying to gain acceptance to achieve happiness, it is important to realize that type of happiness is temporary. As soon as the situation changes in any way, the happiness will fade. To have the long-lasting happiness that creates meaningful satisfaction in life, you must have a solid emotional foundation within yourself that only depends on how you see you, and not how others see you.
Your Tribe Will Come
Just because you do not fit into a certain group right now, it does not mean you are destined to be alone forever. In fact, the most meaningful social relationships are often the ones that develop without force. That is because when like-minded people come together, their energy flows naturally as everyone's emotional needs in the group are met.
If you feel like you need to change a part of yourself to fit in with the crowd, it is a clear sign you have not met the right group for you. Instead of focusing on being a part of a group just because it is easy, think about who you are when no one else is around. Does that person line up with the group, or who you are when you’re in the group? If not, it’s time to reevaluate and seek out a social group that is a better fit for you.
For example, if you like classical music, but everyone around you listens to pop music (and never seems to invite you on group outings to concerts), that is a sign you should start exploring the culture that speaks to you. Instead of trying to force your way into the pop music crowd just because they are already physically in your space, head to the next orchestra performance in your area. Allow yourself to create natural friendships based on something you care about. You may meet some folks you have something in common with.
The Numbers Do Not Matter
When it comes to social acceptance, quality is more important than quantity because the number of friends you have will never make up for having meaningful ties to others who accept you no matter who you are. Think of how often we see tragic stories of celebrities trying to cope with depression, anxiety, substance overuse, and so on. They are constantly surrounded by adoring fans, peers and acquaintances within their industry, and have an impressive social media following.
Despite being surrounded by people each day, they still feel pain and isolation. Simply having people around does not mean those relationships are made of the love and appreciation that matter when connecting with others. There is a certain attraction to the idea of being welcomed by a large group of people. In fact, we see the idea of popularity perpetuated in movies and sitcoms all the time. But the truth of the matter is, you will always get more fulfillment out of deeply connecting with just one or a few people, as opposed to having a dozen acquaintances who can hardly remember your last name or can’t explain who you are as a person and what matters to you.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking you do not have the right number of friends. After all, friendships are not things we collect, they are living, breathing figures we must care for, just as we would do with a child or a pet, and that type of commitment requires quality attention that is not always possible in a large group.
Social rejection is a painful experience whether it happens within our families, our careers, our friendships, or our community. Rather than thinking about it as something that proves there is something wrong with us, it is important to remember that it simply means we are trying to fit in somewhere that is not meant for us. Not belonging is not a bad thing either. It is simply a sign that we must keep seeking the place where we will thrive socially. Doing so takes time, effort, and, at times, loneliness, but that path is worth it. It not only results in us finding peers who understand and appreciate us, but it helps us to gain a better understanding and appreciation of ourselves, as well!
Sometimes social rejection has a reason. Unfortunately, certain physical or mental barriers prevent us from always being able to connect with those around us. However, we are lucky to live in a time when there is an opportunity for everyone to find a place where they are needed and valued. Instead of viewing social rejection as something that limits, remember that it presents an opportunity to find what we can contribute and discover more deeply who we are as individuals.
It allows us to build a healthy foundation of self-love. It lets us await the crowd we truly belong to. And, it helps us create quality social connections that will last, too. If social rejection has been a problem for you, reach out to the professionals at Betterhelp to change your life today. Our licensed counselors can help you assess and talk through your troubles, be they social rejection, social anxiety, loneliness and a desire to find those who understand you, or any other number of concerns.
Online therapy has been found to be just as effective overall as in-person therapy for many issues, including depression, social anxiety, physical health conditions, trauma, self-esteem issues, and many other conditions that can result in social isolation. In fact, one study explored the methods and results of 373 other studies conducted on the efficacy of internet-based therapy for all of these conditions (and more), and found it to not only be just as effective as traditional therapy, but also found an improved client-therapist alliance or relationship, greater client adherence to attending sessions and utilizing prescribed methods and tools, and a lower drop-out rate than those utilizing in-person therapy.
The efficacy and success of online therapy, as touched on in the aforementioned study, is owed to a multitude of factors. BetterHelp’s non-traditional nature allows it to be incredibly convenient and accessible, with sessions able to be held anytime, anywhere – including the comfort of your own home. Sessions can be conducted via phone call, video chat, live voice recordings sent back and forth, instant messaging/texting, or any combination thereof. Additionally, online therapy tends to be cheaper than in-person therapy, as you don’t have to commute to and from sessions, and our therapists don’t have to pay to rent out office space.
Continue reading below to find reviews of some of our board-certified and experienced therapists, from people seeking help with similar issues.
“Brett has been phenomenal in bringing me back up where I needed to be socially and mentally. I thought the world is against me for a while and slowly but surely I felt back in charge of my situation, and I used the methods he thought me to gain control of my life. I’m currently in the career path of Law Enforcement, and I would recommend anyone in this career field to use Brett!”
“Dr. Grumley is kind, compassionate, and understanding while still challenging my patterns in ways that help me to enact change. He provides incredible insights and applicable strategies for changing my behavior and creating more fulfilling relationships with others and myself. I feel so grateful to have found him through Better Help, because he totally gets me, and is extremely experienced in his field. He has a background both in counseling and spiritual leadership which is such a wonderful resource to have available. Find yourself a therapist who can do both!”
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