What To Do When You Feel Left Out

Happy Wednesday Lovely,

Yesterday, I had lunch with a mentor of mine.  Over a salmon and brown rice bento box, she began asking me questions about my childhood.

At first, I gave her my usual spiel.  My parents got divorced when I was five.  There was addiction and depression in my family.  I don’t remember too much during that time, but it must have shaped the painful way I’ve experienced many relationships.  I fear abandonment and thus, resist intimacy.  

It’s all the inner child stuff that I’ve looked at so many times before.  Sometimes, when I’m talking about it, I feel really bored with myself.  I just don’t want tell the same, tired story anymore. But when I’m honest, as I was yesterday with my friend, I can admit that I just so desperately want to be fully over these wounds.  

I want my happily ever after and I don’t understand why I can’t snap my fingers and just be there.

My mentor reminded me that logically understanding pain is one thing.  Emotionally processing it is a fair harder process that can take a lifetime.  I thanked her for the reminder and walked out into the sunshine of the day.  I felt like my strong self, the one who is ready to meet challenges with ever-renewing resiliency.

Then, I went home to get ready for a video meeting with a group of dear women from my integral community.  We had reached a transition point in our work together and needed a phone call to decide on our next steps.  I had the call in my calendar for 2:30pm and rushed around to walk Poncho so I could be there on time.

But when I signed on to say and said “hello,” everyone was already signing off.   I sat there confused as they told me that call had started at 1:30pm.  My lovely friend Maria said she could hang out for a few more minutes and tell me what had happened.

As she gave me the round-up, I started fighting back tears.  How could I have gotten the call time wrong?  I was so looking forward to it.  And why was I so upset?    

Maria stayed with me as I cried for a while and tried to explain what I was feeling.  Yes, I am pregnant and hormonal and probably still doing too much, but it felt deeper than that.  But I couldn’t quite name it.

After we ended the call, I realized what it was.  I felt excluded.  I felt left out.  I felt abandoned.  Did they really want to exclude me?  Not at all.  I was the one who was late.  But did I still feel that way?  Yes I did, with ever fiber of my being.

This morning, my abandonment feelings got worse.  I woke up with so many of my deepest fears right at the surface of my brain.  I thought of all the times I’d been left out in my life.  It started with my dad leaving when I was four and continued through my awkward adolescence.  I played by myself often on the elementary school playground.  I had friends tell me they were done with me.  I spend two weeks at summer camp hiding from the other girls who didn’t like me.

This is why, when I finally found a solid friend group in high school, I clung to them so tightly. This is why, when I enter into a new situation, I immediately put on a big smile and try to meet people right away. This is why, although being alone recharges me, it still scares me so much.

So many of my clients talk to me about feeling left out.  Sometimes they are exhausting themselves by trying to live up to the expectations of their cooler older sister.  Other times, they can’t shake the feeling of sadness they get when they overheard the neighborhood mothers group got together without them.

Feeling included is a deep human need.  As Brene Brown explains in her shame resiliency research, when people talk about belonging they almost always say the word “love” in the same sentence.   For our survival, belonging to other people has been essential.  It’s linked in our brains as a feeling of love and, as almost all of us can attest, we desperately crave more love in our lives.

The pain of exclusion isn’t logically at all.   Even though now we will not die if we are left out of a friend’s get-together, a part of us still believes that we will.  The more we try to justify our feelings away, the worst they probably get.

What helps the most in these situations is to practice gentleness.  This morning, as I rolled out my yoga mat for a few sun salutations, I reminded myself that all of us feel excluded sometimes.  No matter how hard I try to stay on top of my social groups, I won’t be able to be present all the time.  Sometimes I miss calls.  Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to show up.

Also, I have to remember that I have also excluded many people along the way.  Throughout my life, in my efforts to stay safe at the social center, I have consciously let others drift to the outskirts.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.  This is why I am always work hard to create a spirit of inclusion among the women in my self-care groups.  I can’t erase the past but I can live differently right now.

Humbled by this, I reminded myself that the friends that matter most are the ones who have stuck with me through life’s awkward moments.  I have dear friends that I have struggled with for years -- feeling abandoned sometimes and other times realizing I am abandoning them.  If the friendship is strong, we can roll with these bumps in the road.  If it’s not, it could break apart at some point and that may be the best thing for us both.

Finally, I remembered the essential truth that although everyone else in my life may leave me, I am the only one who can truly abandon myself.  Yes, I am a completely imperfect person who can act carelessly in relationships.  And yet, I still deserve my own love and self-respect.  I am allowed to learn from these moments and forgive myself along the way.

Are wondering if these feelings have anything to do with my boring inner child issues?  Of course they do.  Yesterday was a great reminded to always remember where I came from, so I can better navigate the present day I am living.

So my hope for each of you -- you who desperately wishes to erase the past and all its boring, hurt stories -- is to hold tight to them instead.  If you stay aware of the essential places you have been wounded, you will understand what is happening in your present.  

My philosophy is that the hard things in life aren’t meant to further hurt you, but rather to give you a new opportunity to understand, to build compassion and ultimately, to heal. We can’t change what happened to us in the past.  But we can choose to respond differently in the present.

After I rolled up my yoga mat, I took Poncho outside for our morning walk.  The humidity had broken in the night and the cool breeze felt so good as we walked around the block.  I began plotting out this post in my head and felt heartened that perhaps there were others out there that also needed a little extra reassurance that they belonged.

Coming home, I showered, savored my oatmeal and stepped out into the day.  Once again, I felt like my strong self with ever-renewing resiliency.  But this time I realized my strength doesn’t come from getting over anything or solving myself as a problem.  

Rather I felt strong because I further trusted that no matter what comes up, I can truly take care of myself within it.