When you feel like you don’t belong

Something that often comes up for introverts and sensitives is a feeling of not belonging.

I’ve noticed that this feeling of not belonging often comes up in higher stakes social situations, like conferences (whether for work or for pleasure) and parties.

I suspect that this feeling of not belonging is primarily triggered by feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed by the energy of all the different people in the room, as well as by the intensity of our own hopes and expectations about the event.

Not belonging is a kind of rejection

Of particular interest to me is that most sensitives (including me) will go through some kind of rejection process as part of dealing with their belonging issues.

Often this looks like telling ourselves, “I don’t belong here. There’s something wrong with me, I don’t fit in, I’m not as good as so-and-so at this, what was I even thinking to be here in the first place?”

But it can also look like this, “These people are horrible, what are they doing/thinking/saying that for? I can’t believe how [fill in the blank] they are being. I don’t have these problems, I don’t belong here, I’m better than they are.”

It’s a clear pattern of rejection.

In the first case, we reject ourselves.

In the second case, we reject “them.”

Rejection like this is a form of judging

Inherent in this way of thinking is judgment.

We’re either judging ourselves or judging other people.

And why?

I notice that I’m much more likely to get into this kind of pattern when I’m feeling insecure about something.

“Compare and despair”

(Martha Beck’s phrase)

It also feels a lot like comparison.

Remember what we say about comparison? Someone always loses.

I think the same thing goes for judging.

I lose when I judge, whether I’m judging myself, which is so painful, or when I’m judging someone else, because I rob myself of the opportunity to see someone as human, flawed, and imperfect, just like I am.

Judgment versus discernment

As a counterpoint to my own argument, I feel compelled to add that judgment can be a useful tool when applied as discernment. We can and should be discerning about how we invest our time, energy, and money in the world, and who we spend it with. It strikes me that judgment (at least the kind of judgment we’re talking about here) is healthy discernment run amok.

Judgment makes it personal. Discernment makes choices.

Connecting at the level of humanity

A few weeks ago, I talked about how looking from the outside in never gives us the full story about other people, so we need to be careful not to make assumptions about things like how successful other people are or not, what they really think or believe or feel about something, or what their businesses, habits, homes, or relationships are actually like.

I’ve also been observing how much pain and struggle so many of us are experiencing right now, and while I don’t like to focus on the struggle, it’s real and true.

At conferences and parties everyone tries so hard to “BE SOMEONE” they are not, it’s much more difficult to connect to the truth of their humanity, just like it’s harder to connect to our own humanity when we’re focused on the image of who we are trying to be.

The painful beauty of events like Hurricane Sandy is that they connect us together through the simple truth of being alive, something I remember all too well from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm.

When we can find that place of connection, by staying grounded and connected with our own bodies and looking to see the deeper souls through the eyes of the people around us, we are always safe, we always belong, and there is no need to judge.

Share your thoughts

I always love to hear what you think on the blog.




Coming Attractions

~> November 15th. Mark your calendar to join my free Writer’s Chat on Vokle.com. I’ll be sending registration details soon.

~> November 21st. Register by WEDNESDAY November 21st (a day early because of American Thanksgiving) for the next 4-week session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle (starts November 26th). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com


What I'm Up To

~> Ongoing. Working on rewriting my script, Progeny, with my mentor Chris Soth after finishing the ProSeries.* I’m currently editing “mini-movie 3” of my script before moving on to complete “mini-movie 4” and hit the midpoint of my script. I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve been making.

~> Sacred writing time. My schedule is in flux right now but I’m still writing.

~> Reading: How to Train Your Dragon and still bits of Eragon with my son. Loving Homeland, though now that I’ve caught up to the current season it’s taking waaaaayyyy too long between episodes. I’m making do by catching up on Big Love and Sports Night. I saw someone call Joss Whedon “your parents’ Aaron Sorkin” and I couldn’t agree more.


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  1. Dear Jenna

    I love this: Judgment makes it personal. Discernment makes choices.


  2. Hi Jenna,
    I just recently found your great website and this is my first received post. I can really relate to what you’re saying and it occurs to me that maybe, to come full circle, for me, judgement is the direct result of my own discernment overwhelmed. Thank you.

  3. Hi Jenna,

    I was told as a teenager, “Why can’t you be like so and so’s kids?” Parents and teachers have a unique way of making kids feel like they don’t measure up. Then we get out into the world and most everyone is pretending to be someone else and we end up measuring ourselves against people that don’t even exist.

    Life could be easy. We just make it difficult.

    Good post! G.

    • Dear Jenna
      I can so related with this topic. I have felt Like I do not belong most of my life. It is hitting home very hard right now. I am getting through this by KNOWING that “this to shall pass”. It is a difficult time for many and my humble advice is to not make any rash or major decisions at this point in time. Wait until the energy shift in December. Things will become more clear and you will have greater clarity. Do all you can to focus on yourself and learn or master the art of Loving Yourself, this is the only way to make the shift in energy more graceful and allows you time to get your head and heart in to a better place.

  4. Being a highly sensitive, is a very big lifelong challenge. After years of thinking I was just too sensitive
    not coping how others do, and suffering the consequences of attracting toxic people, it was a relief to find out my true personality type. My only wish now , is that I would have learned this many years ago. Instead of fighting so hard to be like others, acceptance of who I truly am would have been much less painful. Painful is an understatement as I have suffered so badly with intense feelings, that I was convinced there was something horribly wrong with me. Self esteem courses did not work, I had none, couldn’t find any, and had no idea why.
    Thankfully now I can back up, slow down, and say it’s okay to be me. It’s who I am and am now learning to work with the challenges of being highly sensitive.
    Currently this finds me in a work search, that is compatible with my hsp traits. I cannot retire yet, so even though I feel a ton of anxiety about the ability to earn money, I can only trust, and be patient.
    Blessings to all the wonderful sensitives empaths out there.
    We are needed in this world :)

    • Sharon, it’s such a relief to know, isn’t it? I think we all wish we’d known sooner, on some level. And yet sometimes I think we find out when it’s the right time, whenever that is, you know?

      Thanks for posting!

    • Teena Taylor says:

      Sharon, I just wanted to say you have taken the words right out of my mouth!! I found this website just a few hours ago, and am particularly interested by the links between HSP and writing, as this (the innate desire – perhaps even need – to write vs what feels like chronic “writer’s block”) is one issue I have struggled with for more years than I care to count!! I am in my late 40s, currently in the throes of separation (from a man who is the polar opposite of an HSP, utterly self-focused, and, I suspect, undiagnosed Asperger’s), caring for a beautiful but demanding 6-year-old on my own, feeling utterly overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted. After being under immense stress for so long (including struggling with years of infertility before finally having my daughter, then having to relocate her and myself from the US to Australia), I now find myself sinking into bouts of deep depression. I won’t pretend I have never felt depressed before in my life, but not like this, not this deep & overwhelming. This article struck a nerve because personally, I seem to swing between a sense of “belonging” and “not belonging” in all sorts of group situations, but have only recently come to understand how much of my energy I ‘give away’ in order to “belong”. Does that make sense? Perhaps because of this I have found that while dealing with the end of my marriage comes with a heavy load of stress and grief, a huge amount of my grieving seems to be around other relationships in my life. I have never had big problems making friends, but now I am in real crisis and feeling very, very alone, I am finding that few of these people are there for me. Very few. In fact, a large number of people I truly believed would support me in a crisis (including most of my family) have created even more stress and pain for me in one way or another, overtly or covertly or both. Getting back to your post Sharon, you mentioned: “the consequences of attracting toxic people”. While I believe there are two people in every marriage, in every relationship, and I am not suggesting I don’t have my own issues, I think a huge amount of the grief I am dealing with around these relationships is because there is a certain ‘toxicity’ involved, connected with my own sensitivity, my inability to channel it in a healthy/creative way, and my denial of it (this has always felt a necessary way of protecting myself ‘out in the world’). In writing this post I have also made a connection with my “writer’s block”. I think a lot of what I want to write is quite personal, and I feel so vulnerable and so in need of protecting myself (because I find so many people in my world judgmental, critical, insensitive, and simply lacking in depth of understanding), I think I am a bit terrified of expressing myself in such a public way (although I feel a strong need)!! Not sure how much sense all of this makes, but thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read it. Teena

  5. Teena,

    Thank you for having the courage to post and to share your story with us. I’ve been through a recent phase of difficulty, grief, and struggle myself, and I can very much empathize. Having children is a wonderful and challenging gift all by itself, and then throwing anything else into the mix can feel so overwhelming. I hope now that you’ve clearly seen who ISN’T there for you, that you see the space to begin welcoming in people who can be. As I’ve emerged from my own struggles, I’ve made a point to find ways to support other people in need as much as I can. It’s been a powerful experience.

    As far as writing goes, that issue comes up for many writers. I hope you will give yourself a chance to write the “rough draft” version of your thoughts without censoring. You can always edit later, but you may well find that you don’t need to. Often it’s just the fear that stops us, but it doesn’t have much basis in reality. On the other hand, each of us has our right audience, and someone isn’t going to like what we do. Learning to be okay with that is another one of those challenging life lessons, particularly for those of us who are also sensitives.

    Thanks for commenting!

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