It’s so hard to feel like you don’t belong anywhere.
You may be overwhelmed by feelings of dejection and isolation, believing you are alone in this world.
This feeling is natural, and even though you may not realize it, you are not alone in experiencing a sense of disaffection with the world.
When you wonder, “Where do I belong?” and can’t figure out your place and people, it is deeply painful — but don’t give up.
There are ways out of this quagmire that can bring you back to feeling accepted and loved.
You might want to start by understanding the reasons why you feel separated and alone.
Our list of 11 points clarifies why you feel dejected and how you can get back to a sense of belonging.
What Does It Feel Like to Belong?
Remember when you were a kid, and you were included in a particular group or picked early for a team sport? Or think about how you felt when your family and extended family gathered together for a holiday or celebration.
You felt connected to others in a way that reinforced your self-worth and sense of being part of a tribe of people who cared about you.
How does it make you feel when you know you are loved, accepted for who you are, and respected by others? It makes most of us feel grounded and safe.
Most people want to belong to a group or community, whether with family, work or play. But even belonging to just one other individual can satisfy your need.
Do Humans Need a Sense of Belonging?
Of course, you need to feel loved and connected to others. How do we know? Because the need for a sense of belonging is shared across all cultures and societies around the world.
The desire to belong isn’t based on gender, culture, or politics. It’s grounded in your identity and even in your biology.
Humans are naturally social. In early cultures, social bonds were essential for survival. The group worked together to find food, care for their young, and protect themselves from predators.
Being cast out of the group was a death sentence, so the need for belonging reflects the biological need for survival.
People today have fears of being cast out, but for different reasons. They expect validation from others and want to enjoy shared experiences to ward off loneliness, leading to depression and even early death.
When people have positive human relationships, families, communities, and countries are better, and survival of the human race is assured.
I Feel Like I Don’t Belong Anywhere: 11 Reasons You’re Feeling Alienated
There are several reasons you may feel alienated from society, your family, acquaintances, or your significant other.
These reasons may relate to mental or physical health challenges and social, job-related, or family-related issues. Take a look at the following possible causes to see if you find one that resonates with your situation.
1. Mental Health Challenges
Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can make you feel disconnected from the world around you. Of course, you have little control over these challenges, but you still feel “othered” as a result.
Social anxiety, which causes extreme fear in social settings, can make the sufferer feel as though they might be judged or criticized by others. As a result, they isolate themselves and avoid social interactions.
Fortunately, these mental health issues can be treated with therapy and medication. Over time, you can feel safe developing social connections to build a sense of belonging.
2. Confusion about Your Sexual Identity
If you are still sorting out your sexual orientation, it can seem you don’t fit in anywhere. You don’t relate to a heteronormative lifestyle, but you also don’t know exactly who you are or what you want in a sexual relationship.
This confusion is made more profound if you don’t have the freedom to explore or live in an environment where others might shame or reject you.
3. Experiencing an Existential Crisis
With everything going on in this messed-up world, it’s no wonder that many people feel that life has no meaning. You may discover that all of the old systems and cultural frameworks that once guided you now are no longer relevant.
An existential crisis makes you feel separated and alone. The rung has been pulled out from under you, and your flailing without a sense of direction.
Your friends and family may continue to move forward as they always have, leaving you feeling like you don’t belong with them or anywhere.
4. A Sense of Powerlessness
Powerlessness makes you feel you have no control over your actions or life. You do what others expect of you in your job or family life, but maybe people have started to take you for granted. You don’t speak up for yourself because you fear rejection or getting fired.
Life feels hopeless when you have no control over your choices or decisions and fear being cast out and unappreciated. You feel alone and separated even with people around you because they don’t value you.
5. Changing Environments
Starting over and finding new social networks can make you feel disconnected from other people. If you move to another town or change schools or jobs, you can feel like an outsider until you develop new relationships.
You will need to make an effort to put yourself out there and interact with people you don’t know. Once you do, your confidence improves, and your social circle will grow.
6. Meaninglessness at Work
Alienation at work may not relate to your coworkers at all. You can experience a disconnection because of a lack of meaning or purpose in your job. When you don’t feel satisfied with your work, it’s harder to feel connected to those who work with you.
You can remedy this by finding a job you enjoy, and that feels purposeful. Changing careers isn’t always possible, so try to find a fulfilling hobby and join groups that give meaning to your actions.
7. Teenage Pressures
Teenagers are especially prone to alienation and fearing they don’t belong. During this developmental phase of life, young people are keenly aware of what their peers think of them. Being a loner or isolated in some way can cause lifelong issues for an adolescent.
The main reasons teenagers experience a lack of belonging include:
- Victimization by peers or bullies;
- A change in their environment that impacts their comfort zone;
- Finding new interests that aren’t popular with other teenagers;
- Changing attitudes and activities because they are maturing;
- Being different in some way outside of peer norms.
These are perfectly understandable reasons to feel alienated and usually pass with time. The teen may need help if there are other symptoms such as depression, personality disorders, or phobias.
8. Shifting Values
For years, you may have had a group of friends who were your tribe. You felt connected to them through school, your children, or your job.
But over time, you evolved into a different person. Your values shifted, or theirs did. Whatever the reason, you no longer feel like they are your people. You find yourself making excuses not to attend social gatherings, or they begin to stop inviting you.
This in-between time can leave you feeling so alone. Your friend group is moving on, but you haven’t found a tribe aligned with your values and who you are now.
9. Alienation by a Parent or Adult Child
Parents can trigger feelings of alienation in their children by not being accessible or present enough to foster a sense of belonging.
Being absent most of the time or not showing any interest in family life is damaging to children who believe they aren’t worthy of their parent’s time and attention.
Alienation of a child in this way isn’t much different from physical and mental abuse, which can have dire consequences.
Young adult children can pull away from their parents and create estrangement devastating to a mom or dad whose life is centered around family. If your identity is bound up in being a parent, this rejection feels like you don’t belong anywhere.
Some fundamentalist or strident religious communities use shame or the threat of ex-communication to ensure that members don’t stray from the religious dogma.
However, you may adopt new beliefs over time or have values that differ from what was once an important social network for you. Leaving that network can be traumatizing and painful, whether by choice or force.
Many former members of religious communities suffer for years with feelings of not belonging because their former religious friends were their family.
It’s essential to develop a strong trust in your values and principles and realize that you will find people who support your beliefs and respect your right to live as you wish.
11. Social Media and FOMO
Information technology has brought people together worldwide, allowing them to connect in ways that were unheard of just a few generations ago.
However, social media has become a platform for “cancel culture,” where someone can shame and isolate others, making them feel they don’t belong.
It also has fostered new anxiety, the fear of missing out (FOMO). As people observe the seemingly fabulous lives of others, they can feel profoundly disconnected and unworthy. Without face-to-face interactions and communication, our social muscle begins to atrophy.
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What to Do When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong?
If any of these reasons jumped out as the cause of your sense of not belonging, it’s time to take action.
The first step may take some effort, but it will be well worth it. You have a better chance of being accepted and loved if you address your feelings and work through them.
Here are a few things that will help:
- If you have social anxiety or another mental health condition, find a reputable counselor and treat the problem. You can’t move forward if mental illness is holding you back.
- Write down your values, interests, and what you’re looking for in a friend, partner, or social group. Knowing what you want in relationships is the starting point in finding the people who can be your tribe.
- Put yourself out there, even if you’re uncomfortable or anxious. Join meet-ups or events where you’re likely to find people who share your interests and values. If you find one like-minded person, it may open the door to many new connections.
- Make a point to show interest in others’ feelings and activities. If they open up to you, listen carefully and ask questions that show your interest. You will be surprised how quickly this opens people to accept you.
- When you don’t agree with someone, it doesn’t mean you have to change. You can honor your beliefs and boundaries without others rejecting you. If they do, they aren’t your people. Be true to yourself, and your people will be attracted to you.
What to Say to Someone Who Feels Like They Don’t Belong?
When you see someone in distress, it’s natural to want to help. Helping others feel they belong improves the group or community for the greater good.
You may wonder what you can do to make this person feel better. Here are a few things that may help. They may not all apply to every situation, but one or two will:
- Let the person know you accept them as they are, and they don’t have to change their personality or character to please others.
- Remind them to be open to meeting new people. Include them in your social schedule as often as you can so they feel like you care about them and their well-being.
- If they seem depressed or deeply distressed, gently let them know what you’re observing and offer to help them find a support person.
- Point out that feeling alienated at certain times of your life is more common than they may think. It will pass, especially if they make an effort to find their group.
If you’re still wondering, “Why do I always feel like I don’t belong?” it may be time to get help from a personal coach or counselor to gain more insight into your specific situation.
It may take some time, but be relentless in your efforts. You will find your people and feel that sense of belonging you crave.