We all crave a sense of belonging in life.
It’s why we join certain groups, choose certain friends, and pursue certain hobbies — we all want to feel like we have a tribe of people who accept us.
Life gets lonely and depressing when you’re feeling like you don’t belong. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan showed that lack of belonging was the single biggest predictor of depression among various psychological factors.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have or how often you see them. If you don’t feel a sense of belonging, social support won’t cover up what you’re really feeling.
There’s a variety of reasons why you may be feeling like you don’t belong, so in this article we’ll be taking a look at some of those factors and how you can overcome them.
What Does It Mean To Feel Like You Belong?
How do we know that we belong?
Belonging isn’t something that’s quantifiable by numbers or statistics, it’s just a general gut feeling that we have.
Belonging is about feeling accepted and valued by the people, groups, and organizations that you associate yourself with.
Feeling like you belong is akin to feeling like you’re connected to the world around you, and that connection can be a product of many things:
- You may have a solid group of friends that love and accept you for who you are.
- You may have a weekly fitness class where you’ve developed good relationships
- You may feel like you belong when you’re at work because people respect you and you’re regularly engaging with co-workers
- You may feel a strong connection to a volunteer organization that you work for every weekend
But belonging goes deeper than just racking up friends and connections, having a true sense of belonging comes when you feel comfortable being yourself.
If you feel that the groups you associate with allow you to be your authentic self, then that’s a good sign that you’re in the right place.
It’s these kinds of connections that make life more enjoyable. They produce better relationships, a greater sense of well-being, and longer, healthier lives.
What Does It Mean To Feel Like You Don’t Belong?
Generally, when you’re feeling like you don’t belong it means that you don’t have a strong social support system.
Your social circle is likely limited to a select few people. It probably feels difficult for you to form deep personal connections with people outside this circle.
As mentioned earlier though, belonging isn’t just about checking the boxes. If you have quite a few friends, but don’t feel like any of them understand you, then that’s just as damaging as not having very many in the first place.
You may also be going through an identity crisis because the groups and communities you’re part of don’t really align with your values.
Generally, here’s what your internal dialogue will sound like if you’re feeling like you don’t belong:
- Why don’t people understand me?
- I wish I had more rich and fulfilling social life
- I wish more people knew the real me
- I’m not sure if I’m spending time in the right places or with the right people
All of these feelings point to a lack of acceptance and connection, which is the crux of what it means to lack belonging.
6 Reasons Why You’re Feeling Like You Don’t Belong
Now that we’ve highlighted what it means to belong and what it means to lack belonging, let’s get to the heart of the matter and talk about some root causes.
Your outcomes in life are a product of your choices. If you’re feeling like you don’t belong, it’s because you’re making certain choices.
100% accountability is step one to fixing anything. The fact that you don’t feel like you belong right doesn’t mean that this feeling is going to be a permanent one.
If you have the courage to look in the mirror and analyze how you’re contributing to the problem, then you’re capable of finding the solution.
So with that being said, here are some common reasons why you’re feeling like you don’t belong, along with some actionable tips for addressing these causes.
#1: Your Friends Don’t Share Your Values
If you feel a lack of belonging even though you’re fairly connected socially, it’s possible that you may need to find some new friends.
The reason why spending time with people who aren’t really your tribe is so detrimental is because you naturally adopt some of their traits and values.
We have a deep-seated desire to feel accepted that stretches back as far as thousands of years ago — our need for approval is a hard-wired survival instinct.
Unconsciously, our worldview and values are molded by the people we spend time with because our brain believes it’s the best chance we have at survival.
If your friends want to go out and drink all the time and you tag along even though you’d much rather be doing something productive, start forming bonds with people who’d prefer that too.
If you’re wildly ambitious but everyone else in your friend group seems content with being average, then you need to find some people that are two steps ahead of you and spend more time with them.
Sometimes all you need to do is switch up who you’re spending time with in order to achieve the sense of belonging that you’re looking for.
#2: You’re Stuck Inside
If you’re feeling like you don’t belong, ask yourself this question —How much time have I spent away from my home in the past week?
Personally, this used to be my biggest crutch.
Like everybody, I craved acceptance and belonging, but too often my efforts didn’t match my ambition. It was easier to sit in my apartment than make the effort to go outside and explore new opportunities.
It wasn’t that I liked this lifestyle, it’s just that this lifestyle offered the path of least resistance.
My desire to stay inside and be comfortable was more powerful than my desire to get out of my comfort zone and live a more exciting life.
You’ve gotta shake some things up when you’re feeling like you don’t belong. The sense of belonging you’re looking for is found out in the world, not while you’re sitting on your couch binge-watching Netflix.
Start going outside and exploring what the world has to offer. Start getting out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to new people, new places, and new situations.
Here’s a few suggestions for everyday opportunities to get out of the house and improve your social connection at the same time:
- Start taking short walks outside – If your social skills need work, this is a perfect opportunity to practice conversing with strangers.
- Think about a new hobby that you’ve been meaning to take up and join a group that practices this hobby.
- Grab a coffee or get lunch with a friend – This is the type of simple, low-stress interaction that improves relationships and gets you comfortable initiating plans.
- Try group exercise – If you want to get some cardio in or start practicing yoga, find a group of people with the same goal. It’s a great way to expand your social circle and spend time with people who share your passions and interests.
#3: Technology Is Fucking You Up
The advancement of technology comes with a price, and that price is that we’re more socially isolated than ever. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, psychologists were concerned about the rising levels of loneliness, particularly in young adults.
Researchers at Making Caring Common, a project led by the Harvard Graduate school of education, recently found that 36% of their 950 survey participants reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time.”
What’s more troubling is that this number jumped to 61% in young adults aged 18-25. This starts to make more sense when you account for which age group is spending the most time online.
According to an article from the Pew Research Center, 48% of people between the ages of 18-29 reported being online constantly. The next closest was people between the ages of 30-49 — in this age group, 42% of people reported being online constantly.
The data shows that despite the fact we’re supposed to be more connected than ever before, the percentage of people who feel lonely continues to rise.
And while it’s difficult to pinpoint one exact cause, technology certainly plays a role. We live in a world where it’s easy to exchange in-person connection for virtual connection. We live in a world where our favorite shows and movies are accessible with the click of a button.
Maybe the reason you’re feeling like you don’t belong is because technology is offering you the path of least resistance, and you’re taking it.
Personally, these are some of the bad habits that I’ve been working to remove from my life in order to feel more connected to the outside world.
- Tip #1: Don’t Look At Your Phone Until Noon Every Day – As a full-time blogger, this is one of the jobs that allows me this freedom. Many of you have jobs that make this impossible, so my best advice is to simply put off looking at your phone for as long as your schedule will allow.
- Tip #2: Stop The Late-Night Binging – Set yourself a deadline for screen time each night depending on your schedule. Personally, my rule is to shut off all screens one hour before bed. I’ve been finding that I get to sleep earlier and also that my energy levels are significantly higher in the morning.
- Tip #3: The Friday/Saturday Rule – This is a personal rule that I created, so feel free to steal it if it resonates with you. Essentially, the rule gives me one weekend night for technology and the other with friends. I’m allowed to spend Friday night curled up watching Netflix as long as I spend Saturday night out of the house. If I do something with friends on Friday, then I’ve earned a night-in on Saturday writing blog posts, playing video games, or watching movies.
#4: You Aren’t Being Real With People
Another potential reason why you may be feeling like you don’t belong is because you aren’t expressing who you really are.
Our true thoughts and emotions often stay hidden under the image we’re trying to maintain.
We don’t want to rock the boat or upset people. We don’t want to appear vulnerable because we feel like we’ll be exposing ourselves or showing weakness.
If these behaviors compound over time, it means that the people in your life will never know the real you, only the version that you act out to gain approval.
If you want to achieve a sense of belonging, you’ve gotta be the real you no matter how difficult it is.
You’ve gotta have the tough, honest conversations with the people closest to you. You’ve gotta be the one to call people out when they’re doing something that you don’t agree with. You’ve gotta say things you actually believe instead of going along with the majority.
These are tough decisions to make, but you’ve gotta make them. To do anything else is to betray who you really are.
If you have the courage to do that, you’ll find your real tribe. You may push away some people in the short-term, but in the long-term it will feel 10x better to be accepted for the person you really are.
#5: Your Social Skills Need Work
This might come as a slap in the face to some of you reading this, but it’s possible the reason that you don’t feel like you belong is because your social skills aren’t giving people a reason to stay in your life.
The bottom line is that it’s easier for people to connect with those who are socially engaging.
We love talking to people who are funny and make us laugh. We’re more present when we talk to people who have tons of interesting stories and life experiences. We like to be around people who radiate confidence and charisma.
Because deep down, most of us want to be like those people. These traits are rewarded with positive social feedback, which in turn makes it easier for these people to make connections with others.
If this resonates with you, just know that I used to be that guy too — not the outgoing social butterfly, but the person who was socially inept.
Eventually though, that feeling did pass. Through lots of private work on my social skills and confidence, I became a better conversationalist and established more connections in my life.
If you’re feeling like you don’t belong, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror and start that same process. Maybe you need to change before your outcomes change.
If you have a suspicion that your lack of social skills play a big role in your lack of belonging, here are some daily actions that helped me address this problem.
- Start by just going outside and walking every day. The more you get outside, the more opportunities you have to meet new people.
- Start giving out compliments and saying hello. Get comfortable projecting a warm and friendly vibe. Compliment that person on how cute their dog is or the flashy outfit they’re wearing.
- Start having conversations. Usually, giving out compliments is a perfect segway into a normal conversation where you’re introducing yourself and bantering back and forth.
- Get the reps in. As with anything in life, you get better with practice. You’ll find that as you talk to more people, you’ll get better at having engaging conversations, and people will be more drawn to you as a result.
#6: You’re Saying No Too Much
It’s amazing how many opportunities we let pass us by throughout our lives because of one word, the word “no.”
There are times when it’s necessary to say no.
You should say no when a group of people ask you to do something that goes against your values. You should say no if you’re offered a job that you know deep down you’re gonna hate 6-12 months from now.
But too often we use the word no out of fear. If you’re feeling like you don’t belong, then you need to stop refusing opportunities because you’re afraid of the unknown.
The exposure to new things is crucial to figuring out where you belong. It’s entirely possible that the current beliefs you have about yourself are completely false because you’ve never challenged them.
You may be labeling yourself as an introvert because it’s a convenient story that explains why you don’t have the social life you want.
You may be telling yourself things like, “I’m not really into books” even though the last time you picked one up was in college.
In order to attain a sense of belonging in your life, start the process of reinventing yourself — you’ve gotta start challenging your current beliefs by saying yes more often.
Be open to new experiences and seek them out, because you may start to gain insight that fundamentally changes who you believe yourself to be.
Actionable Tip – Twice per week, say “yes” to one event or activity that you’d usually refuse.
Final Thoughts On Feeling Like You Don’t Belong
We all want to feel like we have a place in the world, and the struggles in life are essential to finding this place.
Feeling like you don’t belong is only temporary. It’s an unpleasant feeling, but it’s one that can be used to inform you of the areas of your life that you need to improve.
Regardless of where you are now, you can create a better future. You can choose to work on your social skills, explore new opportunities, and choose friends whose values align with your own.
If you have the courage to make these choices day after day, you’ll eventually find the sense of belonging that you’re looking for.