Overcoming Feeling Out of Place: Practical Tips

Did you know that whenever we’re rejected, excluded or ostracised, our brains register it in the same area as physical pain?

We all want to belong and be a part of a bigger tribe, whether it’s your friends, coworkers or family members. It makes us feel secure and happy, strengthening our overall well-being [1].

While feeling out of place occasionally is common, struggling with it long-term means that there’s an underlying issue, best addressed in CBT Therapy with an experienced professional. If left unchecked, it might lead to problems like anxiety, heightened stress, or self-sabotage.

In this article, we answer the question: “Why do I feel like an outsider?”, explain the causes of feeling different, and share practical tips and techniques on how to identify, process and overcome that issue.

Understanding the Roots of Feeling Different

You can identify feeling out of place in behaviours, such as:

  • relying on alcohol or drugs to help you socialise
  • conforming with your coworkers, family members or friends in hopes of connecting
  • feeling like others dislike you and think you’re a freak

Over time, that can make you feel small, negatively affecting your sense of self-worth, which is the primary focus in counselling for low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Remember that you’re not alone, and speaking with a therapist can help.

However, if you’ve always felt this way, it probably started due to:

Difficult Childhood

  • Our need to belong is particularly strong among children, overpowering the need for safety.
  • Experiencing abuse (including physical, sexual or emotional) or childhood neglect deprives you of that need.
  • It can result in developing an unhealthy belief that you are different, which hurts you in adulthood.

Let’s say that your parent (or primary caregiver) criticised and mocked you often.

At the time, you might’ve thought that you were a weirdo and it’s best not to bother anyone.

Yet, as an adult, you may feel out of place and struggle with authenticity.

Special Circumstances

Maybe some factors in your life made you stick out from the crowd and feel different, i.e.:

  • being in a cultural/religious/ethnic minority
  • coming out as LGBTQ+
  • being “the new kid on the block” due to moving often

How To Overcome Always Feeling Like an Outsider

Believing that you’re an odd one out only makes things worse, leading you to:

  • assume that no one likes you,
  • keep others at arm’s length,
  • distance yourself emotionally,
  • withdraw socially.

To overcome feeling different from others, try to:

  1. Acknowledge that you don’t play the main role in others’ lives; people are too busy to watch your every step.
  2. Focus on similarities instead of differences. Finding things in common with others will help you engage in conversations.
  3. Make an effort when talking – listen actively without interrupting, pay undivided attention and ask meaningful questions.
  4. Remember the importance of friendship on mental health, especially when feeling out of place. Talk to your support system about your struggles.

Strategies for Coping with Feeling Out of Place

Feeling different from others is a tough experience to navigate. But there are many things you can do when you feel out of place:

Check-in with Yourself to Identify Your Thoughts & Feelings

Focus Inward

Body

Notice any physical sensations, like:
- sweaty palms,
- shortened breath,
- areas of tension, etc.


Emotions

Are you anxious? Is it frustration? Or maybe sadness?

Try putting your feelings into words, as it'll help you address them better.

Thoughts

Get into a curious and non-judgmental headspace.

Remember that your thoughts aren't facts.


Read the Signs

Act as a detective who wants to learn more:

Let’s say you see a negative thought:

"Whenever I'm around them, I feel so out of place."

Then, reach deeper and ask yourself:
● Am I mistreated?
● Why do I feel so different?
● What triggered me?
● What do I need to feel better?


Tend to Your Needs

Tune into your needs to understand them better:

Maybe you wish to express how you feel through:
● venting to your friend
setting healthy boundaries with a person that hurt you
● journalling [2]

Perhaps connecting with your body could bring relief, i.e.:
mindfulness and meditation  practices, i.e.:
- body scan meditation
- box breathing
● working out

 

Why You May Feel Different from Others

If you tend to feel like an outsider, here are some reasons why to consider:

Toxic environment

Introversion

Low self-esteem

Check how you feel in different social contexts:

You might feel misunderstood because of your personality traits:

Do you have any unhealthy patterns that make you feel different?
If your partner, any of your friends, coworkers or family members ridicule you or treat you poorly, take action to distance yourself from them.

Is your calm and quiet attitude sometimes misinterpreted as poor social skills or disregard, making you feel like an outsider?

Self-criticism,  feeling not good enough, or comparing yourself to others can leave you feeling rejected, left out or inferior.

Techniques for Managing Overwhelming Feelings of Being Different

1.   Use Healthy Distractions:

Sometimes, when feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to redirect our attention.

Pay attention to how your activity of choice makes you feel afterwards:

  • Do you feel more at ease?
  • Are you left wanting more of your distraction?
  • Is the vision of facing reality scarier now?

Remember that there’s a difference between taking your mind off of your issue and numbing yourself. If it’s the latter, try switching it to a healthy alternative:

Watching Netflix, reorganising your closet or working out is all good, in moderation.

2.   Cultivate Unconditional Acceptance & Self-Compassion

Feeling like an outsider can lead you to emotionally overwhelming moments filled with shame, anxiety or self-loathing. That’s why it’s important to treat yourself with love and kindness.

Start with:

  • acknowledging your feelings non-judgmentally,
  • reflecting on all the positives in your life,
  • listing the qualities you like about yourself.

3.   Embrace Your Authentic Self

We truly feel like we belong when we practice authenticity and find others that align with our:

  • core values,
  • interests,
  • beliefs [3]

Aim to embrace vulnerability, open up and treat others with empathy, while staying loyal to yourself. Doing so counteracts loneliness and deepens your bond with others [4].

Get Professional Help With Therapy Central

If you struggle with feeling out of place, you don’t have to suffer alone.

With the professional guidance of a CBT therapist or a counsellor for low self-esteem and lack of confidence, you can identify the root cause, discuss painful emotions and replace harmful thoughts with healthy patterns.

Take the first step towards a more fulfilling life by contacting us for a 15-min consultation.

Further Reading

  1. Raising Low Self-esteem – NHS Self-Help Guide
  2. CBT Therapy in London & Online
  3. Counselling for Low Self-esteem & Lack of Confidence
  4. How To Stop Negative Thoughts From Entering Your Mind

References

[1] Moeller, R. W., Seehuus, M., & Peisch, V. (2020). Emotional intelligence, belongingness, and mental health in college students. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00093.

[2] Pennebaker, J. W. (2018). Expressive writing in psychological science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 226-229. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617707315

[3] Jetten J, Branscombe NR, Haslam SA, Haslam C, Cruwys T, et al. (2015). Having a lot of a good thing: Multiple important group memberships as a source of self-esteem. PLOS ONE, 10(5), e0124609. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0124609

[4]Cain, S. (2016, February 28). John Cacioppo: Loneliness is like an iceberg – it goes deeper than we can see. The Guardian.

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