Following the increased bullying-related deaths and accidents, I’ve been thinking alot lately about how people struggle to fit in. And this need to belong and connect isn’t just a challenge for teenagers. Adults also struggle to fit in; in ways that are sometimes subtle, sometimes overt but equally damaging to the psyche.
In life, we all want validation, love and acceptance. You never want to feel like an outcast. Unfortunately, life is a never-ending series of popularity contests. The funny thing is, most people will tell you, ‘well I am not interested in fitting in, I don’t really care about all that jazz’ but trust me, a part of you does. Wanting a connection with another human being or group of people is basic human nature. It’s like wanting to breath, eat or sleep. If you’re truly, completely, 100% satisfied being on your own 24/7 without human contact or interaction, then you have a problem. Wanting to fit in is natural and acceptable. It’s what we do to fit in that can be problematic. And it’s what others do to prevent us from fitting in that can also be damaging.
I’m an outsider – I’m also popular. It’s hard to imagine how the two coexists. It’s the same way people think I’m an extrovert, when I’m a bonafide introvert. From the external looking in, I may come across as outgoing, on the inside, I really just want to be by myself. For me human interactions are difficult and tedious and I feel like I can never get it. But I’ve learnt to tackle it the same way I learnt to tackle French, Technical Skills and Advanced Math – with effort. It doesn’t come easy, and I usually fail. I have to make an effort to call people and chat. I have to make an effort to laugh, joke and smile when I’m out with a group of people. It’s a farce I perpetuate well on occasion and I fail at other times. And it is the occasions when you fail that people think you’re either a snob, weird, moody, or anti-social. And they don’t know how hard it is for you to even be there. I skipped out on a party Saturday night because I had spent a considerable part of the day being around people and my people energy was spent. Another four hours at a party would have left me stressed, unhappy or irritated. I would reach my limit in an hour and then where can I escape to, the bathroom? So I stayed in – as always.
So after 31 years or so of struggling with fitting in, I’d like to share some lessons learnt. I don’t claim to have figured the game out. I probably never will. I want to share it – for those who struggle to connect with others, for those who want to fit in but can’t seem to and for people around them who don’t get it.
1. Love yourself above all else
I don’t mean be egotistical and I don’t mean see yourself as flawless. I mean have a deep sense of conviction that you’re a great person. You need to be very very confident about who you are, and how special you are. It took a while for me to learn this, but now I separate who I truly am, from the physical me. I know I am a good person, I know I am smart, and I know I am talented. Do I hate other bits of me, heck yeah! The difference is the bits I hate are superficial, and the bits I like no one can ever take them away from me. You need to have this basic love of self before you can interact with people. If I dislike myself in anyway, I’m sure people can’t see it because I have this deep confidence in who I really am. I am blessed and I don’t doubt that. And for anyone struggling to connect, you need that conviction. People cannot appreciate and love you if you don’t appreciate and love yourself. It’s a basic first principle.
2. Don’t actively seek appreciation and love
I said earlier that human beings want love and validation. We do, but don’t actively go chasing it. There is a saying that human beings seek love and appreciation more than we seek bread, aka food. I can believe that. We do crazy, stupid things for love and acceptance. We let it define us. I’ve been down that road when all I wanted was for a particular person to love and appreciate me. To be loved by many doesn’t make you any more special than someone who is loved by one. We constantly want people to show they appreciate us, appreciate our presence and participation in their lives. And when we don’t get it, we feel bitter and irritate that we’re not getting back what we’re giving. Maybe you’re giving too much and expecting too much. The danger is when you’re desperate for appreciation and love, you may manipulate people to get it and you may do things you know you shouldn’t. What comes next is your interactions are insincere and painful. You say and do things just to get a reaction or to get someone to love you or include you. In Loving What Is, bestselling author Byron Katie advices people to examine everything they do to gain love and approval. In doing this, you discover how to find genuine love and connection. I think it’s solid advice that everyone should think about. What are you doing to gain someone’s or a group’s attention, approval or love. What are we doing just to get noticed? And I think an exercise like that requires deep reflection or you’ll never figure it out.
3. Be confident and secure in your relationships
There are some people I don’t talk to everyday but I love them, and I know they love me. I have their backs and I know they got mine. If you’re not confident someone cares about you and you’re trying hard to stay on their radar and win their affections, don’t. And if you truly know someone cares about you, be secure in that knowledge and don’t keep seeking confirmation or validation. It’s like with family. I don’t talk to my little brother everyday but I love him to death and he loves me and will be there for me when it counts. I apply the same logic to close friends. I don’t need you to call me everyday to know you care, or to show I care. Most often, people constantly want to be told how special they are to us. Everyone wants to feel needed. Don’t go down that path of serious neediness. I know when you love someone you should show it, agreed. However, people who struggle to fit in often need this validation on a regular basis which can be a challenge for those around them. I think this part is really important for maintaining healthy relationships. It’s two things here: 1. if you know deep down the person really cares about you, don’t force them to show it everyday, don’t pressure them to prove it, don’t guilt them into expressing their feelings 2. if you’re not sure the person loves you or cares about you, either ask or stop worrying about it. But I think after just a few months, you can figure out who really cares about you and who you can rely on. If you’re questioning their feelings for you after years, then you should be questioning yourself more than them.
4. Be around people you connect with, on a deeper level
If all of us were to analyze all our current relationships and friendships, we’d realize there may be some groups and people you associate with that just aren’t like you. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, but they’re just not people you connect with. So why try harder? My principle is you can maintain groups of friendships for different reasons – the party group, the work group, the family group, the inspirational group and the bare my heart and soul to group. It’s okay to have different groups that accomplish different needs but you need a core group that you can connect with on your level. You need to be with your peers – and I’m not referring to education or age peers – I mean mental and spiritual peers. Mental and spiritual peers don’t have to be exactly like you, but their thought processes and outlook on life need to mirror yours. You can spend weeks and months hanging out with your social or party peers and still go to bed lonely and dissatisfied. I think it’s because you need to feed your mind and soul too, and not just through church. You need people who understand you, who think like you and who have a similar belief system. You need people who inspire you to be greater, and not people who inspire you to go buy the next bag or shoes. The challenge with maintaining a healthy, mental and spiritual relationship with others is honesty. It’s a tough lesson I’ve learnt. We sometimes classify a group of people as our closest friends, our peers, our solace, but we’re not fully open and honest with them. It doesn’t mean lay your soul bare, but people cannot be there for you, cannot guide you through issues if they don’t really know you. I have a couple of people I’d regard as mental peers or close friends, people who inspire me to be better, people I can really talk to; but all the same something holds me back. Maybe it’s based on years of betrayal, on my part and others, but I can’t seem to share what matters. It’s a gradual process and we just need to pray to God to lead us to people we can build such relationships with.
5. Stay true to yourself
Bottom line, don’t try hard to be someone else or something else in order to fit in. I have finally reached a point where if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it. If I don’t want to go to a party, I won’t. I see so many people struggle with this, and it’s a little mind-boggling to me. I see people moan and groan – I don’t want to go, I don’t want to do this, it’s too far, I’m only going to get upset, nobody likes me there, I’ll have no one to talk to, I’m tired, etc – and still go only to return more bitter and upset. Worse of all, you make people around you feel like you don’t want to be there.
Here’s my philosophy on that:
If you make a decision, stick with it and see it through. Don’t hold anyone else responsible for that decision you took. No one held a gun to your head and forced you to dress up and go out. If you make a decision, own it. If you go out and hate it, don’t blame anyone, especially the person you felt you were doing it for.
Don’t force yourself to do things you really don’t want to do. I believe in stepping out of your comfort zone. I believe in trying things. What I don’t believe in is self-inflicted misery. At church two weeks ago, the pastor said don’t follow Christian rituals and traditions for the sake of following them. Don’t be a ceremonial Christian. Ask yourself why am I doing this? Why am I here? I went to church that Sunday purely as a ritual action. If there was one day I didn’t want to go to church, it was that day. And ironically, someone bumped into me at the door of Church, I dropped my iPhone and the screen cracked. Fantastic. I sat down and the pastor launched into his ‘don’t be a ceremonial Christian’ sermon. Nice. If I had stayed true to myself, I wouldn’t have gone to Church and cracked my phone. The message was good, but it was a hard lesson to learn. Don’t go to Church because of friends or family or because your family has been going to church for the last 20 years. Don’t go to a party because you want to be seen, or because everyone you know is going and you have a headache but you feel pressured to go. Even the things you feel you do out of obligation, e.g. visit a sick friend, meet up with friends, spend time with someone you’ve ignored, go to a birthday party, don’t do them and call them necessities or obligations. It’s all about the outlook, the mentality you have when you’re doing it. Even God doesn’t want you to feel obligated to Him, so why then do you feel obligated to the things and people of this world? Don’t be around people oor do stuff out of obligation. Do it because you want to. And for family and close friends, do it out of love – never obligation.
I’m going to church today because I want to hear God’s word and message. It’s been an up and down week. I have struggled with fitting in, and I need a reminder of what’s truly important in my life.