Everyone has felt socially excluded at some point in their life. It can be lonely and painful. There is a reason for this: Being left out can trigger a primal neurological fear of rejection.
When you’re feeling left out by friends, it’s easy to get in your head about why they haven’t included you. You may even cascade into an emotional drama of distress, insecurity, and self-doubt.
Luckily, there are a few ways to stay grounded and soothe the pain of being excluded from the group. Here’s how to deal with being left out by friends.
Why Wanting to Be Included is Normal
Humans have an evolutionary need for belonging. Since the earliest Homo sapiens, people have lived as herd animals, reliant on their tribes to protect them from danger.
Contrary to the rugged individualistic assertion that “other people’s opinions don’t matter” or “it’s me against the world,” it is completely normal to want to be in a group.
Of course, it’s not healthy to morph yourself or pretend to be someone you’re not just for fitting in. But trying to convince yourself that you can get by without social acceptance can sometimes do more harm than good.
The “Need to Belong” theory asserts that humans absolutely need a social connection to survive. Although many avoidantly attached people may claim to be fine without intimate relationships, friendships are scientifically proven to benefit your life in profound ways:
- Quality friends improve your health.
- Friendships are the number one indicator of joy and happiness.
- Social connections link to longevity.
- Sociability reduces your risk of sickness.
- Friendship strengthens your self-esteem.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be included.
Action Tip: Take the Attachment Style Quiz to uncover how childhood experiences might have shaped your approach to interpersonal relationships as an adult.
9 Signs You’re Being Left Out
Are you being excluded from your friend groups? Not everyone is straightforward about whether or not they want you around.
If you notice these subtle signals from your friends, they may be leaving you out:
- They leave quickly without telling you where they are going
- They cancel plans with you last minute
- They don’t invite you to their parties or events
- They ignore your text messages or don’t return your calls
- They say they’re busy, then post photos on social media or hang out with other people
- They avoid discussing a certain event or topic with you
- They tell white lies about what they were up to the past weekend
- They provide vague answers like “I’m busy” or “oh, nothing much.”
- They have the same excuse every time you want to hang out
What to Do When You Feel Left Out
When you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, sometimes your mind can go to dark places. Social exclusion hurts, but there are a few things you can do to manage your emotions and soften the sting.
#1 Avoid catastrophizing
The psychological phenomenon of catastrophizing explains why people often fabricate situations in their heads that exaggerate the negative parts of a painful experience like rejection.
Though you may be trying to make sense of your emotions, anxiety and worrisome thoughts can actually lead to more emotional distress.
When you feel left out, it’s important not to think yourself into a black hole of “what ifs” and “whys.” The truth is that you never know what is actually happening in people’s lives.
First, consider that your friends may not be purposefully rejecting you. For example, if your colleagues ended up grabbing a drink after work without you, maybe the decision was spontaneous as they were walking out of the office. They may not have intentionally made plans ahead of time that excluded you.
In other instances, a certain group of people may have forgone inviting you simply because they knew you wouldn’t be interested in the discussion topics or the location they were meeting up:
- If you’re a vegan and your friends are going to a steakhouse, they likely didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable by bringing you along.
- If a couple of friends are meeting up to have a playdate with their kids or dogs, maybe they didn’t invite you because you don’t have any kids or dogs.
- If you know that your friends went out for coffee and yoga on Saturday without inviting you, they may have planned it ahead of time, thinking you were busy or uninterested in yoga.
It’s easy to spiral into thinking “they don’t like me,” “I’m not good enough,” or “they think I’m a weirdo,” but these catastrophic thoughts can be very unproductive for your emotional state.
Reading too far into a situation doesn’t do anyone any good. Avoid making assumptions about your friends’ motives.
They didn’t necessarily leave you out because they don’t like you; maybe the situation just arose spontaneously, or they thought you wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.
#2 Do a social media cleanse
Studies show that heavy social media use is associated with loneliness. In a world bombarded by the “highlight reel” of other people’s lives, social media can often make you feel like you’re being left out from all the fun others are having.
Looking at photos of your friends enjoying themselves can elicit feelings of jealousy, rejection, and FOMO.
If you can discipline yourself to delete a few apps or turn off your phone for a while, you may find that being present in your current reality can bring you more fulfillment than scrolling through other people’s lives.
Action Tip: When you’re feeling left out of social gatherings, avoid looking at social media for a few days to a week. Delete Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and any other apps you regularly use (don’t worry, your account will still be there when you want to log back in). Instead of checking social media, try to meet people in your city or learn to be more creative.
#3 Distract yourself with new interests
Distracting yourself can be one of the simplest ways to deal with feeling left out.
Instead of ruminating about what you did wrong or if your friends still like you, you can reframe the experience into something positive. What if being excluded was a blessing in disguise? If you repeatedly hang out with the same people and do the same things, you may not be getting out of your comfort zone as often as you’d like.
An open night or weekend gives you time to de-stress, relax, and try out new interests that you wouldn’t otherwise explore:
- Revisit a childhood passion
- Get lost in someone else’s life for a little while with a fascinating novel or movie
- Attend a class to learn something new
- Treat yourself to a self-care day
- Take a road trip to a nearby city
- Try out one of these 40 Unique Things to Do When You’re Bored
The world is a big place full of new people to meet and rich experiences. Get out there and try something new to remedy the FOMO (fear of missing out) blues. You’ll have something new to talk about and maybe even make new friends.
Action Tip: Research shows that social rejection can actually fuel creativity. Try channeling your negative emotions into a creative project such as journaling, drawing, writing, carpentry, or music.
#4 Feel your emotions, don’t suppress them
Studies show that suppressing emotions can lead to more negative mental health outcomes than facing them head-on.
It’s no surprise that being excluded from social situations can lead to feelings of rejection as psychologically difficult as physical pain. Frankly, it sucks.
If your cousin doesn’t include you in her wedding party or your friends host a get-together without you, it’s OK to be upset about it.
Instead of suppressing your emotions, try taking time to process and unpack what you’re feeling:
- Journal about your thoughts: What hurts most about this situation? Does it remind you of an experience of rejection?
- Practice deep breathing or a guided meditation: Grounding yourself in your breath can help bring the focus away from the external world back into your inner self. Try this 10-minute meditation for dealing with rejection.
- Take a walk: Notice the small details like shapes of clouds, bird songs, or flowers that are currently blooming.
- Listen to music: Music is scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Try exercise or yoga: Getting your sweat on can help you channel your emotion into a physical challenge.
- Talk to another trusted friend or family member: Ask someone close to you for a few minutes of their time to allow you to vent and talk through why you feel left out. Be sure to clearly express if you want advice, a pep talk, or just a metaphorical “shoulder to cry on.”
- Create an emotion map: An emotion map helps you build a vocabulary to describe your emotions and responses.
Emotion Map Exercise: The Dalai Lama and Dr. Paul Ekman worked together to create an online tool called the Atlas of Emotions to illuminate your emotional experience and help you navigate through different feelings.
#5 Take yourself out on a date
Spending time alone is correlated with greater confidence, more creativity, higher emotional intelligence, and greater emotional stability in challenging situations.
If you feel left out, it might help to turn inward and focus on your self-love, reflection, and fun experiences you can have on your own. A really fun way to do this is by taking yourself on a date:
- Get dressed up in your favorite outfit
- Choose one of your favorite restaurants or try a new cuisine
- Bring along a good book, podcast, journal, or sketchbook if you want to do something creative while you eat
- Celebrate a few things you love about yourself while you enjoy the delicious meal
- People-watch or strike up conversations with the wait staff
This video explains a simple three-step solution to overcome your fear of being alone:
Action Tip: A fear of being alone can be a common cause of clingy or attached behaviors. If you think you might be acting a little clingy with your friends, read our article on How to Not Be Clingy: 9 Ways to End Neediness in Relationships
#6 Check that you clearly expressed your availability
Often getting left out can result from simple miscommunications:
- Maybe your friends thought you were too busy with your job to go shopping on a weekday.
- Perhaps you accidentally texted them the wrong date or time for an event, and they planned something else without you.
- Maybe you just forgot to confirm a clear “yes” or “no” to an invite.
Action Tip: To avoid being left out, make sure you are clearly communicating when you have free time to hang out. Better yet, create your plans and invite them. Send your friends a quick text on a group chat about an open window of time that you’d like to make plans for.
#7 Openly communicate how you feel
Honest and clear communication is the key to any successful relationship. While it may feel awkward, sometimes the best way to deal with being left out is to express how you feel openly.
Psychologist and researcher Brene Brown asserts that vulnerability is essential to deepening relationships, so don’t be afraid to open up a bit of your true emotions.
“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” – Brené Brown
When communicating that you’ve been feeling excluded, it’s best to avoid sounding accusatory or attacking:
- “You should have invited me.”
- “I thought you cared about me, but you keep leaving me out.”
- “You keep ignoring me.”
- “I invite you to places all the time, but you never invite me.”
Instead, focus on “I” statements that express your experience without projecting your insecurities onto the other person:
- “Honestly, I felt a little left out when you and the girls went out to dinner last weekend without me.”
- “I’ve been feeling a bit more distant in our friendship lately. Just wanted to check in to see if you’re doing OK.”
- “I miss hanging out with you. Do you want to meet up soon?”
- “Sometimes I feel excluded from the family when you do things without me.”
- “I noticed that we aren’t hanging out as much anymore. Have I done anything to upset or annoy you?”
Action Tip: Sometimes, people may exclude you from situations because they feel annoyed by you or awkward in your presence. It may help to do some self-reflection and work on your social skills so that you don’t come across as annoying. This article might help: This is Why People Find You Annoying (& How to Fix It!)
#8 Invite people to do things with you
If no one invited you to the party, have your own! Instead of waiting on others to invite you to social events, create your own sense of belonging by making plans and inviting them.
The most popular people are known for acting as the “social glue” of their friend circles. They bring people together by…
- Hosting events
- Initiating plans
- Introducing their friends to each other
- Inviting people to hang out
Next thing you know, people might be asking you if they can tag along with your plans.
Pro Tip: Magnetizing a circle of friends comes down to improving your people skills and becoming more likable. If you want to be more popular, try these 16 Science-Backed Tips to Attract Friends.
#9 Meet new friends
Friends who regularly leave you out of their plans may not be the best friends to have. If you start to notice signs that your friends are toxic or you have a lot of fake friendships, try redirecting your energy into more fulfilling new relationships.
Making new friends may seem intimidating at first, but there are actually more ways to meet people than ever before:
- Regularly go out to local cafes, restaurants, bars, or concerts
- Minimize using your phone in public so you can have more conversations
- Try a friendship app to connect with likeminded people online
- Learn some killer conversation starters to initiate interesting connections
- Join a class or group to learn a new skill
- Use one of these 50 Ways to Meet New People in ANY City
#10 Check for Burnout
Sometimes if we feel alone, we can also feel burnt out at work. Here are some symptoms:
- tiredness that is impairing
- mental withdrawal and psychological detachment
- reduced capacity to regulate cognitive processes
- reduced ability to regulate emotions
Sound familiar? No worries—here’s how to defeat burnout (completely free!):
Get Unstuck And Beat Burnout
Do you need to recharge? Are you burnt out? It’s not your fault!
Learn the science behind your burnout and use my framework for getting unstuck, increasing your energy, and preventing burnout from happening again.
Key Takeaways: How to Deal With Being Left Out
Being left out can trigger the most vulnerable and painful insecurities from childhood. But sometimes, your emotional reaction to social rejection can make things harder than they need to be.
To deal with being left out of a social situation, try practicing healthy ways of coping and moving forward:
- Avoid catastrophizing and excessively worrying or wondering why your friends left you out. Instead, give your friends the benefit of the doubt and
- Take a break from social media to avoid feeling FOMO when looking at photos of your friends. Temporarily delete your primary social apps and use these tips for a 10-day digital detox.
- Distract yourself by getting creative or trying out new hobbies. Get absorbed in someone else’s life for a while through a novel, movie, or asking people about themselves.
- Work through your emotions rather than suppressing them; try journaling, meditating, or talking with a trusted friend or family member.
- Take yourself on a date to your favorite restaurant.
- Openly communicate how you feel. Sometimes being vulnerable with your friends can help deepen your friendship and correct any miscommunications.
- Create your plans and invite other people to come along. Instead of ruminating over friends who left you out of their plans, you can forge new social connections by asking acquaintances to join you for a movie, drink, class, or concert.
Wanting to belong is completely natural and even essential to survival. You deserve friends who make you feel like a part of the group, but you can’t always control how other people treat you.
You can, however, become more confident in yourself so that you don’t feel so sensitive to rejection. Learn How to Build Rock-Solid Self-Esteem in 8 Weeks (or Less!) to feel more empowered to love who you are regardless of the social situation.