When you’re the one sitting there, feeling utterly alone, it’s hard. When you’re the one whose smile has become a bit fixed on her face, because you feel like you don’t belong, it’s crappy. When the conversation has gone to a place you’re not involved or interested in, or leaves you feeling out of the loop, or unrepresented by the cares and concerns of those with whom you are surrounded is a lonely and miserable business.
A non-parent friend, who reflected on the way their parent friends can make them feel this way when the conversation takes a kid-centric turn – and a recent brief, painful, but thankfully temporary, experience of being excluded myself, got me thinking all about this.
Feeling excluded while in the company of others is a uniquely uncomfortable place to sit, and, I find, a really tough space to stay authentic in. Because as my head nods in half hearted agreement, and my eyebrows raise in feigned interest, I’m really wishing they’d stop, and allow the conversation to go somewhere that includes me, that acknowledges that my life may not look like theirs. Parenting is fraught with these moments.
As is non-parenting.
As is life.
I’ve been that all alone person, and I’ve also been the one doing the excluding, all engaged in the conversation, apparently oblivious to the person with the fixed smile, and the politely raised eyebrows feigning interest. And, if I’m really honest, I may sometimes have knowingly ridden roughshod all over the excluded person – recognising, but choosing to overlook their needs, because I am so excited by the opportunity to talk, talk and talk some more about the thing that absorbs and excites me. I’ve let myself get distracted by the allure of the external validation that goes hand in hand with the feeling of belonging. A feeling that soothes and envelops me, like the cosiest of duvets.
But when I’m the excluded person, the feelings are tougher, like the recognition that in that particular environment, nothing and no one is going to validate my worthiness for me. And that no one’s terribly interested in me in that moment. And that I don’t have anything to add, neither is my input required. And there’s an intense discomfort when I recognise that I’m a bit unnecessary to those I’m spending time with.
And the reason I’m writing this? Because the message I keep getting over and over, from all sorts of places, is to turn towards that which troubles me. To get soft and open and curious in the face of that which makes me frown. To seek first to understand, then to be understood – as my Happy but Human friend Benjamin Verrall reminded me over lunch today.
And never am I more soft and open and curious that when I am sat at my laptop, with a sleeping dog at my feet, and the temporary silence of my house during a school day.
So what today’s soft, open curiosity helps me understand, is that when feelings of exclusion pay me a visit, my task becomes to dig deep into the very recesses of my soul. In the absence of any external validation, I have to turn inwards. I have to find and engage with my own internal resources. I have to find a way to feel worthy from the inside out.
Which is much harder than being part of ‘the gang’, and more arduous than the more appealing option of turning my discomfort outwards. Of expressing feelings of animosity, directly or indirectly, towards those I feel have ‘wronged’ me.
It’s so much more comfortable to judge those who have (in all likelihood) inadvertently made me feel excluded, and try to reduce them in order to lift myself up. To try and identify the ways in which I find them lacking. To make them into a group they’re actually not, and so, isolate myself in my discomfort – completely forgetting the truth that like me, they too will have felt these feelings. Not necessarily for the same reasons, or in the same situation. But like me, they too will have been that person nodding, and wishing themselves anywhere other than where they are – sitting in company, but utterly alone, riddled with all the difficult feelings.
They too have felt powerless,
They too have felt unrecognised
They too have felt unrepresented.
Two little words: easy to forget when life gets excruciating, but essential to remember.