It’s natural for people to feel left out sometimes. But when someone cuts you out of a group or a conversation, it can understandably make you feel hurt, lonely, depressed, or even angry. 

Here are some do’s and dont’s to consider when someone leaves you out.

Do: Ask yourself whether there is a good reason you were left out

We are not all included all the time. And sometimes it’s for good reason. 

Is it possible there is a viable reason you were not included? Perhaps the information in a conversation is not meant for everyone in the room. Maybe the activity has a limited group capacity.

Reasonable causes for being left out:

  • You’re not friends with the majority of the people attending
  • You don’t usually like to do the activity you were left out from
  • You have expressed that you can’t afford activities like this
  • Someone is discussing a private matter and is afraid of trusting everyone with the information
  • Small group activity
  • Accidental exclusion; a lost, forgotten, or misdirected invite
  • Others know you are not available for the activity

While these are all reasonable explanations for why someone left you out, it’s still ok to be upset by what happened. It’s ok to voice that while you understand, you would really appreciate being included next time.

Do: Consider whether you did anything to alienate them

There’s no need to analyze every little word and action you took. However, it can be helpful to ask yourself whether you did something majorly out of line. You might at least consider the vibes you are putting out.

What could a major mess-up look like?

  • Making someone feel insulted
  • Acting like you don’t care to be included
  • Controlling behavior
  • Focusing mostly on yourself
  • Doing something untrustworthy
  • Misreading the situation

If you think you really might’ve messed up, check out this article on screwing up, or this article on the ingredients of a good apology.

Do: Remind yourself that you may have been excluded for something that’s not your fault

Recently, my teenage daughter had an experience of feeling left out at a sports camp. The first day was really rough. She was in tears when she came home. She felt others were judging her and she felt excluded.

There were things going on that my daughter had no control over and were not her fault. Many of the other girls knew each other and they already trusted each other’s skills. Some had even been to the same camp before and knew what to expect. My daughter was at a disadvantage.

In my daughter’s case, being excluded was more circumstantial than personal. Sometimes exclusion happens due to things beyond your control.

Things that aren’t your fault might include:

  • Your appearance
  • How you dress
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Things you enjoy doing or do not enjoy doing
  • What you have or have not experienced 
  • Cultural or social differences
  • Work or other obligatory conflicts
  • Age restriction

It’s crappy to be left out for any of these reasons, but in these cases, think in terms of compatibility. If someone excludes you for something out of your control, it shows there is a basic incompatibility in who you are and who they are. It’s not that they are better than you, or that you are less worthy than they are.

Do: Consider taking the situation at face value

In many (or even most) cases of being left out, the best path forward is to change your own behavior–rather than confronting the other person.

They say that when people show you who they are, you should believe them. While it hurts to be left out, you can save yourself a lot of pain by shifting the blame from yourself to the other person. 

In all likelihood, you didn’t do anything to cause what happened. People have their own agendas and inner workings that can be hard to understand through reason and logic. Sometimes they do hurtful things like leaving you out, even if there isn’t a clear reason. 

Instead of asking them for a reason or begging them to apologize, it can sometimes be more productive to take their behavior at face value, and put your time into people who won’t leave you out.

Do: If you’re very close and don’t want to lose this relationship, gently call attention to what happened

At the end of the day, every person has a choice of who they want in their lives. However, if you’ve been very close to someone and they’ve started to leave you out, it’s reasonable to gently mention how you’ve been feeling. Be honest with them and give them a chance to explain and/or correct their behavior.

You can use phrases like:

  • “I feel like…”
  • “I was hurt to learn that…”
  • “I realized that it’s been [length of time] since we last saw each other. That makes me feel…”
  • “I was surprised when you…”
  • “Our relationship is important to me…”
  • “I would love to come along the next time…”

What NOT to do when you feel left out:

If you are feeling left out, you may also feel some other strong emotions. Anger, hurt, sadness, or rejection to name a few. These emotions can make anyone act in ways that aren’t actually helpful. Unhelpful reactions to feeling left out may include:

1. Inviting yourself

As we have mentioned, there may be valid reasons why you were not invited or included. Showing up unannounced to an event you were not invited to may create a more embarrassing or difficult situation. 

2. Making demands

Remember that boundaries are about your own behavior, not someone else’s. You can set a boundary that if they continue to exclude you, you won’t prioritize the relationship anymore. But you cannot demand that they stop excluding you. After all, do you really want someone else’s forced attention?

3. Badmouthing

Talking trash about someone who left you out makes you look bad. Saying something negative about someone else won’t get you invited more. 

4. Becoming overly critical of yourself

Blaming yourself or overthinking about why you aren’t included can be dangerous. When we don’t give ourselves enough credit we become less social and harder to approach.  

5. Jumping to conclusions

Assuming the worst in the situation may have an affect on future invitations and offers for inclusion. It is best to stick to the facts.

How can you move forward when you’ve been left out?

Now you know a few things you shouldn’t do, here are a few things you can do when trying to cope with feeling left out.

1. Extend an invitation

That’s right! If you have been left out, you can always return the exclusion with inclusion. Create an activity to which you can invite others and show them what you like. You don’t have to wait for others to include you.

2. Share your feelings with someone uninvolved

Talk to someone removed from the situation so you can vent what you are feeling and get some feedback.

3. Take care of yourself

Take time for you. A little self care or special activity can remind you how great you really are and what others are missing out on. Being kind to yourself can help attract others who like you for who you are.

4. Make new friends

Sometimes when people exclude you, it really is “their loss.” Maybe they aren’t such good friends after all. Perhaps it is time to make a new circle of friends. Reach out to someone you haven’t spent much time with one-on-one. Or try a new hobby and make efforts to meet new people with whom you have things in common.

In the end, focus on finding your position

Being overlooked for whatever reason isn’t enjoyable for anyone. However, I leave you with the following perspective. I will ask you to imagine your exclusion experience from one familiar viewpoint which most people can relate- Being picked last for the team at recess in elementary school.

You hear excuses there are only so many spots on the team or we want to keep the teams even or you’ll get in the next game. And maybe, eventually, if you persist, you will get a team spot in a game.

But consider the many other necessary positions of the game that often get overlooked. The team manager who helps and serves the team, the coach who encourages and betters the team players, the equipment manager who ensures the team has the necessary implements to play, the official who directs the fairness of the game, the cheerleader who supports the team, the spectator who finds entertainment in watching the game, and more.

So, when it seems you have been unfairly left out, please remember, there is much more available than being a player in one game.  Stay calm, look around, and you might find yourself another position.