In this article I am going to discuss possible reasons as to why being left out, not fitting in or when we experience loss of friendship groups or loving relationships feels so uncomfortable and hurts so bad. I am a counsellor working in the Bradley Stoke area of Bristol who has helped many resolve feelings of loneliness, rejection and ostracisation. If this is something you would like support with, my contact details are at the bottom of this blog.
Think of times it has happened to you
Can you remember a time where you have felt ostracised or cut out of a social situation, not invited to a social gathering or when you have been singled out by a bully? This is the feeling that people experience when they are alone at times of festive celebrations such as Christmas or the feeling of being left behind when someone closed to them has passed away. Can you get close to that emotion that arises from this rejection/ostracisation?
What does ostracise mean?
The word ‘Ostracise’ derived from ancient Greek times where voting tokens were called ostracon. There was a voting process that happened twice a year where civilisations would use ostracon voting chips. Ostracon was broken bits of pottery, the ancient Greeks used ostracon to vote whether to banish someone from their civilisation for 5 years.
A modern translation of the word ‘Ostracise is:
Why does it feel so bad?
The feeling that arises is affectively straight from your survival instinct tapping into your stress response. Big emotions around survival is the likely response, feelings of loneliness, vulnerability and a need for action. If the emotion didn’t feel big, we wouldn’t act upon it as it wouldn’t feel serious enough.
We have an internal survival instinct to connect with others, how this plays out is through the attachment to our parents or carer giver from birth. If we decided we didn’t like our parent/carer giver from an early age that would risk our survival, hence sayings like ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you!’ We learn quite quickly that we need others to survive.
We are designed to connect with other humans, examples of what this looks like, is the contagious laugh. Those times when someone’s laughter inspires you to do the same even though you might not know what they are laughing at. Another example is when someone yawns it somehow feels contagious, this is actually ‘do I need to gasp for air too?’ So we take a gasp of air and yawn.
A key reason we need to be able to read and feel emotions is so we can read the fear in another human. This is a survival mechanism, if we see fear in another it inspires us to ask the question, do I need to be fearful also? If someone was running with the look of fear on their face, you would assess the situation to see if the fear is real for you also.
I prefer to be alone, why do I even care?
Humans have a very in-ground biological survival trait to remain connected with others due to our Hunter Gatherer days. You needed to remain part of a group because that increased your chances of survival, it meant you were more likely to feed, and less likely to get picked off by neighbouring tribes or animals that might eat you. Staying part of the group meant life or death, your survival depended on it.
Not feeling connected to groups and loneliness is at the core of a lot of the counselling work I do. If it is not genuinely feeling cut off from groups or people, I work with people that feel different from everybody else because of their experiences.
Existential loneliness, ultimately, we are all alone.
I believe another factor of loneliness is no one fully knows what it is like to be ourselves as individuals, we can get close to what that is with empathy, but we can never be fully sure. We are a guest on the earths plain, we enter the world alone and the chances are we will leave alone. We reach out to others and this connection reinforces our existence, without being able to talk to others about things you may have done in the past, our feeling of loneliness perpetuates. Think of the times you have bumped into an old friend and the enjoyment you experience talking about old times.
We learn this from a young age when we are children, we say “look at me”, “look what I have done” “watch me”. It is almost as if we are saying ‘I exist, notice me.’ The connection to others as adults is our way of soothing this wound that we exist but without others its harder to grasp what that existence looks and feels like.
Another factor in the connection we have with others is our own mortality project. Internationally famous artist Banksy says ‘I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.’ I wonder if this thinking is with us all? If we are not connected with people that somehow our existence will be shorter lived.
How can we resolve feelings we feel when we are ostracised?
When you add this thinking with ostracisation we are tapping into a wound that is as big as any we can experience in our lives. How do we heal a wound that’s so deep? I am not good enough, I don’t fit in, why don’t people like me?
For me being able to own what we are feeling is the first step to either feeling it more comfortably or choosing to respond differently. Feelings are often our bodies way of giving us the energy we need to respond to a problem. An example of this is if we feel nervous before a social situation this is actually our bodies way of giving us the energy we need to become a bit more energetic and chatty. If we reject this feeling as negative, we are fighting against our body’s responses. We then look at our responses as a negative feeling and avoid it rather than accepting and working with it.
I have on many occasions worked with people that feel socially inadequate or ostracised. By talking through the feelings one experiences, together we have been able to facilitate a more practical plan and ownership moving forward. If this is something you would like to address, then get in touch www.brighter-pathways.co.uk or contact on 07903319318.