Excluded From Your Friends? You’re Not Alone.

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We all go into middle school and high school with different mindsets, and those mindsets grow as we go along our little school journeys. As we grow during these years, we all spot people who look like “friend material”. After meeting them, we might say to ourselves, “they’re super nice! I should be friends with them.” And we meet their friends, they meet ours, you meet someone else, and you grow your circle little by little until you’re satisfied. Each person’s circle varies in size. Some people just want a few friends, while others want a ton, and that’s all okay. But as our little minds and bodies enter and exit the halls every day, we might just run into an error in our circles: exclusion.

It starts out as this little tiny seed, like when you get asked to go to the movies, but you don’t have time, so just two of your friends go together. Next thing you know, they’re inseparable. You try to fit in, but they just keep talking about how fun their weekend was, which you were not involved in. So, they go on and on and share these inside jokes and what not, and you’re just standing there like a cat waiting to be pet by its owner. You begin to see that little seed grow a little. You go home and think, “maybe I’m being too dramatic. They’re just getting closer and that’s okay.” You justify it all and keep going with your life, but the seed doesn’t seem to stop growing.

They invite you to the movies next time, and you sigh in relief, but you realize that you might as well have not come because they’re having their own time together. They’re walking way faster than you, they’re laughing really loud when you didn’t even hear the joke, they’re clinging arms, they whisper, and you go home wanting to smash your head on your pillow and cry. But the tears don’t come out, and all you’re doing is reliving the parts of the night that made you feel terrible.

The seed keeps growing. They apparently made friends with someone outside of your circle, and they start talking with them. They don’t even introduce them to you, so you’re sitting there in those awkward moments having to nod and smile. They don’t talk to you until you have a class with one of the friends and that’s when you have a small conversation. You think to yourself, “I’m not needed unless they’re alone like I’m some type of net that catches them.” You know that the seed has just grown into a suckling. They hang out without you, that new friend has friends, and you find yourself standing in a circle that only surrounds your feet. You’re alone, and that’s all you can think of.

You see, humans are interesting that way. In psychology, we know that any group—not just a group of friends in school—shares the same processes, and if you are not a follower of those, you’re out. Let’s take a look at what psychology can teach us about groups.

There is usually an initiation rite. Groups tend to subconsciously test the people that enter the group through conversation and other interactions like hangouts because they want each member to value the rest. Groups want to see if that new person shares similar social, physical, or even intellectual thoughts and experiences, and sometimes groups can get too caught up in that. So, if someone joins a group of friends, like that new girl that you don’t even know but your friends do, that’s probably why. You are likely to be excluded if you don’t share these similarities.

Groups create conformity. This is one of the biggest elements of forming a group and the type of people in it. Each group of friends forms because there is a social norm that exists. That’s why you might be able to point out different cliques in school, like “the popular group”, “the partiers”, “the nerds”, and more. However, know that conformity can oftentimes change someone’s behavior, causing them to go against their better judgment. Each person wants to be valued, and through the brain’s strength of recognizing certain social norms, each person might try to conform to those norms. Some people conform a lot more easily than others because they naturally do similar things. One of the biggest clues that you are being socially excluded is if you feel the urge to conform to something you don’t want to do, and your friends won’t accept you for what you want.

This leads me to my next point: you must learn the norms of your group. As mentioned, if you don’t conform or break the collective rules that are influenced through different interactions, you’re out, and you’ll know you’re out. You’ll see it grow like the seed analogy.

People take on roles in groups. This is an instinct of survival and an evolutionary mechanism. That’s why when you point out a group of friends, you might say “(so and so’s) group” as if that person is a representation of the rest of the people in it. This shows that the brain subconsciously categorizes people in small hierarchies. If you notice that you’re being excluded because of the most active and likable person in the group, you might subconsciously call them the leader, and you might despise them for being so valued. What’s a leader without their followers, though? The friends you once had might not want to talk to you because they’d rather talk to the “leader” of the group, and some of these followers might be more valued than others. These leaders usually rise slowly. They are not established in a day. Maybe during one hangout, you’ll realize that someone, in particular, was always sitting in the middle, being followed a lot, or even being looked at a lot. Over time, that status will become more obvious, and those leaders can sometimes take advantage of other followers that way.

Groups can make rumors about other members, and you might run into some rumors about you. That’s usually where group drama comes in, and some groups have more drama than others because their conformity standards and social norms are probably more demanding, and their hierarchy is probably more obvious. Ever heard of Mean Girls?

If you’re someone who has been excluded or is excluded, I’m sure this all makes a lot of sense to you. I hope you understand that even if a group seems nice on the surface, like my Mandarin teacher says, 冰山一角: it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes it will take you a couple of tries before finding a healthy group, and you have to trust your instincts if you feel like something isn’t right. Your job is to make sure you feel valued and that you use that to value others. These times can be hard, but you’ll find your way.