No one enjoys feeling like the outsider. Like we’re different somehow – or don’t really “fit in”.

Tribal living might be something of the past… But as human beings, we’re still tribal by nature, and feeling like we belong is a basic, human need. Many of the traits, characteristics and feelings we consider to be “human nature” are still driven by tribal instincts.

Back in the day, fitting into the tribe was a matter of life or death. Today, we can survive outside of the tribe – but the feeling of isolation it brings is still one of the most painful experiences we’re likely to face.

Why do I feel so different from everyone else?

This feeling can normally be traced back to childhood. 

Maybe you were bullied or excluded at school. Or maybe your family was slightly different to the other families – financially, ethnically, religiously… Or perhaps you moved around a lot and never had the opportunity to develop the same depth of friendship the other kids had.

Whatever it is, you probably spent a lot of your childhood feeling alone. And at some point along the way, these experiences led you to believe that you’re “different” to everyone else. 

But here’s the thing: we’re all a lot more alike than we think.

No matter how kooky, weird or different you feel, you’re going to share a lot more similarities with everyone else than you do differences.

You simply feel different because of your experiences – not because you are different.

The problem is that when we feel this way, we’re likely to act in accordance with it. 

So because we feel different, we might struggle to fully relax in social situations, feeling self-conscious. Or we may hold back from reaching out and connecting with people because we can’t imagine how they’d want to spend time with us anyway. Or we may numb ourselves with drugs and alcohol in a desperate attempt to shake the feeling and “fit in”.

Whilst we’re likely to respond differently according to our own personal coping mechanisms, one thing remains the same: we’re going to struggle to connect in an authentic way.

And so by feeling different, we end up fulfilling our own self-prophecy. Our loneliness and isolation provides us with “evidence” that we’re different to everyone else – just as we thought.

What does this feel like?

You may be feeling and experiencing any of the following:

1. In social situations, you feel like you stick out. This feeling might be so strong that you feel ‘out of body’, as though you’re not really there.

2. You feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness but have no idea how to connect. You’re stuck – you feel miserable and lonely being alone but when you try to connect with people you feel so self-conscious you sometimes end up feeling worse.

3. Social situations and gatherings fill you with fear. Either you avoid them altogether or you spend the duration feeling uncomfortable, and hiding yourself away in the corner.

4. You have to drink in order to feel comfortable socially.

5. Or maybe you’re a social chameleon. You connect by moulding yourself to others but you leave with a sense of emptiness – you don’t really know who you are underneath it all.

The “spotlight effect” – you think people are noticing you far more than they actually are

The spotlight effect is the phenomenon whereby we tend to believe people are noticing us a lot more than they actually are. It’s a cognitive bias and one of the main driving factors for social anxiety. 

We all experience the world through our own eyes, and from our own perspective – life is our own movie, and we’re the main character. Naturally, this makes it difficult for us to step outside of ourselves, and realise that everyone else experiences the world as their own movie.

That awkward comment we made at the party the other night that didn’t go down very well? The chances are, no one noticed. And if they did, it’s probably long forgotten now. 

On the whole, people are far too wrapped up in themselves and their own story to focus on our slip-ups. In fact, they’re much more likely to be worrying about what they said or did than to be paying any attention to us.

How to overcome feeling different

The biggest part of overcoming this feeling is understanding that you’re not as different as you think you are. Some of the things you consider to be different or weird about yourself might even be very run-of-the-mill. Ultimately, it comes down to overhauling the story you’ve been carrying around with you all this time in your head.

A therapist will help you trace back this feeling and understand where it stems from. Identifying the reason for feeling this way will help you understand that it is simply a product of your experiences, and not necessarily how things actually are.

If you’re feeling very isolated, your therapist will support you in conquering your fears and joining social groups with similar, like-minded people. Although this might feel scary at first, the rewards are going to be well worth it in the long run. The sense of belonging that comes from being part of a group can help challenge your own deep-seated beliefs around being different. 

Connection and the feeling that we “fit in” are basic human needs. It’s not just you who craves this – everyone does. The more we understand this, the more we can be there for each other, celebrating and embracing both our commonalities and our differences.

Complete our free online assessment and start your therapy journey today.