Recently I was excluded from a group of friends. I know… this shouldn’t happen to an adult woman! It’s a boring story, which isn’t worth repeating, but basically I annoyed someone in the group and got knocked off the social media distribution.
It was an interesting experience. I was asked to speak to the girls at Cheltenham Ladies College a little while back, and while thinking about what I was going to say, exclusion came up as a big issue. I remember the pain of not being invited to things when I was younger. Or even just missing the TV programme that everyone was talking about, or simply not understanding a joke.
Feeling like you are an outsider or excluded in some way seems to hurt much more than it logically should. Even if I’m not able to attend an event, I still like to be invited. And even though I know there are number limits on weddings and other events, I feel more than a bit upset when I’m not included.
Why is this? Well, like so many of our irrational emotional reactions, it seems to come from evolution. In the distant past, when we lived in tribes on the African plains, being excluded from your group basically meant death. Surviving on your own was extremely difficult, and obviously the ability to procreate and raise children became virtually impossible.
Now being excluded does not mean death. But it can still feel like it. Researchers have found that people who feel socially rejected have increased anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness. They can be less good at difficult intellectual tasks, show more aggression and less impulse control. Their physical health also suffers, with worse sleep, and an impaired immune system.
Given all of that, I know it is important that I don’t make other people feel excluded. But that isn’t always easy. I’ve often made people feel excluded without realising it – organising a party and completely forgetting to invite someone or assuming they would be busy or wouldn’t want to come. And most recently, I had a very small wedding(!) which meant I excluded lots of people and have felt slightly awkward even mentioning the fact I got married at all so as not to upset all people I didn’t invite!
I guess the only thing we can do is recognise that we’re overly sensitive when it comes to getting excluded, and try not to take it too personally. I remind myself of all the people in my life who have gone out of their way to make me feel loved and valued.
On the flip side, this realisation has also meant I try not to exclude others, and when I have to, try to be open and honest with the people I’m excluding about the reasons behind it. In the case of my wedding, I called up a few people I thought I might upset, and explained the situation. I still probably upset some people, but I think it feels less bad being excluded when you understand the rationale behind it. All we can ever do is balance being inclusive with our other demands, and when we can’t, be open and honest about our decisions.