Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Do you know what it’s like to feel extraordinary loneliness and sadness? Does your stomach seem like it is tied up in knots or being chewed by rats? Do you feel totally misunderstood? If you answer yes to any of these questions, there is hope for you, even if you don’t feel it. I have been living with feelings like this for over 60 years and this is what I have learned.
Often we start to feel this way in school because this is where we get our first taste of trying to live in a collective environment. We are told what to do and there is jockeying for power and favor. Welcome to the world. Of course as children, we don’t understand this, we just intuitively understand that we either have to play the game or resign ourselves to feeling alone. Sometimes we choose to rebel against the rules and expectations. I think this is a survival instinct to help us get through these turbulent years. If you had either one of those reactions (loneliness or rebellion) there is hope for you. From an early age you chose to be your own person and to live your own life. This is a gift from God.
As we get older, these childish coping mechanisms don’t work as well. It is much better to face the situation head on and then you know what you are dealing with and you begin to see more positive results.
Here are some coping strategies and insights that worked, and continue to work, for me:
1. Never give up looking for a place where you fit in. If you keep looking, you will find a community, a friend, a location where you feel ‘at home’ immediately. Treasure these finds.
2. Learn to live with the loneliness and think quality rather than quantity. One or two good friends are far more valuable than 100 acquaintances.
3. See the loneliness as a desire for connection with God or our Source and find ways you can fulfill this desire. Follow your passions.
4. Explore any feelings and actions of rebellion and ask yourself ‘How is this working for me?’ If it’s not, give it up or find a more productive way to channel the energy.
5. Find out what you really want and go after it in a way that does not harm other people.
6. If you find yourself trying to please or you are bending over backwards to be noticed, move on. Sometimes it takes a while to realize this, because this is another coping mechanism to try and fit in. I can still fall prey to this one but I catch on quicker than I used to.
7. Learn how to understand, value and express your own unique individuality. This can be done by talking to a trusted counselor who will witness and validate your special gifts.
8. Love and accept yourself with no judgments. This is another trap for me when I can spend months thinking that these ‘misfit’ feelings are my fault and I have to try more to make myself ‘more normal’ and then everything will be OK.
9. Celebrate your uniqueness and free spirit.
I think the most important reminder to give yourself is that loneliness is a huge gift because it is the soul yearning for itself and for God. These feelings of not fitting in, although painful to deal with at times, are telling us that we are on the right path for our life and we are becoming stronger because of them. Over the years we become more aware of what we are looking for and how to find it. We learn to spend our time and energy on people and pastimes that feed our soul. It is an opening to a deeper relation with ourselves and with God.
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you” ………………….. Rumi