Daily Archives: September 7, 2010

The Outsider Syndrome: Feeling Alone

I’ve been on holidays so I haven’t posted for a bit, but a conversation with a friend got me thinking about this phenomenon that I’ve experienced, and others have as well. I’m not a psychologist but I do like to delve into the whys and wherefores of the human psyche and some life experience has taught me a few things about the way we think and behave.

outsider, being alone, loneliness, the other, personality

Sculpture Niobe (1951) by Constant Permeke in sculpture park Kröller-Müller Museum

The Outsider Syndrome is my name for the feeling that you don’t belong, no matter what. That somehow, even if you’re doing the same activity as everyone else, that you just don’t fit in or they know you are different. Sometimes the feeling is real and sometimes it is our own perception.

My feelings of being an outsider began (as I suspect they did for many of us) in childhood. When church was something everyone did, we didn’t attend (except for a brief spate) and this was still when we recited the Lord’s Prayer in elementary school. The teacher would ask us what we did in Sunday school that weekend and I felt different because I couldn’t answer the question. It made me embarrassed, and as a child I was quite shy. Shyness and being picked on because of it did not help with the Outsider feeling.

I also came from a home where my parents divorced at a time when  most of my friends had both parents at home. So yes, I felt different there too. I’m sure there are studies that show people have this Outsider feeling if they are teased, are shy, have broken homes, or are somehow different from the crowd. And of course there are psychological or personality dispositions to all of these feelings.

I felt different for various reasons but those were the ones that shaped me. I felt different because my body wasn’t quite in the norm as everyone else’s, that I was poorer than many of my friends, that I somehow didn’t relate. At times I’ve realized that other people, almost everyone, is different or unique in their own way. In that essence we are all outsiders trying to fit in to the social organism.

This weekend I was at an event, a group that might just be made up of Outsiders; people who find the norm boring, who might be more strongly individualistic, who might like to roleplay, who might geek out over medieval history and things of the Middle Ages. It’s called the Society for Creative Anachronism and it has its share of social misfits as well as artisans practicing crafts that were once done hundreds of years ago. I haven’t been to these events for a while so I was feeling like an outsider again, not quite fitting into the whole game. Another friend was there who hadn’t been at an event in about eight years. He too felt even more acutely than me that he didn’t belong. People go on with their current interests and they’re not sure how to fit you back into their lives either.

This feeling isn’t particular to one group but any established group to which a new person tries to belong may cause this feeling. People like to stay with the familiar and if someone you don’t know walks up to your group you might completely ignore them, and continue talking to your friends. You might turn your back, making a circle and physically excluding them. We are inclusive…of those we know but we can exclude too without realizing it. If the group or event is one meant for people to meet, share and mingle something as small as turning slightly away can cause a person to move off and feel alone.

The world is rife with stories of Outsiders and sometimes they choose to be so. As I entered art college with all those other people who try to push boundaries, move beyond the envelope and think outside the box I found I fit in, because there were many like minds. At the same time I began to embrace my otherness. If people are going to treat me as other or different, than I shall choose to like my difference and be proud of it. People in the arts and sciences are often moving beyond the norm in trying to explore new things or make over old ones.

Being an Outsider can be an isolating experience. If you find there is a new person in your social or working group, or someone who lives farther out, then a little extra attention can help both of you transition and fit in. Long ago, when I moved to Vancouver with a turquoise streak in my hair, a woman who I worked with took a chance to move past the preconception about people who did such things to their hair and got to know me, becoming a very long-term friend. If you’re feeling an Outsider too, even if you have chosen it in some way, it may be harder to find people accepting, but being open and receptive can eliminate that feeling of being alone. Outsiders really are just people you do not yet know

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