Is it weird to be obsessed with not fitting in?
The question used to take up most of my brain, especially before my autism diagnosis. I had hostile feelings towards people who seemed happy being different, and spent a lot of time analysing and resenting people who effortlessly made friends and connections.
I used to think “weirdos” who embraced it were even worse, because they had failed at being normal. Can you really be proud of being different, when it means failing to fit in?
Can you choose to fit in?
You can’t always choose to fit in. If people are rejecting you because you are awkward, or because you’re not like them, it’s not always within your control.
For example, to avoid being seen as awkward some autistic people are able to “mask” and behave socially. However, the extra effort spent in having “normal” conversation means they’ll have less energy later on. We have to balance how much we can fit in with the rest of our energy. It might not be worth fitting in at work if it makes you exhausted and useless when you come home.
Trying and Failing To Fit In
Another rarely-mentioned downside of masking is your success isn’t guaranteed. You can try hard to fit in but still be noticed as “different”, “weird” or “odd”, despite all your extra effort. Falling “too far” outside of the norm is a reality for many people, even when there’s nothing wrong with them. You can be nice person who is still rejected for being weird or different.
Should you accept that you don’t fit in?
It’s not always easy to accept when you don’t fit in. As a society, people who stand out are often painted as “special”, but when you stand out in a negative way, you can be socially isolated. Fitting in is an essential human survival instinct, built on being social animals who survive better in cohesive societies.
If you feel like an outsider, it can be hard to feel anything else. The rest of your life might not matter as much if you feel alone. Fitting in is so important that some people create exhausting fake personalities in order to gain friends – especially teenagers. Trying to accept being an outsider is a huge, isolating and instinctively-impossible task.
Is it your fault for not fitting in?
Fitting in is both a privilege and natural human instinct. At the beginning of your life, your family of origin makes a difference – some people are born into supportive families who accept and welcome individuality, whereas others are born into critical or abusive households where differences are shamed.
Our view of ourselves is shaped by others, and can be down to luck. A disabled kid raised by supportive and loving parents can easily feel happier and more connected than the same child raised by a family who are ashamed of disabilities.
Why is it so hard to fit in?
We live in a mass media age, full of images of what “normal” is suppose to look like. When we don’t match up to that image, we can feel inferior and wrong. Unfortunately, not everyone matches the reality shown on TV, movies and books. Powerful people with money and influence to run TV channels and streaming services have preferences to what they think is normal, and it’s a created an unreal reality.
In media, people look more like eachother than people in reality. Reality is messy and diverse, whilst TV is beautiful and steamlined. We see disproportionately fun healthy lives on TV, to escape from a reality filled with poverty, work and responsibilities. People on TV make friends easily, or because of an obstacle that is clear and surmountable. Rarely does popular media talk about the threat of social discrimination, or the reality of long-term social change.
In reality, the glamorous and easy lives shown on TV make our expectations about real people warped and confused, making it harder for us to tolerate and connect with each other. We reject people because they seem too far off normal; whether they are too sick, too dramatic, too fat, or just too awkward.
Can we make it easier to fit in?
The good news is that fitting in can be consciously given. People show what is acceptable by their behaviours and messaging. We can choose to be welcoming or exclusionary. Despite our natural instincts to be mistrustful, we also have instincts to impress each other and be likeable.
If our social norm is to be cold, critical and harsh, our society will be fractured and isolated. By contrast, if everyone decides to be warm, welcoming and tolerant, the society would be cohesive and supportive.
During Covid-19, many people have noticed that their street was friendlier than normal, especially during the evening “Clap for Carers”. Mutual aid groups sprung up across the nation, showing people no matter who they were, there were services for them. This unconditional caring is what makes people respect nurses and health professionals so much, and generally feel warm towards them. We like when people are welcoming to others, and it makes us feel safer.
Can I help other people to fit in?
The best way to help other people to fit in is to be encouraging and welcoming. Nervousness make us stand out and damages our social instincts, whereas support brings out our more relaxed and likeable sides. By accepting our own differences, we can become more relaxed and less defensive about them, which helps people to connect to us.
However, if you only embrace how your differences have alienated you, you will find it hard to connect with people. Differences should not be a reason to reject someone, unless they are cruel or unkind. Even if someone is hostile, we can still lead them to being more likeable through our expectations.
By expecting someone to be a friend, we can help them to act more friendly and likeable. If someone is very alienated, they might not accept this. This is where therapy can be a helpful and manageable way of helping someone to re-connect with themselves and the rest of society.
In a Better World, We All Fit In
To conclude, it’s hard to feel like you can’t fit in, but being normal is about connecting to other people, not changing yourself or your attributes.
As a society, we all have responsibility to work towards each other, instead of not separating ourselves or building hostility.
By forcing people to be normal in order to be accepted, we make it harder to build authentic connections. Instead, we should encourage the normality of being accepted unconditionally. By caring for each other, we can build a softer and stronger world.
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