This post is for anyone who has ever felt the shame of not fitting in.
When I was younger the world was a baffling place but there was one mystery that confounded me more than any other: how everybody, except me, seemed to know exactly who they were and how to be.
This was most acute during my school days when I felt crushingly alone for most of the time. My peers all seemed to belong to one social group or another: the sporty ones, the cool ones, the funny ones; whilst I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The harder I tried to fit in, the more self-conscious I would become and the more apart I would feel.
Things got better as I got older but I could never completely shake the feeling of being an outsider and there were times when I believed my insecurities and struggles marked me out as a uniquely strange and broken person. I always managed to get by but the shame of somehow not being ‘normal’ was a constant undercurrent in my life and the more I fought it the stronger it would get.
Take the following short movie clip starring Steve Martin from the film Lonely Guy.
In the clip Steve Martin’s character asks for a table for one in a busy, posh restaurant to the horror of the rest of the diners who all stare at him in silence as he is guided to his lonely table illuminated by a spotlight.
Many of us feel as if the things we struggle with: our insecurities, neuroses and negative emotions, somehow mark us out from all the ‘normal’ people around us. We live our lives expecting the spotlight of shame to pick us out and expose us to the same withering judgement and pity Steve Martin experienced in the clip. The shame and loneliness we experience when we feel like we’re unacceptable in some way can magnify and multiply our original pain and distress many times over.
When clients come to therapy they often feel deeply ashamed because something is ‘wrong’ with them (a feeling they may well have lived with for many years before seeking help.) It seems to me that we are often so blinded by our own spotlight of shame that we don’t see that nearly everyone else around us also has their own spotlight. If we could only recognise that struggling with difficult and overwhelming feelings, far from marking us out as different and somehow unacceptable, actually puts us in really good company – along with nearly everyone else.
I’m a qualified counsellor practising in Exeter and I’ve seen how learning to accept ourselves as we are is often the first step in bringing about profound change in our lives. I offer a free initial consultation so please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss whether I might be able to help you.