Social exclusion (being left out of groups, ignored by friends or excluded from social activities) can be painful. Almost everyone loves to feel accepted and included. What can you do if you are experiencing social exclusion?

Are you shy? Do you sit by yourself while everyone around you seems to be in a group, talking and laughing? Are you wondering when someone will notice you and finally treat you like you exist?

If this feels like your world, I have good news for you! There’s a good chance that the people around you feel like you’re rejecting them! They may feel like you don’t care about them and would rather be alone or that you enjoy your own company more than theirs.

If you want to be included, you have to make an effort. The good thing is that becoming part of a group doesn’t take a lot of effort. Human beings are social creatures, meaning they enjoy being with other people, including you. So, go hang around nearby. It’s best to say hi, buy you may not even have to start a conversation. Before long, someone will probably start talking to you. As long as you’re pleasant, they’ll be pleasant back, and before long, you may find you’re part of a group.

If you want to talk to people but don’t know how to start, a good way is by complimenting them about something. Be sure to make your words genuine. Everyone likes a compliment. Or ask them about themselves. People love talking about themselves. Just be sure you are truly interested in them.

Let’s say you’ve been part of a group of friends for a long time, and suddenly they say you can’t hang with them. Maybe they’re having a party and not inviting you. What should you do?

The most important thing is not to get mad at them. If you do, they will feel justified not being your friend. Plus, if you’re angry, you’ll look ridiculous, so they certainly won’t want to be associated with you.

You can handle your problem several ways. One way is by telling yourself that no one has to be your friend. You can’t force anyone to want to be your friend, nor can an authority figure.

If it’s important to you that they’re your friends, you give them power over you. They may experience a feeling of power by excluding you. But if you don’t care, no one has power over you. They’ll respect you more, and be more likely to want you as part of their social circle.

Truly popular people don’t beg people to be their friends. They act cool, like they don’t need anyone. Others admire them and want to be their friend.

So, if someone tells you something like, “You can’t be in our group anymore,” instead of getting upset, say, “If you don’t want to hang with me, you don’t have to.” They will see that you’re in charge of your feelings, and they’ll be more likely to reconsider giving you up as a friend.

If someone says, “We’re having a party and you can’t come,” you can answer, “If I’m not invited, I won’t come. I hope you have a great party!”

Then they’ll be more likely to invite you.

Another way to handle situations like these is by telling yourself that if you’re being excluded, there must be a very good reason–people must be mad at you. Calmly say to the person who tells you that you’ve been excluded, “Oh, how come?” Listen to what they tell you and treat them like a friend. If they tell you something like, “You’re a loser,” don’t get defensive by saying, “No I’m not!” Ask them why they think that. Maybe they’ll tell you that you betrayed a member of the group in some way, or that you’ve suddenly changed in some way and have become an embarrassment to the group. If the reason they’re giving you sounds reasonable, you may want to apologize for hurting the person, or stop acting in an embarrassing manner. Before long you’ll probably be back in the group.

And if no one bothers to tell you that you’ve been excluded, you can take the first step. Approach the group member who you’ve been closest with and ask, “I notice the group’s been avoiding me. I wonder what I’ve done wrong.” Listen to what they tell you, and take it from there.

If you’re ready to take charge and make your school more inclusive for everyone, check out We Dine Together(WDT). It’s a completely student-led movement where student leaders make it a priority to create a positive social atmosphere on their campuses. By approaching and welcoming students who are experiencing social isolation, withdrawn from the social scene or eating lunch alone, WDT is a catalyst for real social change.

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