Learning plans were made without you can come as an emotional shock, but why does it hurt so bad to feel left out?

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Feeling left out is a natural reaction. When you’re in a close-knit group of friends or family unit, you may assume you’re on the list for every special occasion.

When someone hosts an event without you, it can feel like an insult. You might wonder if you did something wrong, or if there’s something about you that kept you from being invited.

Deliberate or not, being left out sends a message.

“When people you like, or admire, or want to feel close to exclude you from conversations, activities, and invites, they’re signaling — intentionally or unintentionally — that you’re not important to them,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist in Long Beach, California.

We evolved

She explains that the discomfort you feel when being ostracized can be traced back to a time when membership in a social group was important for staying alive.

“In primitive times, being part of the group enhanced your chances of survival,” Tessina states. “That means that it’s painful and even scary to feel excluded.”

Your brain processes it as pain

Feeling left out may also be unpleasant because of how it’s translated in the brain. Research shows that social rejection may be interpreted by the same regions of the brain responsible for processing physical pain.

We feel lonely

Loneliness is a natural reaction to unwanted isolation.

“Feeling excluded, rejected, or left out also hits on our sense of self-worth, which we develop through our interpersonal relationships with others,” says psychologist Holly Schiff, out of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Over time, loneliness may cause a decline in your general well-being. A 2015 review found loneliness and social isolation were twice as harmful to mental and physical health as obesity.

Rejection is a natural human emotion

Schiff notes that feeling left out is painful, but it’s a completely normal and adaptive response.

According to research, feeling left out may cause you to shift toward an avoidance, or prevention-oriented, thought process. This may make you more aware of your behaviors and interactions and may cause you to seek to refine some of your social habits.

That drive and desire to be included may also help you think more creatively. In 2012, a study found that social rejection helped people generate more innovative ideas.

It’s bullying or toxic positivity

Many scenarios of social exclusion happen by mistake. Maybe someone thought you were busy that day or wouldn’t be interested in attending.

Sometimes, however, not being included can stem from a deliberate omission.

Bullying someone by intentionally leaving them out can also transfer into the online world. Toxic positivity, or excessive and superlative positive behavior — like over-the-top praising of some people and not others — can also make you feel left out.

You may find yourself suddenly excluded if you offer anything other than fawning support. Or, you may unintentionally isolate yourself if you detach from anyone who offers semi-negative or neutral critiques.

You may not be able to stop yourself from feeling sour about being left out. When those moments of social exclusion find you, there are ways to avoid self-pity.

Validate and sit with your emotions

It’s OK to feel left out. Taking a moment to think about what you’re feeling can help keep you from escalating to anger or retaliation.

Give the benefit of the doubt

If you have low self-esteem, you may assume your missing invitation was the result of an intentional decision.

By reminding yourself that the people in your life who care about you wouldn’t intentionally cause you pain, you can be open to the possibility that what happened was simply an oversight.

Reach out to someone else (but not to vent!)

When you’re feeling left out, sitting and stewing in feelings of rejection and loneliness won’t change your circumstances.

You may not be alone in what you’re feeling. In fact, you may have other friends who wonder why they haven’t heard from you. By being the one to reach out, you can stave off miffed feelings and help your friends feel included at the same time.

Shift your narrative

“Instead of focusing on how you feel rejected or not chosen, use the opportunity to reexamine what you value in a relationship or friendship and if your current friends reflect what is important to you,” Schiff recommends.

Fortify your self-confidence

Tessina indicates people with strong self-confidence are better able to withstand exclusion and create their own circles of inclusion.

“Learn to accept and love yourself, and start by including yourself in your awareness,” she counsels. “Make friends with yourself, and branch out from there to others who will like and accept you.”

Communicate with your person

When someone’s actions make you feel left out, communicating with them about the situation can help you understand what happened.

If you were excluded for a specific reason, you’ll be able to address it.

Here are some solid pointers for communicating with someone who’s broken contact with you, or ghosted you.

Remind yourself stings are temporary sensations

The pang of feeling left out doesn’t have to linger. If you’re being regularly excluded by your social circle, it may be time to reevaluate your core friend group.

Create new friendships

Tessina suggests you “reach out to coworkers, your neighbors, or church members and invite them to accompany you in a favorite activity or for coffee.”

Feeling left out is a natural response to social exclusion.

When someone leaves you out of an event, it can make you feel like you don’t matter to them. You may find yourself isolated and lonely. You may not understand why you weren’t a part of the plans.

Not all exclusion is deliberate. Your close family and friends care about you, even if they sometimes forget to send you an invite.

When you’re feeling left out, you can help ease some of the discomfort by taking a proactive approach. Making new friends, communicating, and building self-confidence can help keep those feelings of exclusion from ruining your day.