The dictionary defines an outsider as a person who does not belong to a particular group. We are all outsiders from most groups. 

I am an outsider to marathon runners, medical doctors, and chess champions. That’s neutral for me. I am not qualified for admission and I don’t care that I am not included.

I am an outsider in a Trump rally, a crowd of people sporting MAGA hats, or with anyone who believes that lesbians are less than human and they are entitled to hurt me through their laws, disdain or physical violence. That is far from neutral, not because I want to be included, but because there is a threat to me.

The trouble comes when we are an outsider in our family or social group where we want to belong, the exclusion is involuntary, and we experience shame because of it. 

We have nervous systems that feel safer when we are included in a core group, like family or community. We band together for protection. It hurts when we don’t feel included in our family of origin, whether that is a lack of connection or outright rejection. We might express our distress outwardly through anger against people or inwardly through believing there is something fundamentally wrong with us. 

The It Gets Better project is about maintaining heart until you find your group where you belong. The primary focus of the project is to encourage young people who are LGBTQ2S+ to hang in there until there are through school, leave home and find their “people”. Watch the clip below from President Obama encouraging young people who are outsiders because of their sexual orientation.

Ideally we find other outsiders with whom we share a common experience and form a bond with them. I started the Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund in the early 1980’s around a common goal of helping lesbian mothers keep their children. I formed close friendships with some of the women in the group that last to this day. They are like family. I am a feminist and I didn’t share that with all members of the group. We came together around what we had in common and that was important at the time.

There are many reasons why young people feel excluded in their biological family or at school. Some parents and teachers foster an atmosphere of welcoming diversity and honoring uniqueness. People feel valued for being who they really are. More often, there is pressure to conform. Parents are judged by their children. They want them to fit in. It is tough to stand up to social pressure and be yourself, especially for young people.

Commonplace Reasons For Being an Outsider in a Family:

  • Sexual orientation or gender identification
  • Adoption of a child of a different race
  • A child in a blended family who doesn’t feel they belong with the new family
  • Someone scapegoated by a parent which can lead to disconnection from siblings
  • A person who is differently abled physically or who is not neurotypical
  • Anger directed at a person won’t go along with secrecy, hiding feelings and refusing to pretend everything is okay
  • People want the Designated Difficult Person to shut up, stop being “so sensitive” and just get along by not naming the truth

If you are an outsider in your family

What does it feel like in your body right now to acknowledge that?
What experiences have you had where you felt shamed and excluded? 
What beliefs did you form about yourself and why this happened to you?

If you are not an outsider in your family

What might that feel like if you were? 
What experiences might you have had?
What beliefs might you form about yourself from being shamed and excluded?
What anyone else in your family an outsider?

We Are All Outsiders
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