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The Outsider

Posted by Didi Gorman on

What is it about small close-knit groups that makes them not very open to outsiders?

I’m no sociologist by any stretch, but I’m fascinated with the subject of group dynamics.

From what I’ve been observing, the more intimately-connected the group (such as a group of friends who have been together since childhood), the harder it will be for an outsider to become fully integrated into that group. If on top of this the group is also socially conservative, the outsider’s journey into the group will prove even more difficult.

The individual members inside the group may consider themselves friendly and welcoming, and they may very well be AS INDIVIDUALS, but the group as a whole might feature a different dynamic; one that shuns anyone who is not like them. An important point to remember is that being friendly towards one another INSIDE the closed group is not the same as being open towards someone trying to join in.

Why is it, then?

My hunch is that there’s a ‘discrepancy of needs’ between the outsider and the insiders. The short of it is that the outsider has a strong drive to belong and to make friends, whereas the insiders ALREADY belong and already have friends inside the group. Hence, a mismatch.

This does not mean that the outsider cannot technically join the group and eventually make a few friends, or that the existing members are not totally awesome people, or that they don’t care about the newly joined member, only that the new member might still feel that, as a whole, the invisible ice never quite breaks, even a long time after joining – the sense of belonging still elusive.

Let’s replace the word ‘outsider’ with ‘stranger’ or ‘the Other’ or ‘different’, and it will become clearer.

An outsider is often different than the existing members of the group. Thus, the group may feel ‘invaded’ when someone alien to them (who is not one of them, nor a mirror image of them) makes it all the way in. On the bright side, know that it’s not personal. It’s simply human nature.

The question is, if after a while you –our beloved outsider– still don’t quite fit in, what then? Do you keep trying? Do you have enough in common with this particular circle to persevere? Do you give up and move on to seek friends in other circles? Or do you just accept your lot as a semi-integrated member?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know one thing for sure. As unpleasant as the experience of exclusion might feel to you NOW, this feeling is also an asset. That’s right. It will make you aware of exclusion, including in its most subtle forms, and you will be able to use it for the benefit of other people – those future outsiders, wherever you may encounter them, for whom you will be able to become a source of comfort.

By Didi Gorman