When Your Main Social Problem Is That You Don't Fit In
Lacking specific interpersonal skills is one broad type of social problem. Another is being too shy or insecure around other people. A third general problem area is a little different. It's when you don't fit into the social norm, and that's what's causing you problems.
Not fitting in could mean things such as:
- Having different interests and priorities than most of the people around you (for some reason, the example that always comes to mind for me is someone living up in a U.S. town where the entire population seems obsessed with high school or college sports, while they couldn't be any less interested)
- Having different beliefs or values than everyone around you (e.g., being the only artsy hippy in a closed-minded town, being the only conservative religious person in a dorm full of people who love drinking and partying)
- Just being the odd person out who gets picked on (e.g., being the 'weird' guy at your job)
- Being part of a legitimately marginalized group, like being gay in a more intolerant part of the country
Of course, social awkwardness, shyness, and not fitting in do sometimes go together, however there are many cases where someone feels their communication skills are fine, and they're not anxious around people, but their social lives suffer because they're different.
The extent to which someone doesn't fit in could be very subtle and more irritating than anything. For example, someone may mostly be similar to their social circle, but get condescending little comments for one opinion they hold. In the middle of the scale might be someone who is part of a subculture that's not well represented in their area, and is lonely as a result. At the other extreme someone may blatantly stand out from the norm and draw everyone's negative attention.
The consequences can differ too. Like in the example above, on the mild side all that may happen is someone gets some friendly teasing about it, or boring lectures from their mom. Many people have a difference or two that gets them this kind of light flak from others, and they mostly just put up with it. Another more mild consequence for someone may be that many people don't want to be friends with them, and just politely ignore them, which they're fine with.
The other extreme isn't anything to joke about. People can be physically assaulted, black balled from their community, have their property vandalized, or have their family members threatened and harassed.
What can you do if your problem is that you don't fit in? There's no way I can control the outside world or solve everyone's problems for them, but here are my thoughts. The ideas in this similar article may also be helpful too:
Don't feel you have to give in and change
If you're getting hassled for not fitting in, then the implicit message you're receiving from other people is that you're faulty as you are, and that everything would be better if you just become more like everyone else. That's not the answer though. It's one thing to have actual weaknesses in your social skills, which people are giving you legitimate criticism and feedback about. It's also one thing to consciously choose to be pragmatic and superficially go along with social norms in order to get something you want. Those situations are different. If someone just varies from the mainstream in a harmless way, they shouldn't have to give in to the masses.
Find your group
It won't be possible for everyone, but if it's an option, seek out a group of like-minded people. Maybe there's a particular bar in your town that caters to your subculture, or a monthly meet up that's organized online, or an obscure club at your university you could join.
Live a double life
Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? People in certain subcultures, or who have particular philosophies towards life, find they have to do this. They'll decide it's practical to present themselves as an average person on the surface, while they do their own thing in their free time. At work they'll follow the dress code, and avoid saying anything too controversial. If one of their co-workers ran into them on the weekend, they may not even recognize them. People who go this route also tend to develop subtle little ways of finding each other.
For some people, splitting into two selves is simply a choice they make. Think of the young clean cut office worker who goes to hardcore punk shows every Saturday. Others feel more forced into it, because their 'real' self would be too misunderstood and rejected otherwise.
Leave the area
If the situation you're in seems bad enough, and you don't see it getting better any time soon, then it may be the right call to move somewhere else. Maybe you can leave fairly soon, or you might have to hunker down for a while. This is one of the classic solutions, used by people who were raised in stifling small towns the world over. Especially when you're younger, you can't choose where you live, and where you were raised may not be a good fit for you.