Young People Ask . . .
Why Don’t I Fit In?
“It was the toughest obstacle I’ve faced.”—Craig.
“I was very lonely.”—Jessica.
“I felt so frustrated.”—Chris.
“It made me angry and upset. I cried and cried.”—Sommar.
“I was left confused and definitely hurt.”—Erin.
WORDS describing some catastrophic event? No, these individuals spoke of the painful feelings they suffered because they did not when they were young fit in with their peers. And if you have ever been excluded from a clique or shunned by youths you wanted as friends, you know how painful such an experience can be.
Of course, it’s only natural to want to fit in with your peers. Social scientists describe humans as joiners; we naturally tend to group ourselves. This urge is particularly strong when you’re a teenager. Said 14-year-old Micalah: “We feel secure and accepted when around people with the same interests as ours.” Such mutual interests might include enjoying the same sports, food, school activities, clothing, or music. Or it might be a hobby or choice of entertainment that holds a group of friends together.
Problems arise when the ties that bind a group are used as narrow-minded excuses for excluding other youths. Recalls Brendan: “If you weren’t wearing the right tennis shoes, you didn’t fit in. You weren’t part of the gang.” Silly as that might seem, when everybody else is in and you are out, it can really hurt.
When Not to Fit In
Ask yourself, though, ‘Do I really want to fit in with the clique in the first place?’ Even in Bible times, wayward youths often tried to bring others into their circle of friends. “Do go with us,” they would enticingly say to others. “Your lot you ought to cast in among us.” But the Bible warned: “My son, do not go in the way with them. Hold back your foot from their roadway. For their feet are those that run to sheer badness.”—Proverbs 1:11-16.
Likewise today, you may be tempted to try to get in with some popular clique. But what kind of youths belong to it? They may be fun-loving, but are they God-fearing? Will associating with them build up your relationship with God or tear it down? “Bad associations spoil useful habits,” warns 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Ask yourself, too, what fitting in would cost you. ‘There’s a lot of pressure to conform,’ says a youth named Grace. ‘When I was younger, I would do things like swearing because my friends would say, “Come on.” It was really just a feeling of not wanting to be left out.’ Author Mary Susan Miller tells of another youth who made compromises to fit in. He purposely let his grades slip “so he would not appear smarter than the classmates he wanted to be friends with.”—Childstress!
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making reasonable efforts to get along with others. (Compare 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.) But when fitting in means having to smoke, take drugs or alcohol, use foul language, laugh at obscene jokes, engage in sex, or the like, it is simply not right! That is going too far! Nor is it smart to let other youths dictate every detail of your dress, speech, or grooming.
Besides, Christians are commanded not to fit in with those alienated from God. Jesus said of his disciples: “The world has hated them, because they are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) Isn’t it better to have God’s approval than the approval of peers who do not serve God?—Compare James 4:4.
Fitting In With Fellow Christians
But what if you also have trouble fitting in with fellow Christians—youths who share your beliefs and convictions? Perhaps there are legitimate reasons.
You might, for example, be new to an area, and the youths there may be on the shy side or cautious about strangers. As others get to know you, things will likely change. Jessica had this experience when her family moved to a new congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She recalls: “Everyone was very friendly and nice to me, but it still took about a year for me to feel that I belonged in a personal way. Looking back, I now realize time is needed to build relationships.” Jessica adds that sharing in the public preaching work with others in the new congregation was a big help in making her feel a part of it.
Stephen points to another aspect of forming friendships. He says: “For years I was left out because I was shy. Then I realized that if I wanted friends, I had to take the initiative.” The result? Stephen now has a number of good friends. So can you if you put forth some effort. Instead of waiting for others to get to know you, try to get to know them. Invite some youths over to your home, or ask your parents if your new associates can join you in some family activity. This could be the start of lasting friendships.
When others do not respond to your efforts, however, it is often because of some misunderstanding. The apostle Paul was avoided by Christians in Jerusalem because of their mistaken notion that he was still a persecutor of Christians. Only after matters were straightened out was Paul accepted by the congregation there. (Acts 9:26-28) If you have likewise become the victim of some misunderstanding—perhaps due to harmful gossip—why not do what you can to straighten matters out?*
Nevertheless, not all problems have easy solutions. Sometimes even Christian youths are guilty of forming unwholesome cliques and of unfairly excluding others. This can be very painful to the one being excluded. It helps to remember, though, that like you, your peers are young and have much growing up to do before they reach maturity. In time they may outgrow their clannishness. But until those youths show a more Christian attitude, you are likely better off not being in their inner circle.—See 2 Timothy 2:20, 21.
Meanwhile, do not allow the situation to embitter you. You might try talking to your parents or to a Christian overseer about it. Remember, too, that Christians are commanded to ‘put up with one another’ even when there is legitimate cause for complaint. (Colossians 3:13) Young Tiffany, who suffered rejection by a clique, recalls: “I prayed to Jehovah for strength to endure and tried to be objective. I also tried not to let it hurt my feelings too much.”
The Bible also encourages Christians to “widen out” in their associations. (2 Corinthians 6:13) Researchers Jane Norman and Myron Harris note of clique members: “They are limiting their range of friendships and denying themselves the chance to learn how people different from themselves think and operate.” There are many others—including older ones—whom you can enjoy as friends.
Facing Your Flaws
You may also have to face the painful possibility that you are giving some people valid reasons to avoid you. Young Dana, for example, found that she did not fit in with the Christian youths who were spiritually minded. Were they being snobs? No, she confesses: “My language and my dress were worldly,” that is, inappropriate for a Christian. So while others were kind and cordial to her, they shied away from her socially.
Dana made some changes. She recalls: “I saw that I needed to be more spiritually minded if I was going to fit in.” Do you need to make similar adjustments? Doing so will not only win you the friendship of godly youths but gain you the friendship of God himself.—Compare Proverbs 27:11.
You may also have some personality traits that tend to turn people off. Wally recalls: “I had a tendency to talk too much and about things people weren’t particularly interested in. Once I realized how annoying this was, I worked on my personality. I think it helped me fit in better with others.” By talking things over with your parents or a trusted adult, you might discover that you have similar flaws. Perhaps matters can be improved simply by being friendlier or by talking less and listening more.
A failure to fit in, while it may be painful, is far from fatal. Be content with knowing that if you have a godly personality and really care about people, you’ll never have a shortage of friends.
See the article “What Should I Do if People Gossip About Me?” in our July 22, 1989, issue.
[Picture on page 25]
It hurts to be left out