Shunning and Social Rejection: Why am I a social outcast?

There are many different forms of social rejection from parental rejection to peer social exclusion at school, romantic rejection, religious shunning and even rejection at a job interview. Whilst specifics vary amongst different types of social exclusion, they all have much in common when it comes to explaining the concept of not being accepted. So what are the general causes of social rejection?


There are lots of reasons behind social rejection, but they can be classified into 4 main groups:

1.) People who may interfere with the group’s goals

From a biological, survival-of-the-fittest point of view, group acceptance is extended to people who have something to benefit the group. At the very least, group members are looked upon favourably if they will fit in nicely without rocking the boat.

People who have a tendency to show “ungroup-like behaviours” that may throw a spanner into the works are at higher risk of social rejection. Examples of ungroup-like and unhelpful behaviours include the following:

  • Inability to share: Only taking care of yourself and not giving anything to others.
  • Inability to listen: Being inattentive makes working together difficult.
  • Immaturity: People who throw tantrums and are unable to interact maturely with other group members can hold back the group from progressing.
  • Inability to cooperate and work together
  • Difficulty with social skills like an inability to read other people, can hinder smooth functioning of a group. Being able to pick up subtle non-verbal signals of group members helps raise the efficiency of the group’s ability to work together. This may be one of the reasons that children with social difficulties like Asperger’s and autism may struggle with group acceptance in some cases.
    Parents who beseech their Asperger or autisic children to “act normally” are really saying: “I see these social skills as crucial for your survival and I want you to survive and thrive”. Such parents can learn to see that where it’s impossible to “act normally” because of certain constraints, a child will still be able to survive and thrive with the tools and talents that they do have.
  • Tendency to argue with convention and with group leaders, thus slowing down the group. It is important to note that there is a difference between “arguing” and holding different opinions and expressing them appropriately. Appropriate sharing of ideas can be innovative and valuable to the group. It is only when a tyrannical or fanatical stance is taken, where compromise and consideration of others is disregarded, that disagreements can become an encumbrance.
    Where fanatical opinions exist amongst certain cultural groups, whole groups may be at risk of social exclusion. Sadly, stereotyping can occur and people within the condemned “type” who aren’t guilty of fanaticism can be tarred with the same brush. This is when people with different cultural, religious, and political beliefs can sometimes be seen as an impediment to a group’s smooth existence. Such thinking may contribute to the formation of political parties like the BNP.
  • Tendency to be loud and distracting at inappropriate times: Children who impulsively disrupt lessons are at risk of frustrating other members of the group for hindering their progress and invading their sense of peace of mind. Having peace of mind is a basic human need! If people invade other people’s sense of space and peace, they can inevitably be socially rejected. Good social skills can compensate for a tendency to occasionally be disruptive when it comes to peer acceptance.
  • Negative people: People who frequently point out what can go wrong and do not offer much positive input can bring down the morale of the group and slow down progress. Having said that, honest assessment and constructive criticism is a useful offering to the group. It’s only when criticism is destructive and excessive that it becomes a problem. This can be the case for people with general anxiety syndromes and low self-esteem, where their low confidence and anxiety inhibits them from being useful to the group. They are incapacitated because of their personal limitations.
  • Narcissistic and neurotic people: People who can’t see past themselves at all are unhelpful to the group. With the wide amalgamation of personality traits humans possess, hindering traits like narcissism and neuroticism are often found alongside positive traits, including good social skills. As long as the benefits the group member has to offer outweigh the hindrances, they are often accepted into the group.
  • Low academic skills: Acceptance into a high-flying company’s group when you’re hired for a job is often based on how good an education you had. Low education levels and poor qualifications are seen as factors that could delay advancement of the company, and such people are therefore more likely to be rejected.
    Some social groups that value educational levels may also exclude others for not meeting their group requirements. Like all cases of social rejection, this is a type of intolerance, and it is important to remind people prone to such intolerance that academic qualifications are far from being the only reflection of a person’s intelligence..
  • Low social status: When it comes to choosing friends and romantic partners, “good” social status can boost a person’s reputation whilst negative status has the opposite effect. In romance, there is a tendency to choose partners who have a slightly higher social status than yours. This is likely an evolutionarily determined process that occurs to ensure that your offspring has the best chances possible for successful survival. Perhaps this is partly the reason for the oft-heard expression: “S/he’s not good enough for you!” and the desire to “marry up the social scale”.
    Unfortunately, this type of social bias can also lead to snobbery and inter-class-resentments. Happily, the class wars are far less prevalent today than they were in previous decades and centuries, although they are still far from extinct.
  • Poverty: Members classified into the poor section of society can be seen as a hindrance because they often need monetary assistance from the group for survival, and may not have much to offer in terms of contributions to the group. At their worst, they can be seen as a leach on resources. Of course even a poverty-stricken person still may have a lot to offer society and the group. Judging a person because of how much money he has can have no bearing on his positive contribution to society. Many socially successfully people come from humble beginnings. Nevertheless, the underlying subconscious belief that poor people have little to offer the group may bias people (without them even realising it), towards choosing friends that are better off financially.
  • Less able-bodied people and people with disabilities: The very young, the very old and the disabled are sometimes seen as hindrances to group efficiency, which can lead to social exclusion of these groups. As an example of this, in the past it was common for children to be “seen and not heard” because their presence was seen to be disruptive.
    Weak members of the group are also considered less helpful. In primitive caveman times, those who showed low athletic ability, and those who had poor vision for example, may have been viewed as less helpful to the group. To this day, school children are often teased for lacking these essential caveman needs.
    The qualities which are seen as “weak” differ depending on the group in question, the group’s goals and values. Some groups see athletic proficiency as useless but rate intellectual skills highly. In such cases group members may ostracize jocks with low intelligence. The army, on the other hand would value athletic abilities over academic prowess.
    Parents who have certain values may frown upon their children if they don’t exhibit the able-bodied traits they would like them to have. They may cry out “Why can’t my kid be normal?”, which really means: “Why can’t my kid fit my idea of what’s needed for optimal survival?”. It’s a blessing we live in a world where there are a wide array of groups, each with different goals and values. This enables survival to be possible even if a child does not possess the talents needed to meet a parent’s idea of what goals they should achieve.
  • People at risk of sexually inhibiting the continuance of the human race: There may be a natural evolutionarily-driven tendency for humans to reject homosexual tendencies because it has the potential to hinder the survival of the human race. This is an outdated and limiting view as medical advancement and various socially accepted solutions today have provided ways for homosexual people to have children too, yet evolutionary instinct may take longer to catch up to logic. By socially rejecting homosexuals, some groups may instinctually, and without conscious awareness, be acting out the ancient human drive to aid group survival.
    People who look androgynous may be prone to suffer social exclusion for similar outdated instinctual reasons.
  • People with different hobbies and interests: Amongst children and teens, having unusual or different hobbies and interests to the group can be an obstacle for the very important activity of play. What music people like, or what clothes they wear can give clues to whether there will be problems finding common group to enable the joy of group play. The more intolerant a person, the more likely they are to socially exclude a person for minor “offences” such as disliking what they perceive to be the “right” kind of music. Usually however, such minor differences only lead to social rejection if compounded by other hindrances or dangers to the group.

In all cases of the above mentioned encumbrances, good social skills and providing benefits to the group can over-ride other socially hindering factors of group acceptance.


2.) People who pose a danger to the group

  • Sickness: If anything poses a threat to group survival it is disease. People who have an ailment pose a threat to the group if they are contagious. The reaction to sickness is an instinctual one, where many people find it repulsive due to the evolutionarily coded need to avoid disease. Any indications of disease can cause repulsion and increased risk of social rejection, even if the problem is not contagious, because evolution seems not to have been quite that selective. It may be that social exclusion of people with physical deformity may also have its roots in the fear of disease. This is because deformity may sometimes be a side effect of serious illness.
    Members of society who are seen as unusually short or tall may also project that they have “faulty genes” with conditions like dwarfism or giantism which may increase risk of certain health problems and hinder survival of the group. This may explain society’s natural tendency to be less accepting of such people who deviate from the norm.
    On a similar note, people who are unkempt, messy, smell bad and appear dirty may be repulsive to people because subconsciously they pose a threat to the health of the group.
  • Mental sickness, volatility and labiality: People who are mentally unwell or unpredictable could be a danger to the group and for this reason are often feared and ostracized.
    Where safety of a person’s life is concerned, it can sometimes override even a parent’s love, and some children with mental health disorders may feel unaccepted by their parents, because their parents fear their volatility.
  • Aggression: People may socially exclude others who are seen to be aggressive because they intimidate and instil fear for general safety.
    Ironically, one of the side effects of social rejection is aggression, which is why many of the aggressively violent high school shootings heard of in the news where carried out by angry youths who had suffered social exclusion of some kind.
  • Members who look intimidating: People who choose to dress in intimidating ways can instil fear in others who may interpret their intimidating appearance as an indicator of pent up aggression or unpredictable behaviour. Stereotypical bikers, goths, and punks often exude slightly intimidating airs which may be feared by others. A recent example of a group socially excluding intimidating clothes is the France Burka ban. Although there were several reasons for the burka ban, one of them was that Arab women who covered their faces stirred feelings of discomfort in members of the public. Other groups that cover their faces in society today include burglars, bank robbers and hooligans, so perhaps it is understandable why a face cover could be seen as “dangerous” to the group, even when the intention behind it poses no malice.
  • Traitors: Members who are at risk of squealing to the “enemy” (where there is one), or people who may be whistleblowing traitors, can be seen as a threat to the group and may therefore be socially excluded.
  • Members who challenge the core beliefs of a group which could mean not only a hindrance to efficient progress of the group, but it could lead the group to fall apart completely. This is why many religious groups have a huge fear of challenges to their beliefs. Strict sects like the Amish church for example, are known to shun members for deviating from their strict rules for what much of the world would consider minor offences.
  • Members who challenge the group leader: If the group leader perceives you as an alpha male or female who may jeopardize their position as the leader of the pack, they may ostracize you and use their group power to rally support against you. A group leader that acts in this way may also be sending out a warning message to the group: “Anyone who messes with me and rebels against my power is going to suffer social exclusion.”
  • Members who “sin” and influence group members negatively: This is commonly a reason to shun people in religious communities. The fear is that sin begets sin, and one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

3.) People who are deemed to offer no benefits to the group

Sometimes even when people are not a hindrance or a danger to the group, there are cases where group members feel they have enough people in their group to fulfil all the necessary roles, and if external people don’t have any extraordinary benefits to add, they will not include them into their group.

When a group’s valued traits are very different from an outsider’s valued traits, even if an outsider has a lot of benefits to offer, they may still be socially excluded from the group. Unfortunately what is perceived as a benefit is sometimes subjective. This is where being different (in spite of having lots of wonderful things to offer) can lead to what’s often perceived as unfair social rejection.

A clique of children may sometimes reject a perfectly charming new kid in the class who may have plenty of talents and good things to offer, just because none of the kid’s positive attributes fit in with their group values. You can’t really change a group’s values and it’s not really fair to expect you change your own values just to fit into a group that you probably won’t really feel either comfortable with or happy in anyway. The best advice perhaps is to seek other social groups with similar values to yours that will appreciate your gifts.

4.) Rejection due to Painful Projection

“They’re just jealous of you!” is often the defiant cry of a parent defending their child when they aren’t accepted by a group of their peers. Whilst usually there are many other possible reasons for social exclusion, jealousy can be a cause. If you project something that others don’t have, like good looks, intelligence, athletic prowess, wealth, self-confidence or any other positive trait, they may resent you for their own deficiencies. In fact in such cases it’s entirely the rejecter’s own issues leading to your social exclusion.

Similarly, any negative traits a person has which remind others of the same traits within themselves can be painful to see. So if a person is very overt in their lack of self-confidence or insecurity, it may mirror these same shortcomings and vulnerabilities in others. When people observe these uncomfortable traits, it may set off a familiar lurch inside them that they possess these same traits, but they may find it so subconsciously repulsive that they reject the person who embodies this awful trait that they fear and dislike in themselves. It is easier to disown vulnerability by rejecting others than it is to face your own vulnerabilities head on.

In conclusion

Often when we think of social rejection, we attribute it to “they’re just too different” in some way. Whilst this is true, if you dig a little deeper you find that the differences often pose a hindrance or threat to survival or to self-image, which may explain the age old question of why being different can be so difficult in society.

Having conscious awareness of why we do the things we do to people can help prevent rejecting others which often mirrors rejecting something inside ourselves that we do not want to see, for fear of not being able to handle it. It is when we learn to behave compassionately towards ourselves and accept our differences, vulnerabilities and shortcomings that we become more tolerant and accepting of others. When we learn to live in peace with ourselves we can then live in peace with others.

About the author
This article was written by Li-Or and edited by Janice.

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Disclaimer:
Much of what is written in this article is based on the author’s own extrapolations and theorizing.

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3 Responses to Shunning and Social Rejection: Why am I a social outcast?

  1. Dror says:

    I liked your article – is interesting

  2. Stessily says:

    An interesting question with thought-filled answers. My observation of shunning and rejection tends toward two extremes:

    (1) someone is shunned because they do not fit in with the group, as, for example, different interests, social status, etc.;

    (2) someone is shunned because certain ones in the group are fearful that this person will outshine and/or replace them in the group.

  3. CftxP says:

    Wow, this article really helped me a whole LOT! Yesterday, I was depressed beyond belief and when I woke up early in the morning today, the feeling was residual but when I happened to stumble upon this article, I immediately felt better while I was reading it – especially the two parts where you were talking about how despite having Autism (possibly Asperger’s when it was still a valid diagnosis) I could use my tools and talents to help me survive in this world on a social level and that despite being gay, the negative reaction to it is likely only the failure of evolutionary tendencies to catch up to common logic. I’d also like to add the fact that rejection also happens just because someone doesn’t look like those in the perceived group.

    For example, I always had trouble making friends due to the sheer fact that my acne has ravaged my face to the point that my appearance is off-putting to many. Unfortunately, that was the major reason for my depressive bout since for so long, I tried to ignore these feelings and deny them but they did overpower me when on Christmas, my parents forced me to go to church, which reminded myself of why I didn’t want to go in the first place – the judgment, based on appearance and my personal beliefs.

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