Social Exclusion – The Psychology Behind It (Opinion)

So, I thought I would share something that I have been thinking about recently. I have thought about this in the past, but it came back into my mind because of a school trip that I went on recently.

The trip itself wasn’t bad at all, in terms of location. I do think that a lot of people would have liked it more if we had the option of traveling around on our own or with who we wanted to instead of everyone being assigned a group. The one good thing about this, however, is that it allowed me to observe a lot of group dynamics. The majority of people seemed happy and were having fun, but the prominent teenage undertones of cliquey-ness and exclusion were still present. This got me wondering, what is it that makes people want to exclude each other? (This is all assuming that the exclusionary behavior in question occurs for some deeper reason, which is not always true. Sometimes people exclude because they just don’t like someone and don’t know how to deal with it. Also, forgive any spelling errors, I’m only half-awake right now).

I think that exclusionary behavior is an ego boost for the person who is carrying out the behavior. There is some kind of power that people feel when they have the ability to exclude somebody. I think it makes them feel superior, as they recognize that not everybody has a person to exclude. Yet, they have the “privilege” of being able to exclude someone from a group, which they tie in to their personal worth. I’ve noticed the same thing happens with group projects. Sometimes, people will exclude someone from joining a group project with the justification that there would be too many people even the group, even if this is not true. They say this with a sense of pride, almost as though they are very satisfied in themselves that they are of a well enough social standing to tell someone they can’t be in an exclusive group.

People just don’t think about the consequences. Perhaps they don’t realize how much their actions might hurt others. Our brains are still developing through adolescence. Sometimes, we don’t really think about how our actions may affect someone, or how they may hurt them. You can exclude someone and not be aware of the extent to which that can affect an individual person. Some people are really bothered by it and some people couldn’t care less, but the adolescent brain is still in development, and so an individual may not be able to perceive that somebody else may be more affected by it than they might be.

On the other hand, they might be doing it because they know it will hurt you. Sometimes I get the sense that people do exclusionary things so that they can make the other person suffer, or they do it in an attempt to make the other person feel the consequences. They use it as a form of punishment, kind of like putting a child on time out. If they are mad or frustrated with you, they may see this as a way of alerting you to the fact that something is wrong. It is an indirect way to get a message across or let somebody know that you are upset, but we all do it sometimes, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. I tend to think that girls have a pretty keen understanding of social subtleties. If they know anything about social groups, they would know how painful it feels to be on the outskirts of a group. They may just be attempting to hurt you as a form of punishment.

They’re overcompensating. Sometimes people do things as a form of overcompensating for some experience they have had in their own life. Perhaps somebody who frequently excludes others is doing so because they were once the victim of social alienation, and they were most likely excluded in the exact same way. Now that they feel they are in a position of power, they can seize it and use it to make up for everything that they felt they have been missing out on. If somebody has the ability to try to take power over a situation, they will do it in any way they know possible. For a lot of young girls, the way they know how to do this is through playing social games.

They are attempting to shift the power dynamic in the relationship (this one is more about why people may act distant on purpose). This kind of ties in with the last one, and is all about control. I think about this a lot because I experience it a lot in my life, and I know other people have too. Sometimes, when things are awkward with someone or when two people are keeping each other at arm’s length, both parties may attempt to gain power in the relationship. Since young people are growing up in the internet/social media age, I see this done through digital communication. How it works is: person 1 will reach out to person 2, and person 2 will take forever to respond to their text. Then, they will send a really disinterested response, and person 1 will leave them on read or never answer, etc… By sounding disinterested or leaving someone on read, you are trying to get them to reach out to you first. It is kind of an unspoken rule that you are the one who does not have power when you text somebody first. Sometimes people act disinterested because they really are disinterested, but this scenario assumes that the person in question is acting this way on purpose in order to play games.

By acting distant with the intent of increasing your perceived worth, you are trying to make someone reach out to you so that you can feel as if you are the one with the power, as they are “coming to you”. I think the same thing goes for social exclusion. By ignoring someone or attempting to cast them out of a group that you are in, you are attempting to make it seem like you have other options and you aren’t reliant on them. In the mind of the excluder, they may think that this will make the outcast individual want them even more. Yeah, it does sound pretty dumb. But a lot of people do it, believe it or not!

These are just a couple thoughts I have been having recently. Social exclusion happens all the time and doesn’t really go away, but it is interesting to try to understand why some people do it. Thank you for reading, and have a nice rest of your day.

-G.I. Kew

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