Kate, 15, had been friends with Tahlia and Holly* for five years.
"We were known as 'the trio' and we did everything together. That is, until my family moved 30 minutes away," says Kate.
Gradually Tahlia and Holly grew more distant.
"One month after my move they went to the beach together without me. After years of not even going out to lunch if all three of us couldn’t make it, I’d never felt so betrayed."
When Kate confronted the pair at school they told her she was no longer a part of the trio.
"I felt like a loser and realised I’d invested so much time in two girls who ditched me completely," says Kate.
Does this sitch sound familiar to you?
Being excluded, whether you're not invited to social events by friends or ignored at school is the opposite of fun, right?
And here’s a newsflash: deliberately leaving someone out is actually considered bullying (yes, seriously).
“This type of bullying is called ‘relational aggression’,” says Lucy Thomas, bullying expert and co-founder and director of anti-bullying organisation Project Rockit.
“It’s where people use relationships to mess with you by turning people against you, spreading rumours or humiliating you in front of others. Just because it happens behind the scenes doesn’t mean it’s not bullying, or that it doesn’t hurt.”
When Lauren*, 16, asked to be in a food tech group with two of her friends, they giggled and told her she’d probably make them fail.
“They were laughing as though it was a joke but it clearly wasn’t because they didn’t let me be in their group. I felt so embarrassed sitting alone in class,” says Lauren.
When people who are meant to be your friends treat you this way, it’s easy to think you just have to put up with it, but this behaviour - aka a subtle form of bullying - can cause a lot of emotional damage.
“When someone is excluded they can feel isolated, disempowered and worthless,” explains psychologist Doctor Mary Casey.
“If the situation isn’t handled, it could affect the victim’s ability to trust friends in future.”
So why, when it causes so much hurt, do people leave others out?
“Bullies might not seem it, but they’re very insecure people. They exclude others to try to make them feel as insecure as they are,” says Dr Mary.
“It’s highly likely that whoever is leaving them out is doing so because they’re scared of being left out themselves.”
How to deal
So what can you do when you love and get along with everyone in your group except one person whose life mission seems to be leaving you out?
First up, you need to realise that this form of bullying is NOT a reflection of your self-worth.
“Being bullied doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s so important to keep in mind that when people exclude you, it’s most often more reflective of their insecurities than it is about you,” says Lucy.
Secondly, don’t fight fire with fire. Just ’cos she’s got an issue with you doesn’t mean you should compromise your morals by being rude back – it also doesn’t mean you should up your nice levels to “suck-up” proportions either.
Instead, focus on cultivating friendships with those around you who are true friends.
“It will be much more difficult for her to give you a hard time if she feels that you have a group of people supporting you,” says Lucy.
“Talk to somebody you trust outside of the situation – a parent, sibling, teacher or friend from outside of school.
"They’ll not only be able to help you work out the next best steps to take, but really help you get a perspective of the situation because they won’t be under her control.”
Keep your self-esteem in check by listing the things you like about yourself and run through it every morning before you go to school to help you remember that there’s nothing wrong (and everything right) with you.
If you’re continually being excluded, these so called “friends” aren’t worth your time.
Stop the cycle
Anyone who’s ever been left out would never want others to go through the same experience, but sometimes, as Kate discovered, we can become desensitised to exclusion, or we see it happening to someone else and don’t speak up.
“After my two friends dumped me, I sat with some other friends. We were all heading out to the movies on the weekend and another girl in the group asked if she could come along,” says Kate.
“The ringleader of the group told her we weren’t going anymore, but secretly we were – she just wasn’t invited. Even though I didn’t agree, I still went along to the movie date. I still feel really horrible about it.”
In these situations, it’s important to support the person being excluded.
“Real bullies have a way of surrounding themselves with people who are actually nice but are easily manipulated,” says Dr Mary. So if you see it happening to someone in your group, make an effort to include them and make them feel welcome.
If a bully sees others supporting the person they’re trying to exclude, they’ll be less likely to think they can get away with it.
- Names have been changed for the privacy of individuals.