We all enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people who share similar characteristics and interests. We understand that in every life situation cliques form based on race, religion, economic class, work and children. In every imaginable situation likes and dislikes, alliances and exclusions form. There are cliques of working mothers and non-working mothers, coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers, those who watch The Bachelor and those who don’t. On the other hand, we all read Lord of the Flies in elementary school, and maybe more recently caught an episode of Survivors or the Apprentice on TV where people were voted off the island or out of the office. Cliques appear to be part of the human condition. At best they form a support group. At worst, they become a confining box. Conceptualize this modern day fable:

In a complex, multi-layered hive buzzes a beautiful, articulate, affluent, charismatic and powerful queen bee. She has the magical power to strengthen friendships, or to break them, refusing admittance to her inner circle. She functions well because of wannabees, who are delighted to be in her company. The wannabees strive to get closer to the queen showing that they are worthy by dressing in the queen’s style and sharing similar interests. They feel connected and comfortable. We all know about school cliques and how painful they can be to children. However, many of us don’t realize the power cliques wield in our adult lives.

Cliques carry an aloof mystique. Many mothers of grade-school children strive to be accepted by the inner circle not just for their own sake, but for their children’s! They feel sad when their children have few play dates. On the flip side some parents consciously or subconsciously transmit and perpetuate the concept of the elite group to their children- both girls and boys. They are subtly guiding their children to form cliques to shut out the competition, the potential new stars: War of the cliques, so to speak.

Is this the social milieu we seek? Does this behavior remind us of our own negative seventh grade experiences? Cliques tend to be more about power and control and less about the open door of friendship. Why devote so much time and energy to snobbism? Why do you seek other people’s validation? If we are trying so hard to belong for our children’s sake, then we are not teaching our children good values about generating self-esteem. Friendship should be relaxed and easy, not fraught with tension and strategizing. In fact, some schools realize that cliques form early on and can negatively affect children’s social development; therefore they frequently mix up groups of children in the lunchroom, and in next year’s classes, so that the same children don’t always sit together and play together during recess. We adults need to follow suit.

Move past the small, limited world of the clique. Meeting new people is energizing and stimulating. Moreover, friendships are forged on many levels fulfilling different needs. They don’t all have to be equally intense. By the same token, newcomers to any group need to be patient, taking things slowly and lightly. Friendships take time to deepen.

It all boils down to cultivating a strong core of self-confidence. Accept who you are. Comparisons to others drain you of personal power, robbing you of a perception of your own uniqueness. Express yourself genuinely and take yourself out of the competition.

Here is how adults can move past feelings of exclusion.

  • Don’t let others have power over you. Realize that even the most popular feel insecure. In fact, you might be excluded because you seem unapproachable – they might feel undermined by you hanging on the sidelines! Reach out; leave your comfort zone to make the first move.
  • Emit positive vibes. People gravitate to positive people. Be the best that you can be and others will be attracted to you.
  • See the basic comedy of manners in the clique. Don’t take them so seriously. Laughter generates endorphins and will help you see other possibilities.
  • Get rid of that air of desperation. If you act like a victim, you will be treated like a victim. Living well is really the best antidote. Act as if and soon you will be feeling much happier and relieved. Have confidence that things will work out in the end.
  • Focus on past successes and what qualities you incorporated to make them a success. Transfer these qualities to other areas of your life- like making new friends.
  • Keep growing. Get out and learn new things and visit new places. If you have other sincere friends in your life, who cares about one or two less. Focus on who and what you have- not what you are missing.
  • Get involved at your child’s school: class mother, committees, school programs, etc. You will help your child by being in the know about school. You can be creatively involved, suggest improvements and be there to have some input.
Author's Bio: 

Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB 1240AM in Long Island and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com