Bullying by exclusion from a group


Are you being left out on purpose? Bullying by exclusion is just that. Intentionally forcing someone out of a group to cause them distress and harm is a common practice today.

However, there are many reasons for being left out of the crowd which does not constitute bullying.  It’s good to know the difference between the two. It will help you with how you react to what is happening.

Maybe you’re different to the others, or you’re new to the group. Maybe they have formed friendships, and they think you’ll come between them. Perhaps you don’t like doing the things they do like sexting and drinking. Fine, let them do it. Maybe time to make new friends.

Social exclusion and silent bullying

Deliberately pushing someone “out of the group” is an effective ploy for bullies. Why? It could even be that you are a bit too much of a star for their liking.

Standing out from the crowd can be great. It’s thrilling to be top of the class, or smart, or pretty. But it can be not so great as well.  Or you could be too bright. The bad thing about being very good at things is that it can make others jealous. Girls in particular can be very competitive.

If you are seen as a threat to ‘the group leader’ they could well push you out on purpose. Of course, you don’t know what you’ve done wrong. The nicer you are, the worse it gets. Then if you act mean towards them, or try to change to fit in, they just pick on you even more. You can’t win. They may even make up stories about you to turn your other friends against you.

Exclusion Bullying is painful
Bullying by being excluded from the group

New forms of bullying by exclusion

We have always known that being left out of things on purpose can be painful. Now science is beginning to prove it. Feeling deliberately excluded causes the same sensation in a pain centre of the brain as an actual physical injury. This is why we find being suddenly made to feel left out as a ‘punishing blow’. Bullies know this too. That’s why they do it. It hurts.

Why being left out on purpose is so painful: The Cyberball Experiment


When Kipling Williams of Purdue University experienced exclusion by a couple of Frisbee throwers at a park, he designed a technique called Cyberball.

Are we as independent as we think?

It’s easy to kid ourselves we’re more independent than we think we are. Today you can remove yourself physically from community living; work from home, chat via social media and even shop without entering a store. We no longer need to fit in to survive like we did when we lived in caves. Or before the train, car or plane. But is that just an illusion? Have we actually adapted at all? If so, why does it hurt when people turn their back on you for no reason? What’s the big deal? If you can amass thousands of friends on Facebook, then why fret when a couple suddenly befriend you online or befriend you in class or at the office?

That’s what scientists have been focusing on over the last decade.

Why do we react badly to being shunned?

A spate of school shootings hyped their interest. The shooters were students who had experienced isolated by classmates. Why do we still react so badly to being shunned? The results reaffirmed nothing has changed at all. Fitting in and socialising is as much a part of human life as it ever was. In fact, it affects almost everything we do. They carried early experiments out in a lab, but today they have moved them to the internet.

To study rejection inside of an MRI scanner, researchers use a technique called Cyberball, which Kipling Williams of Purdue University designed following his own experience of being suddenly excluded by a couple of Frisbee throwers at the park. In this test, the subject plays an online game of catch with two other players. Eventually these team mates throw the ball only to each other, excluding the other person. Compared with volunteers who continue as part of the game, those who are rejected show increased movement in the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula — two of the regions that display heightened activity in response to physical pain.

Confirmation of sadness

Cyberball does more than prove rejection, though. It seems to confirm that there is little you can do to avoid the feeling of sadness. If this was a normal everyday event whereby people you care about deliberately exclude you from their conversation, it would be rational to feel confused or upset. But the on-line experiment is a game between unknown players, and they rig the entire situation. You know you they are going to ignore you and yet you still suffer the anguish. It seems we haven’t changed a bit, have we? If knowledge is power, then Cyberball is a worthy trial.

You can download it online.

6 tips if you think you’re being excluded:

1: Awareness

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Bullies know about excluding people. It is something they do to hurt. It is hard-wired in us that if we are apart from other people we could be in danger.  But if you know what they are up to it can help. We all like to stay in our chosen friendship groups. Staying close to the people we know best and like to hang out with makes us happy.

It also keeps us informed about what is going on.  Sometimes bullies enjoy keeping you out of a group so that they can stay in—and in control.  It makes it hard to stay in touch with the people you get along with or want to be with.  Plus being pushed out makes you worry.  Have I done something wrong? Becoming aware of what is happening can help you cope better.

2: Investigate with care

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If someone is putting rumours around about you to make you out to be nasty or not liked, then they are unkind and cruel. Perhaps they accuse you of bullying others. Yes, you need to find out what is going on behind your back. However, other people who are still on the ‘in’ are often anxious too.

They don’t like talking about it. They may be thinking “If I hang out with you, I will be dropped”.  So maybe it is best not to speak to them about the problem. Find someone outside your group who you can talk to privately. Even adults suffer with this type of problem. Ask one of your parents if this has ever happened to them. If so, what did they do about it?

3: Hide your upset

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If you start asking other people in the group why your friends have dropped you, they may deny it. They may not even have noticed. It is often like that.  The bully may get pleasure out of seeing you hurt and confused.  ‘Why wasn’t I invited to that party?’ you ask someone on the inner circle. ‘What party?’

And remember, bullies love making up things. They are quite likely to even make up stuff just to confuse you. If they are out to torment you then don’t give them that pleasure. If you can share your unhappiness with someone outside the group, it may stop the situation getting worse.

4: Be careful who you confide in

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Exclusion bullying is very difficult to prove. It is even tougher to deal with.  Throughout our lives we make and lose friends all the time. It is very hard to cope with when you are young. But don’t handle this by yourself. Try and find an adult who knows you well who will listen.

If you can find someone more mature who you can share the details with, what is going on won’t hurt as much. That’s why it is vital to share your pain with an older person. If you can laugh with someone smarter, who cares if they don’t like you on Facebook?

5: Don’t give them excuses

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Don’t play into the bully’s hands by not turning up to things that you are invited to. You may not fancy going to a get-together if you are on the “out”. You may dread it. Sometimes a bully will ask you to join the group just to ignore you. It can take great courage to turn up somewhere you sense you are not welcome.

But if you are asked to a party, you should try and attend. Otherwise they can build a case against you. They will say it is your own fault that the group has rejected you because you “don’t show”.

6: Stay positive

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Bullies know it makes you miserable if you can’t join in with group activities.  Sometimes they exclude you on purpose to bring you down and make you depressed. What do you want to achieve in life?  Do you enjoy sports or music? 

What is your favourite subject? Keep thinking of all the things you like. The way to beat a bully is to keep on doing what you enjoy. It’s a good way to help yourself and spoil the bully’s fun. If there is nothing a bully likes less it is a cheerful victim. Check out some of our Tips for Teens.



Is leaving someone out always bullying?   Obviously not.  But if it is deliberate action to cause distress then possibly it is.

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