You Can't Sit with Us!
No sweatpants on a Monday
There’s a scene in Mean Girls (2004) that depicts character Regina George facing rejection from her former friends, Karen Smith and Gretchen Wieners. Newcomer to the group, Cady Heron, sits in silence as Karen and Gretchen demand that Regina can’t sit at a lunch table, because of Regina’s audacity to wear sweatpants on a Monday.
Thinking about the display of arbitrary rules and associated treatment of Regina, I’m reminded of a conversation I recently had with a friend, Jammies. We discussed potential consequences of one’s beliefs about being rejected by others.
To frame my view on this topic, it may be worth defining related terms. First, there is a distinction to be drawn between in-group and out-group roles. According to one source:
In sociology and social psychology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify.
As an example, in 1996, I graduated United States (U.S.) Marine Corps boot camp and became an active duty military serviceman. Prior to that time, I was classified as a civilian. I was a member of the out-group regarding military service and crossed over to the in-group upon graduating.
In- and out-group preference determines who enjoys membership or privilege to a specific subset of people. For the second set of terms, I highlight observational research phrasing related to emic and etic viewpoints. Per one source:
The “emic” approach is an insider’s perspective, which looks at the beliefs, values, and practices of a particular culture from the perspective of the people who live within that culture.
The “etic” approach, on the other hand, is an outsider’s perspective, which looks at a culture from the perspective of an outside observer or researcher.
For instance, I come from an etic mindset regarding what it’s like to be a high school girl who navigates the complexity of arbitrary rules of the lunchroom. Conversely, as someone who once endured such experiences as an adolescent girl, Jammies maintains emic understanding about the matter.
Personal anecdotes about exile
Though arguably not historically accurate, I first learned about the concept of ostracism as a child and when hearing the story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. To me, the thought of being separated from one’s source of love sounded frightening.
Not long after that lesson, I was taught about what it meant to be shunned or dis-fellowshipped by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as my dad practiced faith according to those principles. Breaking rules from one’s creator or the mandates of a religious body could have serious consequences.
Still, as I began attending school, I learned that a transition from the in- to out-group wasn’t always the result of wrongdoing. On the playground, boys segregated from girls. In the lunchroom, when allowed to sit where they pleased, children separated themselves from one another.
This sort of division occurred all the way through high school. My gang-related friends would expel a member for apparently little reason at all. As an etic observer, I witnessed teens in school who were bullied for little more than their choice not to skip class.
As an in-group member in the Corps, I had emic understanding about the insignificance of rationale used to alienate fellow Marines. When I was ultimately kicked out of the military, I experienced firsthand what it was like to become an out-group member in virtually no time at all.
The term “exile” refers to a state of being barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons. However, I think it’s appropriate to consider this phrase as synonymous with the displacement an average person may experience in certain circumstances.
Dear reader, have you ever been exiled from a collection of people? This could apply to membership of a church congregation, sports team, military, family, or even knitting circle.
From an emic perspective, do you know what it’s like to be banished from in-group membership? Perhaps you’ve been disinvited from participation with a lunch table clique, because you decided to wear sweatpants on a Monday.
There is historical context which supports the notion that civilizations use dispersion of people as a severe form of punishment. Briefly, let us consider evidence suggesting that ostracism has historically been used in conjunction with disciplinary measures.
Historical context regarding ostracism
Let us imagine what it may’ve been like to live among early hunter-gatherer societies, whereby modern amenities were nonexistent. Being shunned from a group could be the very act that would bring about an end to one’s existence. According to one source:
The most serious punishment among most hunter-gatherers is ostracism. In theory ostracism is equivalent to a death sentence because most people can’t survive for very long on their own in the bush. However exile rarely lasts for more than a few days, and even during exile a person’s relatives may feed him (or her) secretly in the bush.
Without assistance from others, exclusion from the group could create a practically impossible living standard. As humans advanced in technological and civil understanding and formed societies, the practice of exile wasn’t as consequential as life-or-death. Per one source:
[A]ncient Roman law actually adopted the penalty of exile in an effort to avoid excessive capital punishment. In addition, while the death penalty offers little or [no] flexibility, imposing the same final outcome, the possibility of different degrees of exile allowed the state, or ruler, to impose a punishment that more fairly matched the severity of a particular crime.
In extreme circumstances, one could be forcibly exiled to live on a remote island and left to co-mingle with indigenous inhabitants for survival or die from exposure to the elements. With even more passage of time and acquired knowledge, modern day civilizations continue the practice of ostracism. As one source states:
In a perfect world, prison generally has three purposes: prison acts as a deterrent to instant and repeat crimes, prison punishes the wrongdoer, and prison ideally treats or rehabilitates the wrongdoer so they no longer engage in crime.
Setting aside obvious injustices regarding the “perfect world” claim in relation to the imperfection of life, the reader is invited to consider that approximately 4-6% of people currently incarcerated in the U.S. are said to be innocent.
Given this proposal, let us conclude that 94-96% of these individuals are guilty of criminal offense(s). Even among incarcerated populations, the practice of removal from general population is enforced. According to one source:
The commonly held understanding of solitary confinement defines ad-seg [administrative segregation]. It is, at best, the most grim form of incarceration and is reserved for offenders who exhibit behavior that is harmful to themselves, other offenders, staff or prison facilities. It is an enhanced method of punishment within the institution of punishment.
Perhaps of little surprise to most people, a timeout for those already in timeout may have adverse effects. Nevertheless, I suspect the casual reader of my blog will likely never know, from an emic perspective, about solitary confinement.
The challenge comes from a scene in Magic for Humans, where magician Justin Willman pranked contestants into believing that they were invisible by getting the whole audience in on the joke. While one contestant used his newfound invisibility to steal people's lunches and air hump (very aware) audience members, the other spiraled into an existential crisis.
Online, I’ve observed relatively young people seemingly experience anxiousness, fear, and needless suffering when tearfully on the unwitting end of this challenge. Still, I imagine the average reader of my blog won’t understand the challenge from an emic perspective.
However, there is one global in-group from which perceivably most people may claim emic understanding, and which illustrates the effects of ostracism. Dear reader, do you recall the social distancing measures of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Since 2020, I’ve written about my concern regarding such actions. Perhaps my most scathing post to date, in which I addressed the matter, was on August 21, 2023, regarding an entry entitled The Village and in which I stated:
To be clear, masking, lockdowns, and the so-called vaccine during the three-year fear campaign related more to hysterics, neurosis, histrionics, and irrational beliefs than science. Rather, it was the bastardization of science itself—from those who promoted “the science”—which resulted in a situation arguably worse than COVID-19.
Perhaps you were unable to be present for the funeral of a loved one, attend in-person celebrations for holidays, or visit a friend who later completed suicide out of desperation. What was your emic understanding of the in-group experience regarding social distancing?
I suppose one could make an argument for ostracism among hunter-gatherers, exile in ancient Rome, incarceration for criminals, and ad-seg for cases of extreme offenders in prison. On the other hand, online challenges and social distancing raise more questions than for which there are answers concerning the effects of harm.
Still, what may be said about those among us who experience expulsion though who did nothing to deserve such treatment and in the absence of a perceived threat to human existence? Does rejection cause suffering?
If the most contemptible people in society are shunned from the in-group, and arguably endure unpleasant aftereffects as a result, does it stand to reason that mistreatment of this kind could be harmful to the rest of us? I’m going to take a radical stance on this topic by suggesting such treatment isn’t inherently harmful.
My psychotherapeutic modality of choice is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This is an approach to wellness that isn’t concerned with helping people feel better, as the aim is to assist individuals with getting better.
Therefore, REBT practitioners may reject the notion of an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection in regards to Regina being rejected (Action) and thus feeling sad (Consequence). Rather than an A-C connection, REBT highlights the effect of a Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection.
To understand this interplay, it may be useful to briefly address the ABC Model:
Activating event – What occurred
Belief about the event – What you told yourself about (A) that resulted in (C)
Consequence of your belief about the event – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (behavior)
Disputation of the self-disturbing belief about the event – How you might challenge (D) what you told yourself (B) and which led to (C)
Effective new belief to replace the self-disturbing belief – What effective new conclusion you can tell yourself rather than using unhelpful or unhealthy narratives (B)
To illustrate this point, though without going into the somewhat involved process of Disputation that results in an Effective new belief, consider Regina’s ABC chain of events:
Activating event – Having gained weight and unable to wear her usual attire, Regina wore sweatpants to school on the first day of the week. When Karen and Gretchen discovered Regina flouting the clique’s dress code norms, they began verbally challenging Regina. This culminated with Gretchen erratically yelling, “You can’t sit with us!”
Consequence – Sorrow created by Regina’s unhelpful beliefs.
It’s what Regina Believes about rejection that results in an unpleasant Consequence, forming a B-C connection. Unfortunately, and quite often, I find that people rigidly cling to the unproductive belief in an A-C connection.
They double down on unhealthy assumptions, layering their self-disturbing narratives, through unwavering declarations of control over themselves, others, and life as a whole. To this, I offer REBT’s concept of unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance.
Despite this, some people absolutely refuse to tolerate and accept the circumstances in life over which they have no control and little influence. These are the people who are willfully stuck and will needlessly suffer as a result.
I argue that while mistreatment of people throughout history (e.g., exile to a foreign island) and in modern times (e.g., incarceration), and even gross abuses of authoritarian power structures (e.g., statewide lockdowns) are indeed unpleasant, such actions do not in and of themselves cause unbearable suffering.
I assert that the B-C, and not the A-C, connection is what results in harmful effects. Therefore, use of REBT tools may help a person get better by alleviating needless self-disturbing through the challenging of unhelpful beliefs and with understanding of unconditional acceptance.
Not everyone has emic understanding of what it’s like to be rejected from an in-group of teenage girls at a lunchroom table, like Regina George in Mean Girls. All the same, I suspect the majority of people in the world have some experience with being secluded from others.
Personally, and before I knew about REBT, I thought it was unbearable to have been stripped of my U.S. Marine Corps uniform and told I was no longer one of the few, the proud. Historically, ostracism of this sort could have deleterious effects if a person was cast into the wilderness alone.
Aside from the most extreme instances imaginable, such as unethical human experimentation, I posit that REBT can help reduce suffering for people who’ve been shunned by others. When told you can’t sit with the in-group, you can get better by not subscribing to unhelpful beliefs about your circumstance.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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