Ending Exclusion Fears

Ending Exclusion Fears

It’s been great having my two daughters, Colleen (26) and Betsy (24) home for the summer. They are always in and out, but when they are in, they are really in and “present”… and so am I.

We have great conversations. Even our complaint sessions end up with validation and often deep heart-to-heart breakthrough processing moments. That’s just how we live—thank you, Language of Listening®!

One of the gifts of having meaningful conversations with your grown children is that you all share some inherited beliefs or ways of seeing the world. Examples would be seeing the world as either your natural home or inhospitable, welcoming or judgmental, abundant or defined by scarcity. Each worldview comes with its own set of strategies for survival that get passed down from generation to generation.

It makes sense to me that it would work this way. After all, why wouldn’t parents pass on their survival strategies to their kids? Of course, they would, whether they like the strategies or not.

Strategies for survival in a fear-based world generally show up as urgent “life lessons” that no one really likes. Those are the ones that my daughters and I process when they come to light because we believe that love, not fear, is the true source of everything.

One we uncovered recently is our fear-based belief about exclusion. This one can be touchy if you have it, too, so watch for your own reaction as you read this. But a great thing about processing your beliefs with family members is that when one of you gains insight or breaks through, the others do, too!

Our life lesson about exclusion is that “You HAVE TO include people or it hurts them.” Can you hear the fear in that strategy? We don’t like this life lesson, so we started looking for the source. As usual, what we found were two concepts that were in effect collapsed: “exclusion = rejection.” It turns out that in our family, we cannot tell the two apart.

Now granted exclusion and feelings of rejection can occur at the same time. That is actually probably how they became associated in our minds. But collapsing two concepts is different than just seeing concurrences or experiencing associations. The two are the same, not just sometimes, but always. In effect, they become one thing.

When you become aware that you’ve collapsed two concepts, at that very moment they begin to pop apart.

Upon further examination, you will find that one usually has a more physical world or experiential aspect and the other is more abstract. In this case, exclusion is more physical and action-based (something you can actually see), while rejection is more abstract and shows up as a feeling in reaction to a meaning you assign to the act of exclusion.

True collapses are usually so complete that they remain invisible until challenged—in our case, that means that even if exclusion occurred somewhere in our lives without rejection, we simply wouldn’t see it.

One of my favorite ways to challenge a collapsed association is to find an exception that will blow a hole in the idea that the two are always the same. So here’s the one that came to mind:

Men and women’s public bathrooms.

Do you know that my daughters and I have never felt one iota of rejection in being excluded from a men’s room? But there it is, loud and clear: no women allowed! Now we will agree that there is often an inconvenience factor and annoyance at standing in a long line while the men go in and out, and at times we would prefer unisex bathrooms, but as cis women, this form of exclusion has never felt like rejection to us.

Once you find one exception, others start to show up, too.

How about these as examples of exclusion without a feeling of rejection: other people’s mailboxes and mail addressed to someone else not you; private property and other people’s homes; do not disturb signs; subscriptions and memberships…? Exclusion without rejection is all around us. As Colleen noted, in this new context, exclusion becomes more like setting boundaries, which is a healthy thing to do!

Another way to challenge a collapsed association is to find a time before the association occurred where the action happened without the meaning. I’ve got one of those, too. I remember a time in my early childhood when the first thing I would ask another child was, “How old are you?” That’s because in my neighborhood, kids primarily played with kids their own age. Older kids were simply off limits. Given that’s “just the way it was” I never felt rejected when a child said they were older and turned and walked away. I just shrugged and walked away, too.

Once a collapsed association is separated, an interesting thing happens—the fear is gone and what shows up in it’s place is preference—what you like and don’t like. One way fear-based beliefs stay in place is by thinking that without the fear, you wouldn’t survive. The opposite is actually true. The fear is killing you! Fear creates stress.

In this case, the fear would be that if I didn’t realize that exclusion were rejection that I would go around blindly excluding people left and right, they would all hate me for rejecting them, they would reject me, and I would end up isolated, alone and unable to survive.

Actually, the opposite is true. The fear of excluding people can lead to a life of isolation (if not physical isolation then emotional isolation) to avoid the pressure of having to include everyone despite your preferences.

So what’s left for the my daughters and I after this family breakthrough?

  • The realization that we like to include people but don’t have to.
  • More enjoyment of the people we choose to be with.
  • A new ease with personal boundaries.
  • The ability to not take “exclusion” or other people’s boundaries personally.
  • Basically, a more unified and inclusive experience of the world and the others in it…like you.

Feel free to share your experiences of exclusion and inclusion here in the spirit of moving from fear-based beliefs toward love-based beliefs. I would love to hear from you and help you on your journey, if that works for you. 



  1. Cocochanel |

    Wow! Love this!

  2. Kimberly |

    Thank you for sharing this insight that feelings of rejection and exclusion can be conflated. Love the men and women’s bathroom analogy!

  3. ck |

    this is great. I was wondering if you have any thoughts about how to approach this with a little one. My 3 yr old daughter was on the excluding side the other day – she said “I don’t want to play with —-. I only want to play with —–.” How could I convey that this could hurt someone, without implying that exclusion = rejection?

  4. CK,

    That’s a very practical question and clear example. Thank you for bringing it up.

    I’m assuming all three children are in the same room when this takes place, and that’s why you are afraid one will be hurt.

    What I am about to say is a huge paradigm shift for most of us, but that’s what this post is about, so here it is:

    Assuming one child will be hurt by what another child wants or doesn’t want is how we teach children that exclusion is rejection.

    Instead of rejection, what is actually happening in this moment is that two kids simply want different things. When those “things” are people, we tend to fall back into what we learned as children and lived out over and over again which is that “exclusion of people=rejection.”

    You can teach respectful behavior with children age 3 and avoid passing on this belief by staying focused on validating their wants and treating their playmate disagreements the same as any other sharing problem. That keeps it purely a clash of wants, not a personal offense.

    To stay objective you start from where the child is with a SAY WHAT YOU SEE response and CAN DO. When you don’t make children wrong for what they want, they don’t have to prove their point (that it’s OK to want what they want and not want what they don’t want). When children’s wants are validated, they very often surprise you with easy solutions like this:

    SWYS: “You only want to play with Sally, and Julie wants to play, too.”
    CAN DO: “Hmm, must be something you can do!”
    Your child: “She can be the puppy and we’ll be the owners…”
    SWYS: “Julie’s nodding. Looks like that works for her, too.”

    If instead your child is adamant about playing with only one friend and is already in the resistant mode of needing to prove her point about wanting what she wants, then you go into mediation. You’d know because it would sound more like this:

    SWYS: “You only want to play with Sally, and Julie wants to play, too.”
    CAN DO: “Hmm, must be something you can do!”
    Your child: “I want Julie to go away.”
    SWYS: “That’s one way to play with just Sally.”
    Mediate: “Julie, does that work for you?”
    Julie: “No.”
    SWYS (to your child): “That doesn’t work for her. Must be something else you can do.”
    Your child: “Then, she can watch us play.”
    Mediate: “Julie, does that work for you?”

    Mediating back and forth matter-of-factly without judging either child’s response allows children to move toward a solution at their own pace. A move like this one from wanting Julie to leave to letting her stay and watch tells you they will eventually come to an agreement. Just keep validating and mediating. When your child has been validated enough so that she no longer has any point to prove, some other surprising solution will be reached.

    Here’s the hard part: Accept the children’s solution (within normal boundaries of safe play). That means if Julie says watching the other two play is OK with her, go with it. The children will take it from there and will be much more likely to include her fairly quickly since they don’t “have to.”

    However, if you see no movement at all in your child’s response to the first mediation attempt, and she remains adamant or escalates her refusal to play with Julie, then you would turn to Julie and say:

    SWYS: “Sounds like she just wants to play with Sally right now. You can ask her again later.”
    CAN DO: “Hmm. Must be something else you can do.”

    This would also be a good time to use the “when” tip described in my post on sharing here: https://languageoflistening.com/best-tip-ever-for-sharing/

    Granted there are many exclusion scenarios that this short reply doesn’t cover (like those with older children who already believe that exclusion=rejection), but keep in mind that at age 3 one-on-one play could possibly be the right level of challenge for your daughter, particularly if her need for power is high. (Bossy or “willful” actions are indicators of a high need for power.) If so try to arrange one-on-one play as often as possible, and allow her to naturally add more friends when she feels ready. When she does, acknowledge that as a STRENGTH: “You are ready to play with two friends today!” and she will begin to expand her ability to accommodate others more quickly.

    Exclusion without rejection is a tough one to wrap our minds around, but sharing oneself really is no different than sharing toys unless we teach kids it is.

    When we teach that exclusion=rejection, we we are teaching that exclusion is a weapon and thus perpetuating the bully cycle that is so troubling for our youth and our communities.

    Instead, imagine raising kids for whom the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is actually TRUE, and no longer spoken through angry tears, but with a self-confident smile. It’s possible, and breaking apart the permanent association of exclusion=rejection is an important place to start.

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