Here’s How Cliques Almost Controlled My Self-Esteem

Anonymous - I remember when I first entered middle school, everything changed. I lost a lot of friends, and things were much less simple because of cliques. Even at 11, all of a sudden hanging out at someone’s house and lunch tables literally became an opportunity for social mobility or a risk of social decline. It started so young, and I didn’t understand. It was a very confusing time. I often remember being with a group of girls and feeling alone or being at a birthday party and feeling alone. When you know that your friends wouldn’t accept you for who you are, it’s really lonely. And as I looked across the lunchroom at the cool kids’ clique an even colder feeling of exclusion would come over me that I couldn’t explain or place my finger on. Sometimes being around them made me feel like I couldn’t function.

Needless to say, cliques can be really toxic, and they have a tremendous impact on how we see ourselves. They form in workplaces, college, graduate programs, and even on social media. Every day, when we go on social media, we’re exposed to different people who belong to different groups, and we choose the ones that we’d like to belong to. However, social acceptance does not always mean self-esteem. Sometimes it means that we have to keep reaching a standard set by others just to maintain our sense of self and belonging, and that can be really dangerous.

For instance, when I had to wake up for school as a kid, I just remember feeling anxious in the morning. I wondered why I couldn’t be better like the in crowd. I thought to myself - “is there something naturally wrong or not good enough about me and why?” People don’t think about it, but that feeling is a lot for a child to handle, and it affects us as we develop into a adults. How do we navigate those feelings as adult, and how can we be more aware of who we surround ourselves with?

How do we know when something is a community versus a clique? Within a clique, individuality is not rewarded, and it is sometimes even punished. Within a community or a group of friends, individuality is accepted as a part of a common thread. In a community or friendship, the idea of living authentically should not feel nerve wracking or impossible. Opposite of a clique, excluding others is not the foundation or even a defining feature. 

Social cliques are bodies of power based on our differences, but simply having differences or being separate from someone does not automatically mean that some differences are better or lesser. It’s natural to categorize ourselves into groups, but the superiority complex behind cliques is the difference between human nature and toxicity. The differences between people shouldn’t be used to give others the power or control to ostracize and bully others. 

Our individuality is valid, and it doesn’t need to be discouraged for communities to work.  When we feel good about ourselves without having the need to exclude others, we can truly thrive and discover who we are.