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Fitting in Later in Life

By Ilene Federman, LCSW-C

The need to fit in never goes away. Remember back to middle school when you worried about who you would sit with at lunch?  Those same fears and anxieties can persist into old age. People are living longer and finding that life repeats itself.  They may relive the experience of being “the new kid” or that insecure young person who struggles with normal anxieties and fears. These fears can resurface often over the course of a lifetime, especially during transition times such as going off to camp, college, starting a new job, joining a social group, adjusting to life after losing a spouse, or moving into an assisted living facility.  Over the years, many people depend on significant others to help manage these insecurities, but and when they are no longer here, it’s easy to revert back to old insecurities.

How will I fit in?

Who will I talk to?

There are many ways that individuals entering a new situation can learn to break the ice.

  • share a smile
  • give others eye contact
  • exchange pleasantries
  • ask people about themselves and their families
  • share something such as a book, a joke or a baked good
  • talk to staff and get to know workers in your environment
  • become a familiar face
  • make your presence known by being there and joining in
  • join a card game, exercise class or book club
  • volunteer your time
  • consider moving outside of your comfort zone by trying something new

Unsure about starting a conversation with someone new? Most people are, but with some preparation you can chat like a pro.  Start by creating a list of easy and/or common topics like:

  • the weather
  • the season
  • upcoming holidays
  • Ravens, Orioles or any sports team of interest
  • the news
  • a favorite television show or movie
  • yourself or a family member

Move at your own pace but remember to get out of your apartment to share a meal, activity or conversation. When you show genuine interest in others, it will likely be reciprocated.   Keep in mind that, in a world that values similarity, we all have differences.  Fitting in does not and should not mean that you lose what makes you unique, but instead, that you have reached a level of comfort in your new environment.  If we give up the struggle to fit in, then we are freed up to live more authentically and true to ourselves.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”   ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ilene Federman, LCSW-C, is manager for adult therapy services at JCS.

JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland.  We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200. 

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