We all long to belong and yet we feel like we just don’t fit in anywhere.
Even within family, community, religious, or cultural groups, we can feel disconnected and like we stand out awkwardly. We crave to be part of a tribe and accepted as a vital part of the group. What we are seeking is deep and meaningful connection.
Belonging is hardwired into our brains.
This desire is so primal it drives our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Feeling closeness with others matters because being part of a group enables us to share our vision, goals, and values. It’s a space for receiving and giving support, comfort, and enjoyment. It increases our motivation and health. Rapport signals acceptance which contributes to emotional wellbeing. Our social identity is tied to a group based on shared ideals and beliefs and meaningful interactions that enable us to be our authentic selves.
Conversely social exclusion and ostracism is deeply disturbing to our overall wellbeing.
Alienation leads to loneliness, inner conflict, self-doubt and depression, and can severely affect even our physical health. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that our obsession with smartphones is owing to our need for connection where we can observe and be observed and accepted.
But often this yearning to belong comes at a cost.
Our need for kinship can drive us to suppress and change who we are so that we can be approved of. The problem with hiding our true selves simply so that we fit in is that we then live on tenterhooks, fearing the day we will be discovered as a fraud. Stressful, right? Worse still, because we know we are pretending, we never feel truly connected either.
Ironically, we all engage in this behavior of trying to fit in and yet none of us stops to ask, “Exactly whose standard are we trying to live up to?” We don’t know whom we are trying to please because everyone else is also pretending. So we are like dogs chasing our own tails.
How we feel about ourselves deeply influences our relationships.
If we are alienated from our own feelings, thoughts, and ways of being through feeling shame, unworthiness, vulnerability, or fear then we will struggle to belong. Abandoning ourselves stifles and strangles parts of us, undermines our decisions, and makes us afraid to stand alone and in our truth. Essentially it is not allowing ourselves to be our perfectly imperfect human self.
True belonging and connection are impossible without a connection to ourselves. The bedrock of meaningful relationships is based on being ourselves without apology or explanation. All of us want to feel comfortable in our own bodies, and confident and self-trusting of who we are and our goals. Belonging is bringing our authentic self forward and owning how we dress, speak, and are.
When I was growing up, I was often told I spoke too much and shared too much ‘unwanted” information. On the faces of my listeners would be disbelief or disapproval. I would notice and cringe inwardly. For years whenever I spoke, I would notice the tendency to second guess myself or discredit what I was saying before someone else could do it. Their judgment never stopped me from speaking, but it did create self-doubt in me.
Such scenarios create a vicious cycle. The fear of being criticized causes one to pretend, pretending to be someone else causes us to feel unseen and rejected, which leads to fear of being with others and self-alienation.
To build a sense of belonging will take effort and consistent practice. You begin by working on yourself and then spread it out to others as your practice deepens.
May you find your way back to yourself.