Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. ~Brené Brown
Loneliness and the Human Need To Belong
Loneliness. That feeling of not being a part of a group or people whether in your work life or personal life. It can feel very isolating to say the least.
The need to prove ourselves worthy of those around us can lead to a lot of insecurity and anxiety. Our work is to create the loving kindness that allows us to belong to ourselves. When we can feel that deep compassionate connection to ourselves, we don’t have to prove that we belong. We know it.
Where Loneliness and Disconnection Has Shown Up In My Life
I can recall many times in my life when that feeling of disconnection was a part of my awareness. Being among friends and family and feeling this lack inside myself. I didn’t feel like anyone really wanted me to be there or to be a part of their lives. It could creep up in short spurts or it could linger for days, weeks, sometimes months.
I wanted to feel that I mattered to the group I was not feeling a part of. The amount of enjoyment and playfulness I could experience could not seem to override the deeper feeling of loneliness. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of their love.
Feeling Like We Don’t Belong
Kristin Neff in her book, Self-Compassion, speaks to this feeling I had:
“Loneliness stems from the feeling that we don’t belong, whether or not we’re in the presence of others. If you attend a large party where you don’t quite fit in, you’re still likely to feel alone. Loneliness comes from feeling disconnected from others, even if they’re only inches away.” (Neff, 2011)
What I have, slowly, over the years figured out, is that the people around me loved me for who I was. The person that didn’t love me for who I was…was myself. The lack of belonging was in me.
Relationships and Loneliness
Now I want to say that this is not always the case. There are people living in families right now and feeling as if the stork dropped them off at the wrong house. They may be in a family system that is fast and aggressive when they are sensitive and slow. They may find this desire to explore culture and art, yet find themselves living on a cattle ranch. They may want to play sports when their parents are intellectual types. I have worked with clients who grew up this way. When this happens the child starts to believe there is something wrong with them for their inability to “fit in.” In either case the antidote may be learning self-compassion and developing what Brené Brown calls “true belonging”.
Finding True Belonging (Hint: It’s Inside You!)
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” (Brown, 2017)
For me personally this has meant moving deeper into myself and witnessing the thoughts and feelings that consistently feed the beliefs about my not belonging. My inner critic was and still is very strong. But slowly I have allowed those thoughts to be less sticky. They come and they go. What this means is that I don’t believe I don’t belong. Instead I step into my community with confidence and greater capacity for connection.
Fatherhood and Connection
Recently, with becoming a father, I have noticed more of these thoughts staying with me. My fears about failing as a father are very present to me. I struggle to feel like I’m enough for my loving wife and two sons.
The challenge is not to see my family and loved ones as the cause of this struggle. I must realize that the change can only happen inside myself. I need to create true belonging in me. I can ask my wife and others to help remind me that I’m enough and that they love me. Still, the heavy lifting of developing this level of internal awareness is mine.
So how does one do this? Disconnection from my community was what created this feeling of being on the outside. When I felt this, my willingness to reach out and connect with others, showing the vulnerability of my loneliness, was one way I could start feeling more belonging.
Brené Brown goes on to explain this:
“The neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago has been studying loneliness for over twenty years. He defines loneliness as “perceived social isolation.” We experience loneliness when we feel disconnected. Maybe we’ve been pushed to the outside of a group that we value, or maybe we’re lacking a sense of true belonging. At the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction—an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections.” (Brown, 2017)
… So we can find belonging when we reconnect with people in our lives.
Mindfulness and Meditation for Connection
The other resource is using mindfulness or a meditation practice as a way of coming into a deeper sense of self-compassion for ourselves. When I feel disconnected I am usually in a place of judgment about myself or someone else. When I come to the present moment and ask what is missing there usually is nothing missing. There is only the self-aggressive narrative that I, or someone I want to be closer to, is not enough.
I believe that true belonging is something we can all strive for. I don’t believe, personally, that I’ll ever get there. I will likely feel moments of isolation and lack of belonging. As I work on it I can feel it becoming less a part of who I am.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling isolated in their life please reach out to me.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Brown, Brené. (2017) Braving The Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging And The Courage To Stand Alone. New York, New York: Random House Publishing.
Neff, Kristin, (2011) Self-Compassion: The Proven Power Of Being Kind To Yourself. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishing.