All of us long to belong. Psychologists say it’s one of the five core needs that drive our behaviour. We yearn to be accepted as part, an important part even, of some relationship, community or ‘tribe’. To find our ‘place’, where we’re integral to something larger than ourselves.
The problem comes when we try to reach this place down a road that just doesn’t go there. We spend years and years trying to ‘fit in’, in the hopes that it will bring us that blissful feeling. But “fitting in” turns out to be one of the biggest barriers to achieving that sense of belonging.
Researcher and author Brene Brown explores this in depth in her excellent book, ‘ Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead.’
‘Fitting in’ is what we do when we first try to suss out the expectations of the group or other – who we need to be in order to be accepted by them, how we need to behave, how we need to look, what thoughts and beliefs we need hold – and then we attempt to bend or contort ourselves to fit in with these expectations. It’s about bringing forward the parts of us that conform, that meet the criteria, and burying or staying blind to the ‘unacceptable’ rest. Often this is an unconscious, habitual process. We are not even aware of what we are doing. But we are probably all too familiar with the hollow feeling that’s left in our soul as a result of our striving to fit.
Unlike ‘fitting in’ belonging does not require us to change who we are, not one iota. In fact it’s about showing up and letting ourselves be seen and known as our authentic selves, with all our strengths and flaws.
Deep belonging requires us to own and be visible with our gifts, talents, beliefs, opinions, values and feelings. Visible in the body we have, rather than the one we think the world says we should have. Visible in our successes and failures, in our light and dark. And visible to ourselves, first of all.
It’s an evolving process of deepening our knowing and acceptance of ourselves and sharing that self with the world. Our sense of belonging only able to match our level of self acceptance.