“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.”The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown
Connecting to other people and feeling like we belong are core desires of being a human. It’s vital for our overall well-being to find connection and belonging, and many of our actions are directed towards just that even at a very young age: babies who are unable to connect to their caregivers are visibly distressed (→ see the still face experiment).
We first learn how to connect within the family we grow up in. The quality of the relationships we find ourselves in as infants has an impact on how we’re going to seek connection later on. They teach us what’s required of us in order to find our place in social settings, and this can turn out to be either helpful or teach us things that won’t serve us well in the future. Kids who learn that they must be or act a certain way in order to get the reaction they need from their caregiver(s), such as love and acceptance, will unlearn how to be their true authentic selves and therefore run the risk of bending over backwards in order to please their surroundings and try to fit in that way, which will prevent them from experiencing a true sense of belonging.
It’s interesting how the need to be a part of certain social groups changes over time, as we are growing out of some of those groups and into others. When I was in high school, I was part of a group of people that I preferentially hung out with for the bigger part of my life. Due to different circumstances, however, we slowly but surely started to grow apart. We still talk to each other now (most of us anyway), but we’re no longer an inseparable group. We each have our own lives, met new people outside of the original group and learned how to live our lives away from each other, within different social groups.
Throughout most of my childhood, teenage years and young adult life, I was a horse rider. Because of that, I belonged to a number of ‘barn communities’ (some of which I was more invested in than others). No matter what was going on in my life, there were always people I could share my hobby and passion with whenever I went to spend time with my horse(s). Interestingly, the social setting of horse riding is one of the things that both made me love and hate being a part of it, depending on what was going on at the time. It’s true that I spent some of my best and worst moments in life at the barn.
I lost interest in horse riding for a number of reasons that I won’t be listing here, and even though I no longer care for the drama that often came with social scenarios at the barn, I still occasionally miss being a part of the community.
After (and partially during) all of this, a different social setting entered my life: the workplace. I found that feeling connected and being able to talk about random (not necessarily work-related) things to at least some of my colleagues is so important. When I first started working, I had enormous trouble to both be myself and behave in a professional way (which resulted in a complete loss of authenticity) and this, coupled with a debilitating lack of trust in my own abilities and a general lack of self-confidence, made me feel terribly awkward and alone. This turned having to go to work into a truly unpleasant experience that left me feeling drained, sad and lonely at the end of almost every day.
Luckily, I’ve come a long way since then and connecting to people at work has finally become much easier.
I’ve recently found myself feeling disconnected and I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m actually disconnected or whether the never-ending effects of the pandemic are messing with me. Come to think of it, it’s true that I’m not a member of any group at the moment (outside of my workplace, that is). For one, the pandemic makes it impossible – illegal, even! – to hang out in groups, but I’m also not sure whether I’d be hanging out in groups outside of the pandemic. Even in pre-pandemic times, I used to feel like an ‘outsider looking in‘ whenever I was invited to hang out with a group of people. I don’t easily consider myself a part of any social setting, I’m usually more comfortable with labelling myself as ‘the visitor’, and I’m not sure whether this is due to my fear of committing to a new group or the fact that I often feel like an impostor / unworthy of belonging (e.g. who am I to think that I belong to this group?).
This feeling of not belonging is a rather unsettling state to be in, to be honest, especially since there’s no distraction from it at this time, nor are there many opportunities to meet new people or to start hanging out in new groups and see how that goes. I live by myself (happily, most of the time) and I have to admit that my FOMO1 has been running high lately. This time, however, I’m not afraid of missing out on events (since there are none, duh!) as much as I feel left out while *everyone else* is surrounded by loved ones, hanging out in couples, with family or a group of friends, or their ‘support network’, as I like to call it: the people you can always fall back on, the safety net that catches you whenever you fall.
I don’t think I have one of those safety nets (and I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes here, I really appreciate each and every one of you that I know would catch me if I were to reach out 🧡). One of those nets that are just there, close-by, easily attainable without having to go through major efforts or too much trouble.
And maybe that’s my own fault, for I never knew how to ask for help, even when I needed it – autonomy over everything, am I right? 2
I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a pity party, and I sure hope it doesn’t come across that way too much.
And if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that things change. Nothing ever stays the same, and this is as much a bad thing as it is a good thing.
Good things will pass, but so will the shitty ones. So, let’s just hang in there, together (alone) 🍀.
1 Fear of missing out
2 No, I am not! 😉