Ahhh...Belonging. Such a complicated yet simple word. The dictionary defines belonging as "an affinity for a place or situation." As a mental health professional, I know a sense of belonging is essential to the human spirit. It is a primal fundamental need. Our health and happiness depend on it. When you don't feel like you belong, EVERYTHING else is affected.
Belonging and fitting in are two completely separate things. Fitting-in is about acclimating to your environment. It's about changing who you are to get others to accept and like you. Maybe you hate the beach, but you go anyway because your friends love it and you want to be included. I am very good at fitting in. I learned to fit in from moving (twice in a 6-month time frame when I was 13). I had to learn a new culture. That meant learning that most girls got field hockey sticks before they could walk and that the color of your skin determined who you were friends with. Eventually I found a way to fit in but I never really belonged.
Belonging is feeling valued and respected for who you are as you are. It doesn't require you to change. Brene Brown asked groups of eighth graders to describe the difference between fitting in and belonging and it really touched me. Here are a few quotes she shared in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead:
What if you never find a place to belong? What if no one ever sees the real you? I'm willing to bet you just haven't found your people yet! In the meantime, you can still belong to you. You can honor and respect you. You can see who you are and belong to yourself. This concept is still difficult for me to comprehend, but I'm trying to belong to myself everyday. Even if no one makes me feel like I belong, I belong to me. This book was very helpful in helping me grasp this topic and a must read if you want to feel a deeper connection to yourself and to humanity.
I belong to me and that has changed my perspective in so many ways. It has helped me be a better wife, mother, and friend. I will instill this concept into my children because its the key to living. Learning to belong to myself has opened my heart to better friendships and allowed me to get closer to others. It has helped me feel like I belong and given me strength to go it alone.
I want to shift my focus to younger generations who are struggling to feel like they belong.
This, my friends, is the core of teenage angst. Loneliness and isolation are brutal to development. People will always find a place to belong. The lucky ones will find belonging in school, clubs, friendships, sports, or church, but many will not. Many don't even belong to their families.
How can this be? Think about the kid who can't live up to their parents expectations of being a straight-A kid, an athlete, or the popular kid. Think about the kid who has been ignored. Think about the kid who prefers the beach while everyone in the family prefers the mountains (okay, so this is a lame example, but you get where I'm going here). These kids will inevitably do what they need to do to fit in, but they never feel a true sense of belonging. These are the kids we need to worry about the most.
Brene Brown's research indicates "...fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in...is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are...".
We can create a sense of belonging for ourselves and our children but it takes work, practice, patience, and swaying away from our stubborn perspectives and life philosophies. Seeing people wholly and loving them hard, even when you disagree with them or find them imperfect, is the key to belonging. Let those you love be seen as they are and find the good in them. Stop criticizing them for everything they are not and cherish what they are. Show up and let yourself be seen, too. Be vulnerable and imperfectly you. Listen. Care. Be present. In makes a huge difference. We are all in this together. We all belong. Let's start feeling it!
Heidi shares personal stories of her ordinary chaotic life. She gives an honest raw look at what it means to be a mom, wife, counselor, and friend struggling to keep it all together. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression give her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as an adolescent and adult.