Nurturing A Sense Of Belonging
You are responsible for your own expectations and feelings, thus ultimately also for nurturing your sense of belonging.
We humans are tribal creatures. Sense of belonging is one of our basic needs. We deeply want to be accepted, to fit in. When we feel we belong, we feel supported and safe. With higher sense of belonging we even perceive our life to be more meaningful. It just is that important.
Well to tell you the truth, sense of belonging is one of these topics I have personally thought about for the best part of my life. There was this time when I was about 6-8 when I suffered some bullying at school and really graved for belonging and fitting in. Then there was that other time when I was older and wiser, around my teenage years, when I really wished me too could be just a bit like all these popular cool girls.
And just when I was all grown up, comfortable in my skin, and knowing quite strongly who I am and to where I (am going to) belong to, things got a bit messy again. Moving to live to a foreign country is a fertile soil for doubts regarding all aspects of belonging. It is no secret that living abroad for the last 16 years has made me think about belonging over and over again.
While there is this part of me that has quite solid sense of belonging, it is only recently that I have learnt to make true sense of my belonging on a cultural-country level. Replaying repeatedly some limiting beliefs about moving abroad and being an immigrant while trying to fit in here and there have been part of the struggle. And of course, motherhood added an extra layer to this matter. There have been days when I feel as if I do not belong anywhere - neither to my birth home Estonia, nor to my chosen home Portugal. And then there are these days when I feel that I belong to everywhere - I fully lean into the cultural richness of my journey.
Despite experiencing some struggle, through self-reflection and coaching, I have come to a conclusion that I do not need to discount any parts of me or adapt new parts to belong. I have to own my story, all of it, as this is who I am. Culture is the collective mental programming like Hofstede said. So why not to choose to fully run my own program?
This cultural richness has made me more resilient, more open, more understanding. It has taught me that something can be "white" here and "black" there, which means that while something is not possible here it can be fully possible there. It means one should dream, to challenge all the internal and external limiting beliefs and surely dwell in possibilities. I have changed my perspective from lack of certainties to richness of possibilities, from expecting to receive the sense of belonging from outside into creating the sense of belonging from inside.
Why Does Sense of Belonging Matter
Belonging, like all other basic human needs, matters. As human beings, we simply need to have this need covered if we want to live a happy healthy balanced life. Research has shown that sense of belonging contributes to better health and well-being. Studies have also found that sense of belonging fosters growth at schools and performance at work, while helping to keep stress levels low.
Now, more than ever, sense of belonging has shown up as a topic for discussion. Isolating, distancing, changing patterns of social behaviors and interaction all seem to have shaken the foundations everybody was so used to. The pandemic forced people to pause and to reflect about life. Belonging at work, already one of the top priorities for leading organizations in context of performance and increasing external instability and polarization (1), has most certainly got an extra attention and a new angle in context of remote work.
While there is no doubt that the happenings of last years have brought some heightened attention to all about their sense of belonging, it is quite likely that at some point in life most people end up experiencing some sort of "belonging crises". Changes in your external context (relationships, working and living settings etc) as well as in your internal context (personal growth) can be equally powerful triggers for shaking your sense of belonging. And if this happens, your best shot is to gain some self-awareness about the matter. Taking time to be curious about your feelings related to belonging is invaluable simply because knowing yourself better will help you, when most needed, to consciously choose to create and boost your sense of belonging and not the opposite.
Self-Acceptance As Source of Belonging
Dr. Brene Brown says:"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. (2)"
Of course there is no doubt that I immediately love these thoughts and relate to them. While belonging is often spoken about as if it was out of your control, as if it was something you need to deserve by fitting in, then believing in yourself and belonging to yourself sounds like something fully under your control and achievable.
Joining self-awareness and self-acceptance seems to be the best starting point for making sense of belonging in any context. Whenever you question your sense of belonging, the best is to pause and to get curious about yourself. It is important to get to know yourself to understand who you are and what do you really need to thrive in your life. Whenever you start feeling that you do no belong, take some time to dig deeper.
Sometimes your unrealistic expectations can limit your sense of belonging. Sometimes it can be about your irrational or purely subjective beliefs. And sometimes, it might simply be more comfortable, or safer (on an emotional level), to choose to be feeling "left out". Asking yourself some of these questions is a good way to start:
What does feeling to belong mean for you?
Are you self-sabotaging your sense of belonging?
Is there any limiting belief stopping you from feeling that you belong?
What do you think why do you feel "left out"?
Are you seeking for the sense of belonging in the right place?
Are you trying to fit in or are you showing up as your authentic self?
What is missing for you to feel that you belong?
What would be possible if you today choose to belong?
Once you have gained some clarity about your underlying reasons and feelings, and decided what kind of interactions are meaningful for you, it is much easier to know where to put your effort and what kind of relationships to cultivate. While sense of belonging is often spoken about in context of being accepted by a group, looking at it proactively, makes all the difference. If we really choose to, we can be the drivers of our life, let's not forget that.
And there is something else that is good to remember. You are not alone. You are not that different than the rest of us. Everybody wants to feel that they belong. Everybody needs that human interaction and connection for greater meaning in their life. Sometimes your expectations and your perceptions about the situation and other people might be misleading. Sometimes all you have to do is just to show up and to make somebody else to feel that they belong. What if it is all about giving and not receiving?
Boosting Your Sense of Belonging
Okay, so what could be done if you really decided to start approaching your sense of belonging as something you can create and boost depending on your season of life.
1) Be authentic - Once more I am going to tap into the wisdom of Dr. Brene Brown in this matter. According to Dr. Brown "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.(3)"
2) Acceptance of others - Work on your capacity to accept differences. You do not need to change yourself in order to accept different opinions and ways of doing things. See differences as possibility to learn and to enrich your experience and journey. Get curious, welcome the abundance of experiences in your life.
3) Expect less, give more - Expectations are quite often the source of disappointments and misunderstandings between people. What is obvious or common sense for you might mean something different for somebody else. Simply hope for the best, but take nothing for granted. Create positive vibes for others without expecting something in return. Be grateful when things work out.
4) Making an effort - Seek opportunities to connect and to engage with others - shared experiences can be a good start (4). Like with most things in life, if you consciously choose to cultivate your existing relationships and to create new opportunities, also the chances of feeling true sense of belonging increase.
Simply put, make sure to get comfortable with who you are, which then is a good starting point for building connections and developing relationships. We all have the power to make our relationships grow and connections flow... Do we always choose to use this power? No! But trust me, if we did choose to consciously work on it, it would change our life and sense of belonging forever.
And what if it really is all about giving and not receiving...?
And what if sense of belonging is made of little moments adding up...?
* In case you would love to find out how I as a Life Coach can help you to start nurturing your sense of belonging, please do not hesitate to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org