Research indicates the need to belong is as important to self actualization as Maslow’s hierarchy of basic human needs. It is true that attachment to something or someone beyond ourselves is essential to propel us to our greater selves. Gratification can be realized with a sense of purpose and understanding we are not alone, but a sense of belonging requires us to embrace and appreciate our self.
In a culture offering a plethora of forums, from Facebook to Face Time, it is easy to be consumed with communication. Likewise, professional and personal relationships consume time and cause us to not feel alone. Interactions alone, however, will not meet our need to truly belong and achieve this essential sense of emotive connection.
According to many psychologists belonging requires connection to purpose while accepting yourself within the process. Ironically, self acceptance is essential to accomplishing the feeling that we belong and easier said than done in our Instagram, butts too big, judgmental society.
To quote Brené Brown, a brilliant qualitative researcher featured on TED Talks, who writes in Oprah Magazine, belonging is not about fitting in. As we are all unique, to abandon things that make us, us, or hide things to fit in is not belonging. Rather, altering ourselves in hopes of being liked by others actually prevents us from the sense of belonging we actually need:
…Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, 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 – love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all. Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted… But.. not letting ourselves be known… is incongruent living… soul-sucking.
We will all profess to belong to something, a family, organization, school, team, or club. To actualize a sense of belonging we must be ourselves, accept our differences, and in return will gain the sense of connection we strive for. According to Psychology Today’s, Create a Sense of Belonging, there are three important practices that build the sense of belonging:
1. Focus on similarities, not differences. Everyone is unique, however it is likely you share something in common. Focus on the similarities to deepen the connection, not differences that separate.
2. Accept others for their differences. Open your mind to other’s opinions, behaviors, and thoughts, and be careful not to judge. You may not practice their behaviors or agree, but to accept others makes it easier to accept ourselves.
3. Accept invitations. Say yes to opportunities that encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. Participate in activities without the comfort of your support group, attend events outside of your network, or seek new relationships. When you grow and embrace new experiences, self acceptance becomes easier and sense of purpose increases.
It would be a huge relief to realize that we are perfect just the way we are? Ok, maybe not perfect but certainly worthy of belonging!