If I were to teach my younger self one lesson, I would simply tell her you already belong.
One of the main reasons I felt like I didn’t “belong” as a teenager, was the bullshit story I was telling myself of WHY I didn’t belong. Telling myself I wasn’t slim enough, tall enough, pretty enough or funny enough to do X, Y or Z.
Feeling that you belong is crucial in helping us see the value in life, and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Feeling like we “belong” feeds into our crucial need to be validated and accepted.
Our self-esteem depends on it.
The feeling of “belonging” is closely linked to feelings of being “connected”. Some people may only feel connected to their close family, some to a religion, some to the wider universe and all the living things within it (serious #ConnectionGoals!).
Thing is, we ALL belong. We all have a purpose here. Whom we choose to connect with, give ourselves over to – THAT is in our control, so our feeling of this belonging is entirely dependent on how much we invest into seeking it.
And that, my friends, is where the problem lies.
You belong, already, to the community of book-lovers, of table-tennis enthusiasts, of photographers, or pianists or meditative geniuses. YOU JUST HAVEN’T LOOKED FOR THEM.
So, Building a Sense of Belonging.
We therefore might assume that to build a sense of belonging requires a bit of effort and practice.
Stop looking for all of the ways in which you don’t fit in, and start looking at the things you DO have in common with a particular community. If perhaps you are really into your knitting, you need to LET GO of the fact that the knitting club in the community centre is 50 years older than yourself. Instead, focus on all the tips you can share, and all the wisdom you’ll soak up from those who have been loving the craft and perfecting it for a lot longer than yourself. There is still community to be found, but you need to start looking at the similarities you have within a community instead of focusing on all the ways you’re different.
Realise that your “differences” do not make you any less valid for belonging to a particular community. We are lucky enough to be living in a world where we are sloooowly but surely getting rid of all the unhelpful stereotypes of what “X” or “Y” should look like, sound like, be like.
Start saying YES, to every damn opportunity! When your colleague invites you to some odd-hippy-sounding meditation class, say yes! The reason you feel like you don’t belong, is because you’re not trying to find “your tribe” hard enough. Keep looking, they are out there, and they are often where you least expect them (Christ knows I never in a million years expected to find my tribe at a marathon start line).
Make “connection” the goal, over anything else! When you do try something new (or even partake in old routine!), make connection the goal every time. When you’re playing badminton with the new scary group – the game doesn’t matter, choosing to acknowledge and appreciate the laughter of falling on your bottom when you dived for the shuttlecock – that’s what matters. When you’re having dinner with your family, STOP berating yourself over the fact you burnt the potatoes, and start engaging in conversation with those that you love. Connection is right in front of us but we need to be open to participating in it, and receiving it.
If you’re in a headspace where you feel like you cannot, and WILL not be able to relate to anyone else because the darkness surrounding you is just too great. Remember, there is a community for that too. There is support for that. There are people out there going through the same feelings as you, feeling just as disconnected as you, just as lost. You will find them in unlikely places (Run Talk Run!), and also the more likely places too. But you are never alone.