Victorian Author George Eliot
We All Need to Belong
Belonging: n. acceptance as a natural member or part. ~ American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011)
Belonging is a puzzling concept. Something so fundamental to us as human beings, yet something we don’t often consciously cultivate. Your life is spent in the company of other people. People you don’t choose and people you do. Some people we like instantly, others, not so much. We learn to acclimate and to adapt. And why do we do that? So we can belong.
There’s an excellent article by Amanda Enayati that explores belonging. It’s a thoughtful discussion on the merits of nurturing a sense of belonging, and the dangers of ignoring our need to experience it on a deep and meaningful level. You can read it here, and I highly encourage you to take a few minutes and do that. It’s so very accurate in terms of motivation and has great advice about how to combat the isolation you can experience when the need to belong isn’t met.
The quest to fit in starts well before we’re at an age where we understand the point. The John Hughes classic, The Breakfast Club, is a movie every one of us can relate to. Five classmates spend a Saturday at their high school in detention for various transgressions. During the course of the day, they fight, they laugh, they face ugly truths, and ultimately, they bond. What becomes glaringly obvious is, it was only under those very specific circumstances their friendships would have ever happened, as they came from such seemingly different worlds.
But what was it that drew them together? Learning about each other absent the critical, judgmental mindset that accompanies a group mentality. Finding out that regardless of how you appear, underneath you have more in common than you would’ve ever expected. It was recognizing those similarities and experiencing shared history that changed the dynamics. Away from the pressures from their peers, these five kids found acceptance in each other and a group where only they belonged.
Every family goes through times when the various relationships are less than supportive. To say families are complicated, doesn’t even begin to cover the complexities, but it’s so comforting to be with people you have a shared history with.
Inherently, unequivocally, without dialog, they know.
Earlier this year my family experienced a difficult loss. It’s a huge, gaping hole and we’re all struggling to deal with it. It was not an unexpected death, the slow demise from years of substance abuse caused so much strife and ill-will in the relationships of those of us who remain.
But in the midst of this overwhelming grief, I’ve found unexpected comfort in being with other members of my family. Simply existing in the same place, at the same time. Sometimes we talk about it, and that’s okay. Sometimes, it’s as though we can’t bear to even think about it. And that’s okay, too. It’s an unspoken understanding and such a huge relief, to not have to explain yourself or how you feel, or why you feel that way.
We all need to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s what supports us. It’s what sustains us. And when you nurture those bonds, when you actively work to protect them, to celebrate them, you’re also caring for your own mental and emotional health.
Relationships are constant works in progress, you simply cannot take them for granted. At the end of the day, there are few people in this world who will truly understand the body of your life experiences. Lack of communication and empathy often sabotage familial ties or friendships, damaging them in a way that they never fully recover. When anger, resentment, or hard feelings threaten to undermine a relationship of that importance, remember the significance of that common history and what a gift it is that unspeakable memories can lay quietly between you.