Our Hidden Desire to Feel a Sense of Belonging
Rooted in each of us is a deep desire for belonging. For some, it is front and center and seemingly saturates all that we do, while for others, it resonates just under the surface. But, like forgotten tulip bulbs in the springtime, at some point it will burst forth and make itself known. Our quest to belong impacts our choices and our behavior in both subtle and obvious ways.
Our sense of belonging, or lack thereof, begins to develop in the womb and is highly impacted by our interactions with our primary caregivers. It is further shaped throughout our lives by our experiences and is directly tied to our self-worth and feeling of value. One key to developing a healthy sense of value and belonging is to spot the lies we tell ourselves and then replace those lies with truth.
Trauma also impacts our sense of value and belonging. It alters us both physiologically and emotionally, and any trauma we experience is stored in our brain, body, and emotions. Trauma devalues us and destroys our sense of belonging. Bringing trauma into the light can be a crucial step in our healing. To live authentically free, we must establish a deep understanding of belonging that isn’t tied to someone granting it to us or doing something in particular to receive it.
Before we go any further, let me clarify something. There is a difference between TRUTH and perception. The difficulty, though, is that our perceptions generally become our truth (even when our perception is not THE truth). Here is an example: people who believe their identity and value are tied to what they do for work will likely think they are without value if they lose their job. In this case, their perception (their truth) would be that they are worthless because the thing that gave them their worth was taken away. The truth is, we are not what we do; we have value apart from our job (or anything else). As we move forward, we need to recognize the messages we tell ourselves and ask if they are indeed true or if they are our perception of the situation we are in.
We tell ourselves many messages, but I want to focus on a couple of shared thoughts that women, in particular, reveal themselves. I like to refer to these thoughts as the two big lies. The first lie is the perception that we are not enough. This manifests itself in the feeling that we need to do more to be accepted or valued. Essentially, it is the belief that our value needs to be earned. I have done a lot of work, both with therapists and on my own, to find my sense of value but this is one lie that I find myself constantly battling.
I tend to be overly responsible for EVERYONE! I cannot hear a problem from a friend or coworker without immediately trying to solve it for them. I have been known to pick up on a conversation in a grocery line only to find myself contemplating how I might be able to make a difference in that person’s life after I’ve left the store. To be honest, it is exhausting. It is also a faulty attempt to find my value in what I do for others. In the past few years, I have learned that I need to separate my story from the stories of others. I often have to remind myself that my worth is not defined by how much I do for others and that it’s okay to listen and support.
The second big lie that fuels a lack of belonging is that we are too much. I learned this lesson early on in my life. I have no idea how it was communicated to me, but I believed it was wrong to have needs and that it was best not to depend on anyone. I did my best to be invisible. Once, when I was about 6, my grandfather came to visit with my parents and left his little dog in his truck. I went out to see the dog, and it bit me just under my eye for some unknown reason. As facial wounds do, it bled a lot. Instead of running to my mother, I slipped inside and hid in my bedroom closet. I did my best to be invisible and take care of myself. Even as a child, I thought that if I were “too much,” I would not be loved or accepted.
In my adult life, the lie of being “too much” continues, and it manifests itself when I don’t feel well or have been physically injured in some way. I will feel guilty that my wife “has to” do anything to help me or that she “has to” do more around the house because I am temporarily unable. The great news is that she knows me well enough to spot when I slip into this mode, and she will look me in the eye and remind me that this is how people in love treat one another. She reminds me that just as I relish the opportunities to care for her, she too considers it an act of love to care for me when I need it.
The only way to combat a lie is with the truth. I find it helpful to create a phrase, or mantra, that can speak to myself when a lie pops into my conscience. Mantras are a potent tool to usher the truth into the forefront of our minds.
As I wrap this up, I will add that my belief in the Creator has helped establish a sense of belonging and value in my soul. I believe we are all valued. Unfortunately, many churches add steps and parameters that they believe one needs to follow to belong. I’m afraid I have to disagree with this practice and have spent many years trying to work through, and find healing from, the damage that teaching has inflicted.
May you experience a greater sense of belonging deep within your soul.