Searching to Belong
On the Labour Day long weekend I took a spontaneous trip across the country with someone I had just met, to attend a surprise birthday party with a large amount of people I had never met. I decided to just go for it. What better way to get to know someone then a 4 hour flight, followed by 3 full days of each other’s company? What could possibly go wrong?
After we had arrived safely and I had greeted our hosts for the weekend, I took out my phone to text my bestie and my mom. It doesn’t matter how old you get, your mom always needs to know if you’re safe. I received instant replies from both. My mom said, “I hope you fit in well”. At first I thought what a typical mom thing to say and chuckled to myself. But I continued to roll this around in my head.
We are social beings and as such we need connection. A sense of community. To belong. Belonging is the middle of the pyramid on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is fundamental to who we are. Especially in children, a sense of belonging and connection is vital to ensure healthy attachments as an adult. Attachment theory indicates that children who have secure attachments to parents or caregivers and going forward, friend groups, have a secure and safe “home base” from which to explore the world and their independence. This sense of security is carried forward into their adult relationships.
Fitting in is the first step to finding community; to belonging or finding your tribe. When I was a young girl of 4 my parents and my brother and I emigrated to Canada from the UK. Such a major move meant finding a new community…a new tribe…and as a youngster, new friends. This was just the start of my nomad like lifestyle that saw me as the new girl in Grades 4, 5 and 6. Four new schools in as many years. Four new sets of friends. Four new ways of figuring out how to fit in. I became the ultimate pleaser. A necessity, in order to survive. I became a chameleon. Figuring out what the kids liked, what they did, who they were missing from their group and became that person. To fit in. To belong. This was survival. In the end, during my high school days, I had several very good friends. Although I never felt like I had found my tribe. I had many “communities”. I played field hockey, was on the student council, joined various clubs and had a part time job. All of this gave me different spaces and places to belong. But I think I was searching for something. I was looking for something more.
I think I’ve been searching and looking for that something more ever since. I’m not sure I felt a secure sense of attachment to allow me to safely explore my world. Could this have contributed to my feeling of displacement? A nagging feeling of not belonging anywhere and needing constant reassurance and communication with intimate relationships and even friendships? Awareness, insight and acknowledgment will allow for exploration and hopefully some changes to feel more secure. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone in many different ways, joining a running club; writing my thoughts, feelings and disappointments for all to read; and even signing up for some creative writing courses and workshops. In doing all of these things, I have made connections and friendships and found some belonging.
A wise man once told me that wherever you are is where you belong. Yes, human connection and relationships are vital to our emotional wellbeing. Yes, loneliness contributes to ill health effects including anxiety and depression. But I also believe that a sense of belonging and security starts within ourselves. It starts with a mindset that we do belong, that we are worthy of love and affection, that our friends, connections and intimate partners want to be around us and have us in our lives. That’s where we start to feel like insiders and not like an outsider.
I chose to fly across the country with someone I did not know well as an opportunity to both get to know him, but also for an adventure. I met many people and not once did I feel like an outsider. That started with me, with a desire to learn about people and find out what they were all about. I did fit in. I felt a sense of belonging. It is still early in my budding relationship, but we did sit beside each other on the plane on the way home, so I’ll take that as a good sign!