Belonging usually involves feeling connected to other people, perhaps like we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We might feel it when we are laughing or sad together, when someone is being kind to us, or when we are part of a team. But we can also have a sense of belonging in a place, and, importantly, within ourselves.
The need to belong is one of our most important needs. Psychologist Kelly-Ann Allen even says that ‘[it’s] in our biology’. She explains that when we were young children, belonging was essential for our survival: we needed to connect with our parents as they provided food and safety. It’s also part of who we are from our evolutionary past, when we lived in tribes and needed each other – when those who wanted to be alone or were rejected by the group were unlikely to survive. It’s a powerful need and seems to be key for our well-being.
However, many of us will experience times when it’s difficult to feel like we belong, and there are several factors that can contribute to this. One is feeling like you have to change yourself to fit in with the people you’re with. As Allen explains, a sense of belonging doesn’t come just from being close to others, but rather from having meaningful connections, and trying to fit in can reduce this. As Professor Brene Brown says, if we have to change who we are to fit in, we’re likely to feel more separate from others and perhaps even disconnected from ourselves.
Problems in early life can also create difficulties with belonging, says psychologist Tara Brach. She explains that people who experienced trauma can end up feeling cut off from a sense of belonging. And this is also true for people who had attachment difficulties: if your parents weren’t attuned to you or your needs, it can be more difficult to experience belonging in later life. Brach calls this severed belonging and believes that it causes much of the suffering we experience.
Shame also reduces our ability to experience belonging. Brown describes shame as the painful feeling that there is something wrong with us. She explains that we need to have some self-acceptance to feel like we belong, and shame can leave us believing that we are ‘unworthy of love, belonging and connection’. To make matters worse, feeling lonely and disconnected can often lead to more shame, Brach says, and this can make it even harder to connect with other people.
So, what can be done to increase belonging? Given that it’s easier to experience it in some places and with some people than with others, one suggestion might be to find the right place and the right people – those with whom you can be authentic and don’t feel like you need to fit in. But there are some good ideas about how we might increase our sense of belonging, wherever we are, and perhaps a good place to start is within ourselves.
Brach suggests that one way to increase belonging in ourselves is by accepting difficult feelings. Often when we experience difficult emotions, such as fear or loneliness, we might try to push them away, but this is like rejecting parts of ourselves, she explains, and it can leave us feeling disconnected from our own selves. If, however, you can allow yourself to feel the difficult feelings, you can start to connect with your whole self. She recommends two questions to ask yourself when you’re having a hard time: ‘What is happening inside me right now?’ and ‘Can I be with this?’, and, whatever the emotion is, remember, ‘This belongs’.
Increasing our sense of belonging with others is also something we can work on. Brown describes it as practice of being authentic and not changing who we are. It requires us to try to be fully present with people, she says, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and maybe even uncomfortable. And a practice that Brach suggests is paying more attention to the people you’re with, perhaps by trying to listen fully or by thinking, ‘What is it like for you now?’ She explains that everyone has fears and insecurities, but everyone also has goodness in them, and a key to increasing our sense of belonging with others is to pay attention and try to notice both of these things.
Our well-being is connected to our sense that we belong, Brach says. However, she believes that the truth is that we do belong, and we suffer when we forget that or don’t trust our connectedness.
IELTS Reading Questions for Belonging:
List Selection & Yes / No / Not Given.
Sources and links from Belonging
– Article about belonging by Dr Kelly-Ann Allen for the Australian Psychological Society .
– Brene Brown’s website. The information here came from her book Atlas of the Heart.
– Tara Brach has done several talks about about belonging. Here are a few of them:
Belonging to each other part 1.
Remembering Belonging part 2.
Sheltering in Love part 5.
– Image by Kindel Media on Pexels.