Most of us have experienced the feeling of belonging – feeling connected, safe and like we are part of something. You might feel it when you are part of a team working on something difficult or playing a sport, or when you’re being kind or someone is kind to you. Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach adds that we feel it when we sense our sameness with other people, for example laughing or feeling sad together. However, many of us have also experienced feeling disconnected or cut off from belonging, and this can be difficult as the need to belong is one of our deepest needs.
Our need to belong is so strong because it was necessary for survival both in our evolutionary past and in our childhoods. As psychologist Kelly-Ann Allen explains, many years ago we lived in small tribes and we shared work and needed each other. People who wanted to be alone or were rejected by the group were unlikely to survive, and from this, we are wired to want to belong. Also, when we were very young children, it was essential that we connected with our parents, as they provided food and safety and ensured our well-being, Allen says.
However, changes in society have left some people feeling more disconnected, and many of us will spend time in situations and places in which we find it difficult to connect – maybe feeling like an outsider or even experiencing rejection. But one of the main causes of difficulties with belonging is problems with our early attachments with our parents. These early attachments affect our ability to connect in later life, and, as Tara explains, if your parents couldn’t understand you or your needs, or if they were critical or suffocating, you can end up being cut off from that sense of belonging.
Tara calls this severed belonging, and believes that it causes much of the suffering we experience. To try to manage it, we might develop coping strategies – for example trying to control things, pushing people away or trying to make them like us – or maybe even addictions such as alcohol, food or drugs. These strategies give us something and make us feel better in the moment, but they don’t really give us what we need and actually keep us disconnected, she says. She adds that when we feel cut off from belonging, lonely or disconnected, there is often shame and self-blame for the way we feel, and this can make it even harder to connect with other people and get the thing we need when we most need it.
Hopefully, you will find places where you get that sense of belonging and people you connect with, but what else can be done to increase belonging? On a societal level, Dr Allen believes that creating a culture of inclusion and accepting difference in schools is helpful, because rejection can be especially difficult for teenagers. For us as individuals, Tara says that we can increase our sense of belonging with other people by paying more attention, but we can also increase it within ourselves, and one way to start doing that is by accepting our difficult feelings.
Often when we experience difficult emotions, such as loneliness, anger or fear, we try to push them away, but this is like rejecting parts of ourselves, Tara says, and it can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves. However, if you can stop rejecting these parts and allow yourself to feel and connect with the difficult feelings, you can start to connect with your whole self and increase the sense of belonging within yourself. She suggests asking yourself two questions when you’re having a difficult time: ‘What is happening inside me right now?’ and ‘Can I be with this?’, and whatever you’re feeling, a phrase to remember is, ‘This belongs‘.
A way to increase our sense of belonging with others is to deepen our attention to them, Tara says. She explains that when we’re with other people, we are often thinking about ourselves or noticing problems, such as how the other person isn’t being who we want them to be. But deepening our attention, for example by thinking, ‘What is it like for you now?’, can increase our connectedness. Everyone has fears and insecurities, but everyone also has goodness in them, she says, and a key to increasing our sense of belonging with others is to pay attention to them and try to notice both of these things.
As Tara puts it, we have a longing to belong – it’s essential for our well-being, but she believes that the truth is that we do belong, and we suffer when we forget or don’t trust our connectedness.
IELTS Reading Questions for Belonging:
Short Answer & Yes / No / Not Given.
Sources and links from Belonging
– Article by Dr Kelly-Ann Allen for the Australian Psychological Society about belonging.
– 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 Natalia Ovcharenko from Pixabay