*Part of the Identity Series*
I believe that a lot of our personal struggles in adulthood come from our sense of Identity and Belonging. Why? Because we question who we are and what we’re meant to do. These questions tie directly to our sense of Identity, but they also tie into the concept of Belonging…
Belonging means, “an affinity for a place or situation.” It is to “be a member of” something. But perhaps my favourite, especially for this post, is this definition: “to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group.”
For me, belonging somewhere or with certain people grants us two things: Community and Unity. We need these things in life because we are all social beings. Some of us may be naturally more inclined towards solitude (introversion) but we all need people.
Or rather, we all need to feel a sense of community, unity, and belonging.
For if you feel these things, then you feel as though you’re safe. As if you have a home. A kinship that warms and supports you. Those without a place or sense of belonging will suffer in a number of ways…
The Lack of Belonging
Firstly, those without a place or social circle to which they feel a sense of belonging will feel lonely. Not alone, but lonely. I believe that we can feel lonelier with the wrong people (or in the wrong place) than we can when simply being alone.
For example, I’m an introvert so being alone is natural and comfortable for me. But I’ve felt very lonely surrounded by people that I have nothing in common with.
This means that those of us who don’t feel like we have a place or group of belonging can feel lonely. And loneliness is stressful, upsetting, unsettling, and makes us question ourselves.
The next problem is with the unity part that comes with belonging. If you don’t have a unit, a tribe, or a family, then you can feel vulnerable. You can be weak.
As the famous line goes in Game of Thrones, “The lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”
This is because of Survival. Since the beginning of time, we have known that we are safer with other people than we are alone. There is strength in unity. Wars are “won” in unity.
If you don’t have others that you can rely on to protect and support you, then you are vulnerable to the dangers of this world (though the dangers will be much more subtle than the sabertooth tigers of the past!)
The last thing that a lack of Belonging can do, which is perhaps the worst of all, is call us to question who we are. Our sense of personal identity can suffer if we don’t feel as though we belong anywhere with anyone.
You could call it validation but I think it’s more than that. When we have a community that we belong to, we feel more comfortable with who we are because other people love us, support us, and enjoy us as we are in that community. It sort of solidifies who we are and says, “you are a valued, worthy person to us.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a lack of belonging or community means there’s something not valued or unworthy about you. But think about it this way…
The LGBTQ+ community is now stronger and happier as a community than they were as individuals. When they didn’t have a sense of belonging and community with those who share their experiences, they questioned their identity and felt outside of society.
The same goes for less important things like geeky people, for example! Geeks have now unified and in that unity, they have a community that makes them feel good, normal, and comfortable like never before.
It’s not validation that you get from finding your community. It’s…acceptance, openness, and finally being seen; really seen. It’s kinship and beauty and finally being comfortable in your own identity.
This essay is about belonging and community in adulthood, especially, because I think it is harder for adults to find a sense of belonging than it is for children.
School and university days were easier for finding a group and a sense of belonging. Perhaps it’s because we weren’t fully-formed individuals as yet. But I think it’s more the fact that a mix of people are thrown together day by day in the same space. So, naturally, you’re bound to find at least a few people who you identify with.
Schools have cliques and activities; universities have thousands of people from all over the world and hundreds of groups, courses, and societies to join. This means you are spoilt for choice as to who you can find and where you can find your sense of belonging.
But out of these group settings, it’s much harder. Adulthood makes feeling a strong sense of personal belonging much more difficult to obtain.
The reason for this is because in adulthood, we usually move on to a job and that takes up the majority of our time. Unless we have hobbies, adult classes, or clubs that we join alongside our jobs, we can find it hard to even make new friends, never mind likeminded ones who give us a sense of belonging.
The problem is, we’re around fewer people. The likelihood of finding people to form a community with is less. Even if we find good friends, we all lead busy lives and it can be hard to have the kind of connection we may have had when we were younger and time seemed abundant.
This is why, I believe, many adults don’t feel a sense of belonging or community. We have our families, but they don’t necessarily give us all we need to feel like we’re a part of a personal circle that feels good for us.
I felt like there was something wrong with me for a long time because I didn’t enjoy being around people all the time or going out to do things. Yes, I have Social Anxiety, but I also didn’t want to do the things that seemed so normal and fun for everyone else.
My core belief and deepest fear for a long time was that I was boring – my therapist helped me realise this was perhaps a root cause for my Social Anxiety. And I’d been called boring my friends and family before just for not wanting to do what they wanted to do.
I felt out of place and did not feel as though I belonged.
But then I learned what Introversion was and I finally understood myself better. I was able to accept myself and love myself and realise that I wasn’t boring or wrong, I was just surrounded by extroverts in a rather extroverted world as a natural introvert.
My sense of belonging wasn’t there in my formative years and that hurt. I think the scars from that are still present to this day. My closest relationships these days are still with extroverts, and so yes, I still feel a lack of belonging at times.
But when I do speak to my introverted kin, I feel amazing! I feel like myself. I feel a sense of unity, community, and belonging. I feel accepted, understood, and welcomed just as I am.
That is the importance of belonging because everyone deserves that feel that way – more often than not.
I think it’s normal for adults to feel a lack of personal belonging. Unity and community are harder to obtain and maintain in adulthood. But it is not impossible, and it is important for all of us to strive to find it.
We need to feel as though we belong at least somewhere and at least with some people in order to feel a sense of wellbeing and happiness. Belonging and community have many benefits to us and finding them could be just what you have been missing.
I think it’s important to mix with a wide variety of people – learning and growth will be found with them. However, for a feeling of belonging and community, you need to find and connect with people like you. This will grant you such special things and finally have you feeling like you are perfect as you are.
Find people who look like you.
People who value what you do.
People who enjoy the same things as you.
People who want similar things from life as you do.
And especially in adulthood, who you choose as your Life Partner really matters. I believe that it is important for us all to feel a sense of belonging and community, if only a little, in our own homes. So, make sure that they share your values or vision for the future, at the very least.
How to find a sense of Belonging in Adulthood:
- Learn who you are; get to know yourself. Only in understanding and loving yourself can you then find others like you.
- Join groups and clubs in your areas of interest.
- Dare to make friends in adulthood
- Be open to ideas, perspectives, and people.
- Be true to who you are and you will attract the right people to you.
- Make time for finding your tribe.
- Do things; get out into the world. Only by being out there can you hope to find your place of belonging.
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