Do You Want to Belong or Fit In?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com

I’ve discussed my love for Brené Brown more than once on this blog, and this topic today – fitting in versus belonging – is again one I borrowed from her. In her audio program ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, she describes how important it is for us humans to feel a sense of belonging. She also explains how the thing that stands most in the way of this sense of belonging, is the attempt to fit in.

So how does that work?

Like Brené, herself, I’ve been an expert in trying to fit in from an early age. As soon as I meet someone new, I work out, pretty quickly and instinctively, what kind of conversations will lead to a common understanding and which conversations I should steer away from. In some groups, I can discuss my political views, in others it’s better to talk about my favorite recipes. No one has to tell me to do this. No one has to frown after I say something. Not anymore, at least. I just do it automatically. It even takes deliberate effort to step out of this pattern.

Brown talks about how it feels to try to fit in because you want to belong, and not to succeed. The result is a deep feeling of shame. A feeling of not being good enough.
For me, however, trying to fit in and succeeding doesn’t lead to a feeling of belonging either. If I’ve changed my character, my interest and my behaviour just so you would like me, it doesn’t do much for me when you do end up liking the person you see, because she doesn’t bear all that much resemblence to the actual ‘me’.

So if trying to fit in doesn’t help us feel like we belong, what actually does give us a feeling of belonging?
In her research, Brené Brown found that the one thing people who felt like they belonged had in common, was not a easier life, or a great circle of friends, or tons of personal development. All they had in common was that they felt that they deserved to belong. They knew themselves to be worthy of belonging, and so they experienced a sense of belonging.

It’s not that easy, however, to just change how we feel about ourselves, right? It takes work, and it takes time, quite a lot of time. Changing our self-image is hard, and tricky, and at times really frustrating. But it is possible. Most of the people Brown and her team interviewed did not grow up in families where they were just handed this sense of love and belonging. They deliberately worked toward it, which is, in itself, a really hopeful message.

Personally, I’ve struggled with belonging for much of my life, always feeling like the odd one out. My path toward learning to belong first went to accepting that I felt like an outsider, and that I was fine the way I was, even if I was different from other people (I wrote about my experience of being different here). I had to accept this reality, to give myself empathy for the experience, and to comfort my inner chid. Then I could have the authentic experience of belonging on this planet, and then to a group of people just as I was, as my authentic self. I started to feel a sense of belonging in my family, in my groups of friends, with my colleagues.

I still struggle to feel like I belong, at times. I still try to fit in when I feel insecure. I’m told that with getting older I’ll feel this need less and less. Frankly, I can’t wait! 😉

How do you feel this dynamic between fitting in and belonging? Do they overlap? Do they rule each other out? Do they complement each other?

Thank you for belonging to this joined space of sharing ideas 🙂

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