Do you ever find yourself laughing at a joke that you secretly feel is inappropriate, or agreeing with a colleague that it’s ok to tell the boss a “little white lie”? As a parent, perhaps you give in to something you’d previously said no about because you want your kids to like you?
If so, welcome to the human experience of wanting to belong.
You might wonder what belonging has to do with laughing at a joke or changing your mind. You’re just aware of the resentment spilling over in a particular relationship because you’ve given a lot more than has been reciprocated, or you simply didn’t want to be the heavy and say no. So you gave in, compromised yourself a little (or a lot).
Have you ever gotten curious and wondered why? I don’t mean, “Why did you do it again, you moron!!” That’s judgement, not curiosity. One leads to more of the same, the other to growth and transformation.
As curiosity leads you into your inner world, you’ll find a desire to belong lies underneath the myriad of ways we hide from others.
The truth is, in our attempts to belong, we’ve all given up little bits of ourselves along the way. We all want to be liked, accepted, included. We want to fit in and be a part of the group.
More than merely wanting, we actually have a need to belong.
Yet, if we are to find true belonging, not the cheap counterfeit – fitting in – we must face how we seek to fit in at the expense of standing in our own truth.
In a recent conversation, a friend wondered aloud, “What can we do when we find ourselves fitting in rather than belonging?” Great question!
In order to know what to do though, we first need to get clear on what is happening inside of us – what exactly is getting in the way of owning what is true for us.
As someone who spent much of her life in religious organizations, I can remember what it was like when I got affirmations from older, “wiser” people; those I looked up to. When they noticed me and commented on how well I prayed out loud in groups, or led a Bible study, the words felt so good to me; they were like water on the very parched earth of my soul.
And they kept me coming back for more. I quickly learned to do what got me praise.
More pointedly, I learned WHO TO BE & NOT TO BE.
I learned what not to share – what would certainly mar the image others had of me – and lead to what I feared, namely rejection.
When we fear rejection, we are disconnected from our essence, our core self. We are living out a story, likely rooted in a hurtful event in childhood.
So I struggled silently.
And I remember when I struggled publicly when depression hit hard and I felt like a failure. I remember the people who stood by my side with compassion. And those who didn’t.
For many of us, affirmation gives us a sense that we’re loved, special, needed. Often, that’s a hook that keeps us from showing up fully.
If we get attention as the organized one who gets things done, the comedian who makes everyone laugh and always wears a smile, the deep one who draws out insights from difficult situations, we will keep doing it.
And it feels so good to be seen and valued, even if what is noticed and deemed worthy is, in reality, only the facade that protects the vulnerable parts of us hidden beneath the surface.
In order to keep the acceptance coming, you have to keep your own uncertainties, your heartbreak, or your resentment locked away and out of sight. Sometimes those aspects of who we are, are pushed so far to the edges of our psyche that they aren’t even visible to ourselves.
What happens then when you feel overwhelmed and can’t get ‘er done; when sadness fills your heart and your smile fades; or you simply feel bitter or grieved and there’s just no insight you can find in the pain?
How do the people in your world respond when the mask you wear – the one that gets the approval, the “atta boys” and “good girls” – falls off and reveals the “darker” side?
Do they respond with compassion and curiosity? If so, you have a leader who has likely done her own inner work and has experienced an unraveling of her identities that kept her looking to others for approval and acceptance.
Or perhaps you sense judgment, rejection, and disapproval? Pity (here in the south it’s often disguised as compassion with the phrase, “bless your heart”), anger and exclusion are signs that the person or organization you’ve been in a relationship with doesn’t want all of who you are, just what works for them. They laid out the expectations (these are often unstated) and as long as you met them, you were accepted.
Truly, that group or person has been your master.
But when you fail to meet their expectations, the “love” falls away and you have the chance to see the situation for what it really is – one of bondage.
As long as we’re looking for someone else to give us the “stamp of approval,” we’re held captive and not free to be who we were born to be.
It doesn’t feel like the path to freedom when the identity you’ve constructed crumbles at your feet, but in truth, that means the shackles are beginning to break! It’s your opportunity to step into the freedom of embracing yourself – both darkness and light!
Our hunger and need for acceptance, affirmation, to be seen, valued and loved is beautiful – it’s our humanity. Ideally we would’ve had these needs met by our primary caregivers in early childhood. However, we all walk around feeling some kind of ache from living in a world in which – even in the best of families – some of our needs go unmet, emotions go unrecognized and get exiled to the far corners of our hearts and minds.
Sadly, this pattern repeats itself in families until someone is willing to turn their gaze inward and face all the stories that swirl around (at first unconsciously) in our minds.
So….WHAT TO DO?
Take a minute and remember how you felt when you got the approval or affirmation/praise from a leader – your boss, the “guru” or expert in a club or organization you’re a part of, your parent (even if you’re an adult…). Notice the stories about yourself that are attached to the affirmation, if your emotional state shifts or your breathing/body tension changes.
Cultivate Curiosity & Self-Compassion
The first step is to do a “U-turn”: get quiet and curious about what is happening inside you.
Do you notice a pattern? Is there a particular personality or group dynamic in which you find yourself giving up bits of who you really are in order to fit in?
What emotions arise? What thoughts are passing through your mind? These are the gateways to the stories that we keep repeating.
Next, tune into your body! It doesn’t lie and has so much to tell you about who you are and what you need to live the life you really long for!
What happens in your body when you find yourself scrambling for someone else’s approval?
Then pick up a journal or art book and write/draw it out. It’s easier to get clarity when we get some distance from the dynamics that happen like knee-jerk reactions inside of us.
Lastly, remember that you’re not alone in this and try to extend yourself compassion. You can do this by simply putting your hand on your heart and saying “I love you and I’m listening.”
It’s only when we learn to accept ourselves, offering the affirmation and love to those fragments of ourselves that were rejected, left unseen, or never felt good enough that we find true belonging. As we do the work of being curious about ourselves and of learning to embrace even our darkness with compassion, we welcome in the spaces in us that we long ago cut off from our knowing, and…. we come home to ourselves and find that the belonging we’ve been searching for has been right here in our hearts the whole time.
Kristie is a practical mystic, teacher of psychological and spiritual wisdom, and lover of homemade kombucha! As a soul sherpa for self-aware, spiritual folks who feel stuck in the same old patterns of doubting their intuition and judging themselves, she leads people into their internal worlds to experience their true nature, union with Divine love, and ever-expanding freedom. When she’s not writing, vlogging, or leading workshops, she’s a homeschooling mama who follows desire and intuition wherever they lead. You’ll find her enjoying nature, marveling at her kids as they do their thing, or being amazed that, yet again, a children’s book led her right into the heart of the Great Spirit! You can join her community at www.theselfwardjourney.com.