The need for belonging is a fundamental drive of men, women, and children. That is, us humans.
There is some work to do in understanding belonging. There exists a great distinction between fitting in (FI) and belonging.
Different variations exist but belonging comes down to the same basic challenge. We often go about trying to satisfy belonging based on the attitude and values of FI. We climb the FI tree mistakenly thinking it's the belonging tree. We hope to find fruits of belonging on the wrong branches.
If we are to truly enjoy the satisfaction and fruits of belonging, we must focus on the very different attitude and values associated with belonging. It sounds obvious once we've brought our attention to the matter.
So let's examine the underlying values and inner attitude of each more clearly to define the opportunity for #truechange.
Before we go there, I want to note it's a deep topic and it can sometimes hurt. If that happens in your case, I encourage you to see it as a healthy growing pain. It bears mentioning, I can only write about this topic because of my own challenges and ongoing practice with it. I remind us as always that making this shift requires the effort and patience associated with all true change practice. And as always, I offer this post with the hopes it helps create positive change for those who read it.
FI expresses an unhealthy dependency on the acceptance of others. The need for external validation and recognition/approval-seeking become fundamental motivations driving the personality. At the heart of FI, are defense mechanisms that lead us to create a more socially acceptable version of ourselves which hide our true thoughts and feelings.
We apply learned behavior to match our understanding of expected norms. Rather than being self-expressive and free, this behavior tends to be more calculative and culturally-biased. In this way, FI represents a loss of authenticity. For example, one may say thank you in a habitual way to appear polite rather than because of genuinely feeling appreciative and grateful.
Important Additional Details
(1) When we experience fear or insecurity or recognize FI in ourselves, we sometimes think it means there's something wrong with us. As if we shouldn't have that and we should be better. No, that's not true, it's very human. What distinguishes some people from others is whether they are willing to be honest with themselves and do something about it. Each in his/her own time.
It can be challenging, but also things are as they are at this moment and therefore it's a growth opportunity. This is also a matter of attitude.
(2) FI connects to an underlying fear of being rejected and/or not being good enough. When others like how we show up, this fear is soothed and calmed. A vicious cycle is created as we think we will only be liked for the mask we present. So, we orient our behavior towards obtaining that liking because this keeps uncomfortable feelings at bay. Or in other cases, we rebel against or escape from those fears, which we'll discuss further below.
In caving into the demands of fear, we remain on a superficial level of dealing with symptoms rather than going after the roots. We implicitly assume that there are no other options. So we accept impermanent and unsatisfying solutions.
(3) FI can show up in certain life situations and not others. It can be more pronounced in some areas of our lives while not others. It can vary in degree.
(4) It may sound strange but true, but our behavior can even be oriented to earning the approval of a deceased parent. I know this from experience.
Everyday Symptoms, may include one or more of the following
People-pleasing behaviors that feel inauthentic
Comparison/competition, superiority/inferiority, measurement
An ambitious drive to be the best or to have the answers, which creates restlessness
Being critical of others when they don't live up to your expected norms of behavior
Guilt, self-doubt, inner criticism, and/or shame after interactions when you don't “perform” well
Living in the mind all day long
(not a comprehensive list...)
Deeper Symptoms, may include one or more of the following:
A vague sense that we are somehow fraudulent, or “impostor syndrome”
The desire and behavioral orientation towards being universally liked
Living a life that does not feel like your own
A misalignment between one's life and one's deeper values
Living extensively in the future
Internal harshness and demands on oneself
A life which looks good but does not feel good
Not really knowing what authentic self-expression means. For example, sometimes we hear the words just be yourself. And this sounds great. But what does it mean? It's not always so easy. And that's a big part of where FI comes from.
Fear of scarcity—sense of not being enough or having enough is a powerful glue holding one to the course of FI
A feeling of mediocrity even if one is outwardly successful
Connections remain shallow rather than deep
(not a comprehensive list…)
Possibilities of Change
The one who experiences FI identifies it and decides to do something about it primarily because of these symptoms and negative consequences. Only you can determine of course whether any of the symptoms applies in your case. Yet, even if one recognizes the symptoms, deciding to change is always of course absolutely a free choice. If you choose not to, then please make that choice with a maximum of self-compassion and a minimum of self-judgment.
Values expressed in FI
In Steven Covey's famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he details an extensive review of success literature going back to 1776. For 150 years, the focus of success literature is a Character Ethic—fundamental, universal human values and virtues.
And after that? Primarily what he calls the Personality Ethic. Superficial quick fixes, techniques, and image-crafting.
Personality is clearly more superficial than character. True change and inner strength derive from working on the level of character, which is deeper work. It's about cultivating the better qualities we possess.
FI expresses values connected to appearance-based success, short-term thinking, vanity, comparison. “Being normal” overrides authenticity.
The Underlying Attitude in FI
The deep, typically unconscious (possibly surprising) attitude is the false hope that if one redeems themselves enough in the eyes of others, they will perhaps redeem themselves in their own eyes. Fulfillment becomes an external chase for something, always in the distance, rather than an inner realization that happens moment-to-moment.
Part of the attitude connects to the inherent discomfort of fear. Fear typically appears to be connected to an accurate perception of reality, but may in fact be irrational. We don't manage to confront these fears of rejection or challenge the beliefs and our own mental narratives which sustain FI behavior patterns.
Implications and Encouragement
Fortunately, once we are aware of this, we can summon the courage to realize that on other side of fear, always, is more of who we are.
We can begin to realize the greatness connected to who we actually are in our own unique brilliance. Which is about belonging.
Belonging corresponds to healthy expression of the wish to contribute, exchange, and claim one's place in the world. One identifies their own values, their strengths and weaknesses, their unique gifts and talents and interests, and moves in the direction of increasing fulfillment and positive intentionality.
Rather than being dependent on external approval, one operates from a place of inner strength and self-trust. At the heart of belonging is being responsible for one's own thoughts and emotions, rather than relying on how others see the situation. While one is open to the opinions of others, one has let go of the dependency on others' thoughts and leans on his/her own best judgment.
For example, one is willing to risk rejection in the name of what he/she stands for, but more often than not in a well-considered, balanced way. Because of the self-assurance and moral courage, he/she expresses who they are with measured confidence. Others respond to this. Natural connection, the sense of having something to share with others, and a sense of satisfaction and feeling energized go along with belonging.
And in a world of 7 billion diverse viewpoints, one who belongs has let go of the need to try to appeal to all of them. One recognizes deeply that they will be liked and disliked by some regardless of how they show up, so they might as well be themselves.
Important additional details
(1) Risking rejection is not to be confused with rebellion. Rebellion is beholden to the same dynamics as FI but uses denial as a coping mechanism. Rebellion makes believe it is beyond FI, but the inner motivations have the same roots. In belonging, risking rejection comes with a sense of discernment and is not done for its own sake or appearances.
(2) Belonging isn't necessarily about being big or famous. One occupies a place from which they feel a powerful, satisfying sense of enoughness, which comes with gratitude and humility. What they do in the world and the people that are around them just feel like a natural fit.
(3) I can share that this is not a steady, ongoing state for me at this moment. I speak from periods, moments, and glimpses. I still am practicing the transition to Belonging and letting go of the old patterns of FI.
(4) Belonging is not black or white. It develops along a spectrum. As with FI, its degree can vary and it can show up differently in different areas of one's life.
(5) Escape is when takes an avoidant stance towards society and is neither about fitting in nor belonging. It is beholden to the same dynamics as FI but chooses that the safest route is to step out altogether. This is not to be mistaken with a healthy pause, sabbatical, learning quest, or gap year.
The Underlying Attitude
One realizes at some moment that social masks and conformity will never take them to what they are trying to realize in their lives. More than outward success based on formulas and scripts, one looks to define success on one's own terms. He/she learns to accept the risk that goes with having a less pre-defined course of action. They become willing to find their own leadership and more embracing of the possibilities that come with uncertainty, even if that means facing a lot of fear. They look to become the author of their own lives rather than drifting along by the currents of society.
There is significant challenge that comes with letting go of the references one has been given by parents, society, school, and peers. Finding what is truthful and what is false in one's existing frame of reference for oneself is a work of discernment. It can entail an extended period of transition.
Authenticity, character, moral courage, self-reliance, self-responsibility, integrity.
A client had told me she suffers from impostor syndrome, one of the symptoms I mention above. She described it more or less as the fear of being revealed as a fraud. She began to let go of calming and soothing that fear in the vein of fitting in. She began to challenge herself to express more authentically. She began to face the narratives that would keep her dissatisfied and stuck in thinking the problems were external in the circumstances.
Her bosses and colleagues were blown away by the true wisdom, insight, and intelligence of her better self. It ironically earned her loads of recognition. FI had of course never earned that for her in that way. She claimed self-responsibility and her whole professional situation transformed around her (promotion, raise, new projects, meeting 1:1 with CEO). It was inspiring to see.
I know a fair number of people who have embraced what it takes to find belonging. It takes vigilance to face oneself on ever deeper levels. Among those, I have sometimes heard complaints because of the challenges which naturally arise. Ultimately, though I never heard a single person say they would prefer to go back to the lives they were previously living. I have never met a person like Cypher in the Matrix movie.
Whichever tree you decide to climb, do it by choice and know what the implications are. Mangos will never grow on lemon trees.