What Does it Mean to Belong?

What does it mean to belong? We all want to belong, but to whom or what? When I was a child, and a young teen I desperately wanted to belong, but had no idea how to get that to happen. In grade school I had been considered a weirdo. I didn’t fit in. I was a loner and didn’t fit in. I was comfortable speaking to adults and conversing with them. I had no idea how to be a kid like the other children.

Belonging as an Adolescent

In 7-8 th grade I hated my life, hated myself and didn’t want to be alive. My energy was starting to attract the wrong kind of attention from people doing drugs. I was frightened, I knew better than to do drugs. But I really wanted to belong. Thankfully, a beautiful girl in school befriended me in my 8 th grade year. Why? I still don’t know to this day. She was super popular, everyone adored her. Why did she ask me to walk home with her and do homework? I have no idea. But that was the beginning of a long friendship and I credit her with saving my life, because I could have easily been persuaded to go a dark direction.

As teens we sought freedom from our family through bicycles, skateboards, cars, etc. Maybe we experimented with wilder groups and tried alcohol or drugs. We distanced and disconnected from family, spending more time with others we “chose” to be with than those we were “supposed’ to be with. Did this help us find a sense of belonging?

Later we enlarged our circle of frequent contacts with societal groups. We went to school, to religious affiliations and their gatherings. We may have joined after school activities with other groups. We participated sometimes willingly, sometimes not. We were around others. They may have encouraged us to grow, play, explore and expand our understanding of the world or not. Did we feel we belonged because we associated with these people?

Belonging at Different Stages of Life

It is a basic human need to belong as an infant and child. If we don’t belong we die. It’s pretty simple and straight forward.  Belonging is a requirement and we will do just about anything to belong so we stay alive. But… what IS belonging? As young children we may have first felt a sense of belonging with our families. We may have been part of a small or large family. We may have been loved or discounted. We were with these people all the time. They nurtured us and challenged us. Is this what it means to belong?

We found we needed money. So, we got a job. We began building different relationships. We engaged in serving a common idea or purpose. We may have been fully invested in that idea or simply stumbled into the job, disinterested in the idea of what we were supporting. It was just a means to an end, money. Still, we were identified by the group, the company, the idea we were part of. We may have earned awards, worn badges or special colors of clothing to identify ourselves as part of “the team”. Is this what it is to belong?

We perhaps met a special someone. We thought, “Now, here is someone who really gets me.” This person understands me, thinks like I think, appreciates what I like, wants to do the things I like to do. Then years unfold and things change as we each grow. Perhaps we drift apart, yet we live with someone special of our own choosing. Is this what it means to belong?

What is Belonging?

At some point we start wondering, what is belonging? To what do I belong? What is worth belonging to? What does it feel like to truly belong to something or with someone? Do I need to belong to something or someone to feel good or be complete? Do others feel the need to belong, or just me? We may feel an emptiness if we are not part of someone’s life or part of something greater than self. Are we “hard-wired” to belong as human beings? I believe we are. As shared above, in very early life if we don’t belong to our family we die. The need to belong is a survival need.

Researchers have long studied the force that drives us to belong. Sociology, psychology, anthropology all study what it is that binds us together. Perhaps simply being a human being is what drives us to belong. Some people say they have no desire to belong. My guess is they are only thinking about people. Perhaps they are so devoted to their work that they have no time for others. Ah, but this is still belonging! We belong with the idea or purposeful endeavor we are so swept up by! It seems we don’t have to belong to or with another person then, to find a sense of belonging.

Belonging is About Perspective and Beliefs

Some may say they have never felt they belonged. However, this is a perspective. With a change of that perspective and shifting of one’s belief system, we realize at the very macro level we all belong! We all belong as global citizens sharing our amazing and delicate planet Earth. We all belong to the human race! Can we satisfy our longing to belong by simply realizing we are all part of something quite wonderful and magical called life? It gives me a different way of thinking about life when I consider I belong because I am a human being living as a part of Earth’s great planet and we are all part of life and living.

May you find a new level of belonging through the idea that we are here, we are alive and we do belong!

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