The last two posts here on You Matter Too were about strengthening connections and having a strong support network. These all enhance our ability to feel like we belong. A sense of belonging is another key component of our overall health and well-being.
A sense of belonging is a feeling that you are accepted, supported and have a strong notion of connection, as well as providing that in return. This can be with a multitude of aspects such as:
- within nature
Usually you have a sense of belonging with something or somewhere you are most comfortable.
Developing a sense of belonging is important and it can build up your self-worth (which is how we value ourselves), leading to an enhancement of our well-being. It helps our happiness and motivation, gives a sense of purpose and meaning and has strong links to our spiritual health (a dimension of health that has a strong correlation with our mental health).
Just like with other aspects to do with our mental health and well-being, a sense of belonging is unique to each individual. Finding the place or places that you belong is a journey and as we grow into life, our sense of belonging also grows with us. It is dynamic, and as our needs and situations in life change, so will finding our true sense of belonging. Where we felt we belonged as a child or in school, is not the same as where we may feel we belong years down the track as an adult.
Issues if we feel we don’t belong
When we have difficulties in finding our sense of belonging, it can be detrimental to our mental health, especially if it is in conjunction with a lack of connectedness and support networks. This lack of belonging can lead to:
- increased stress
- feelings of isolation and disconnection
- increase in depression and anxiety
Developing your sense of belonging
Since it is another critical aspect of enhancing our mental health and overall well-being, it is also important to know that you can increase your sense of belonging. This isn’t always easy however, as it can mean that you have to do a lot of work on yourself. In particular, focusing on your sense of self (understanding who you are and the characteristics or traits that define you). If we are struggling with this, it makes it difficult to know exactly what you want and can then lead to the difficulties in finding our sense of belonging.
Some of the ways that we can develop our sense of belonging are through:
Authenticity/self acceptance – being true to yourself and your values and morals can help you find that sense of belonging. If we are consistently trying to change ourselves to fit in and mold ourselves to the norms of a group that is not aligned with who we truly are, we will find it difficult to feel accepted both by ourselves and the people we are with.
Inner work – prioritising ourselves and our healing journey is necessary to be in a place where we can achieve a sense of belonging. If we are truly struggling with who we are and not looking after ourselves, we won’t be in a space where we can do the work needed to have that feeling of belonging.
Acceptance of others – understanding that we are all unique and that others may have a different way of being or seeing things. This does not mean that we have to change, but we can focus on what might be similar between us and not the differences. If we can do this, we can then appreciate the different strengths that others may have.
Communication – deep listening is key in many aspects of our lives and when we want to enhance our sense of belonging, we need to be able to do this well. It enables us to listen attentively and avoid misunderstandings. This also leads to strengthening the connections between each other.
Being open to new opportunities – make an effort to include yourself in activities and engage with others. Seek out groups, people, places etc. that can share your interests and do not be afraid to try new things. This can also lead back to our authenticity and having a strong sense of self as this will lead to being more confident in making an effort.
You don’t have to have the answers to where you belong right away. Part of life is the journey we take, and as we are ever changing, so are the places we are meant to be. It’s okay to be finding your way.