How does it happen? When does it happen? Why is it so hard to feel like we belong?
The Belonging Conversation prompted these thoughts. I was with close friends. A small group of women gathered in a living room; people I’ve known for years. We know each other. We’ve walked through highs and lows and raw moments together. I was invited to be here. And yet, midway through the evening, I welled up with insecurity and questioning.
Why am I here? They included me to be polite. I’m not really part of the group. They are a group; I’m an add on.
I was emotional. I kept silent. Afraid of what would pour out if I opened my mouth.
One of the women shared vulnerably. She mentioned she likes to listen more than talk. Sometimes she isn’t sure that what she says is needed.
What??? I soak up every word you speak! You are wise, thoughtful and discerning.
Another woman shared that she questions her contribution to the group.
Wait, what? You have moments of questioning if you belong?
Their courage sparked my courage. I spoke the thoughts whirling in my mind. We were surprised by the difference in how we viewed our value versus the value the group saw in us.
I call this The Belonging Conversation because it changed our group. We spoke truth to affirm we belong. We each have an important place in the group. We value and trust and need each other. We forged a sacred bond that day unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That conversation has been lingering in my mind ever since.
I’ve had a front row seat to observe women’s desire for relationship for the last 10 years in small groups. We talk a lot about community – but that isn’t what women want. They want to connect and find a friend. Creating adult friendships isn’t as easy as it is for kids.
Friendship is important, but the thing we are soul starved for is belonging.
Community – Connection – Friendship – Belonging
They aren’t the same.
I can have community without connection. When I’m at the table but not allowing myself to connect with others or I haven’t found something that connects us.
I can have connection without friendship. When eyes connect and two people understand each other. Or when we read or hear words that resonate (books, social media, speaker). We might not know the person, but we feel connected.
I can have friendship without a feeling of belonging. This is the part that has rocked my world lately.
Belonging is when I feel I have a place in the relationship or at the table. Belonging means I wasn’t invited as a courtesy or an after-thought. Belonging means I didn’t weasel my way in, manipulate or claw my way into being included. Belonging means I’m seen, safe, welcome and loved. Belonging means I see others, and help them feel safe, welcome and loved.
I think there is a progression in relationships to get to belonging. It begins with community. You must be with people who know your name for a true sense of belonging.
Community can be huge (neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, social media friends, groups, faith community, common interests like hobbies/interests/team/school, etc.)
Connection is a smaller group. In a work environment, social situation, group setting or neighborhood there are a smaller number of people I connect with inside of the larger community.
Friends are an even smaller group. I don’t invite everyone I connect with to have coffee, come to my house, see a movie/concert, go on vacation together or text me regularly.
I have close friends, a Tribe, and a band of Soul Sisters, but the friendships where I belong are sacred. It’s a whole other level of being known and loved. It’s healing me.
Belonging is the tightest circle of relationship. It’s mutual. It’s reciprocal. It is life giving for both sides. It’s a safe place to show up as is, unedited, open and transparent every time. Belonging doesn’t require re-establishing trust. Trust is known and you can jump into the deeper issues of life, relationships and challenges. There is no competition in belonging. We celebrate each other’s wins.
It is so beautiful! I’m grateful I’ve found it. I have a feeling some never experience belonging.
Feeling like I belong has been an issue for me for decades. It’s connected to my feelings of abandonment, shame and feeling different after my mom died. It’s an area I’m working on and learning about. It’s new to me. That’s why I’m so curious and interested.
When I reflect honestly, I can see how I sabotaged opportunities to belong. My insecurity would lead to a push/pull which inhibited belonging. It caused people to wonder - Does she want to belong? Is she rejecting us?
In hindsight, I see how I excluded myself from belonging when the invitation was offered. Painful, but important to acknowledge, and an opportunity to grow.
Suggestions to experience belonging:
1. Gather with healthier-than-you-people. As you grow, continue to find more healthier-than-you-people.
2. Connect with yourself. If you don’t know you – how can I know you? Do inner work in community first.
3. Affirm the beauty you see in people. It leads to connection. You need connection before you can have belonging. Do this is person and through social media. It’s a way to connect.
4. Risk in healthy relationships. When you connect with someone, reach out and ask for time. Ask to meet for coffee, have a playdate, invite them to dinner or to an event. Friendship requires time. Take the risk, it’s worth it. People are busy, but they are also LONELY. People who are available for belonging will say yes to your invitation.
5. Bring something to the table. Belonging does not equal dumping. Spend time reflecting on what is going on inside of you. Occasionally we need to process out loud and your belonging people can help you sort it out. On the regular, connect with yourself regularly so you can add to the conversation.
6. Belonging takes time. Let it bloom in its own time. It’s organic. It can’t be manufactured; it is nurtured. It’s worth the wait.
I want to be someone who makes people feel like they belong when they are near me. Tears come to my eyes as I share that. I think belonging heals the giver and the receiver.
Let’s do this. Let’s open ourselves to belonging. It’s healing work for all of us.
What are your thoughts and experiences with belonging? Tell me if you try these suggestions. I’m learning too!