Figuring out to what and to whom I belong has long played a central role in my life. In my early years, there was only one choice: Conform to belong. To not conform was to be left without emotional connection. It was to be penalized. When I hit my teenage years, I had had enough, and so I ceased to conform. I rebelled, hard, against what never felt right to me to begin with. Though this left me on the outs with a parent, I kept going in an attempt to break from what undermined who I authentically was. At the time, I thought I didn’t care what they thought. But I did. So, even though some part of me needed the fight, the boundary, the definition, rebelling against conforming never got me what I needed because I was still defining myself against what I didn’t want. Still trying to belong from the outside in. Still on the outside of a kind of belonging that made any sense to me.
Then came the years that I thought I would try and go it alone. That I would keep myself at a distance from belonging; having come to the conclusion that being in relationship meant I had to negotiate myself in ways that felt harmful to me. That in order to belong, I had to leave really important parts of myself behind. Or at least, in hiding. While this represented another layer in the evolution of my belonging odyssey, in the end, this wasn’t the way to go either. Sure, there were things I didn’t have to negotiate, but there were also important and essential experiences missing.
It was only when I began to turn back towards myself (perhaps for the very first time in my life) that I started to discover who I really was and what I actually needed in belonging. It was a new and vastly unexplored territory to connect with something deep inside me that had nothing to do with my ideas about what I thought I needed to do to belong. This journey has been decades in the making, and continues still, even as I write about this. But at this point, I am so in. Why? Because it has taught me many, many valuable lessons about what it means to balance the Truth of who I am, while belonging in ways that equally support that, and simultaneously, contribute to the Greater Good.
This seems like an unresolvable paradox to many of us. That we actually get to be who we are, and belong. Without negotiation of what is most central to us. We believe this because most of us have been taught and conditioned to believe you either have to choose for yourself (and be selfish and alone) or choose to belong (and give up who you are and what you need). Nary shall the two meet in most people’s world view. And so we usually hole up on one side or the other of the equation of autonomy and belonging.
But here it is, you cannot belong to anyone or anything else until you firmly and completely belong to yourself. First. This is not easy to do. Our most deep-seated, and often unconscious feelings, about belonging go all the way back to being babies and young children where in order to literally survive, we had to belong. No. Matter. What. That meant we instinctively did whatever it took to stay connected to those around us; whether it was good for us and what we needed, or not. Now, as adults, what we think belonging means, and what we believe we must do to belong, has its roots in the minds of infants and babies. In other words, preverbal, and below the reasoning of the grown-up mind.
That is why it can feel so hard to get back to. Or why it is that we do not even recognize it, or feel like we have a choice.That is why it feels so necessary and so compelling to keep belonging in the less than satisfying, and even harmful, ways that we do. How we belong now is what we felt like we had to do back then. What this means is, our very ideas around survival are tied to belonging. From that stage of mind, it would be dangerous to not fit in. The desperate need, often against our better judgment or even our own health, to compromise and negotiate ourselves away to keep from being judged, abandoned, aggressed upon, or ostracized, has its origins in the past, and its expression in the present.
Which brings us to the times of Co-vid. Yes, we are back here again. For to ignore what is being played out on the main stage, would be to deny both how things have gotten derailed, and what it actually is that can bring us back on track. Meaning, we must be willing, each of us, to look at how what it means to belong has been commandeered; centering around outward behaviors that we do or do not do. A kind of “social currency” that we garner, or not, through following a mandate.
This is dangerous to not only personal autonomy, but to your ability to bring a healthy sense of who you are to the group. For the Truth is, we do not belong to other’s expectations of us. Not to their demands, mandates or ideas. We belong to Something much, much greater than that. To begin to question what belonging means to you is to do the work of the Ages. It is to intentionally separate yourself from group think in order to find the Truth within, that you then offer back out as the very foundation of True Belonging.
If this makes any sense to you, begin to notice yourself more closely in relationship. Where do you sell out? Why? Be gentle as this is the work of retelling the little one in you a new and updated version of a story you have long held. Not unlike when a child finds out for the first time, there is no Santa Claus. In that noticing, when you come upon that place where you are locked in an old pattern around what it means to belong, either fighting for your right to be or acquiescing your life in order to fit in, say to yourself, “I belong to Life as it runs through me and from whence it came. It is safe to know this.”
P.S. If you are looking for more structured support in distinguishing between your True Self and what the culture expects of you in order to fit in, check out The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path To Your True Self by Martha Beck.