I’m reading – and enjoying a lot – a memoir-blog entitled The Journal I Wish I’d Kept. The author, Eva writes about her childhood and the effects it had on her as she grew into an adult. In one of her recent posts she highlighted the difficulties associated with low self-esteem and how difficult it becomes to feel like you’re “normal” and worthy of other people’s respect. She highlighted this fascinating, humorous and touching TED talk by sociologist Brene Brown.
…And it got me thinking.
Perceptions of Belonging. It was – as I think Brown neatly summarised – more my own perception than anything to do with individuals concerned. Sometimes I would admit defeat (“I don’t belong with these people, I’m not even going to try.”), other times it was an easy, instinctive entrance (“I definitely belong with these people.”), otherwise it was a slow process (“OK, I’m an outsider now but I can see what I must do if I want to be accepted.”). In 95% of the later examples I DID get accepted eventually – which I think shows how much perception DOES have have on the process.
On Not (& Never) Belonging. In some scenarios I’ve realised that I’m unlikely to belong to a particular group…and so just walked away. In some instances I’ve not felt worthy of belonging…and kept away. Sometimes I’ve wanted to belong but couldn’t really figure out how…so kinda slipped about all over the place. I don’t think Not Belonging has to be a bad thing. When realising you don’t belong…perhaps it is a warning that these people won’t bring out the best in you. After all, if the group doesn’t make any sort of effort to meet you halfway…are they really worth it?
The Wrong Way To Go About Integrating. There have been a few instances to date where I was a marked outsider in a personal/professional group environment. My reaction to this was to do individualistic stunts that tried to draw attention to myself in a quasi-desperate bid to get recognition/acceptance. That invariably backfired horribly on me: leaving me miserable and yes, isolated. Part of my “growing up” was learning how to correctly go about gaining acceptance. Integration happens thanks to slow, sustained efforts – not through any quick-fire burst of action.
The Moment When I Know I’m Worthy. It only takes one person in a group to offer friendship and acceptance. That gives me all the confidence and faith I need to try to gain acceptance and belonging with the whole group. In Brown’s words, it convinces me I’m worthy of belonging. To those people (who probably don’t even know who they are): THANK YOU. Your faith means the absolute world to me. I hope somehow, sometime to repay your favour…or at least pass it along.
The Right Way to Go About Integrating. If I want to gain acceptance then I know it requires work and compromise on my part. For somebody like me who is a natural introvert and quite withdrawn in social situations, this involves (a) Going against my natural instincts (b) Quite a lot of effort, actually. In my early years at university I avoided pub crawls and night-time socials at all cost: I didn’t drink and was slightly scared by the alcoholic orientation of most student societies. In my final years I was more used to the drink culture…and so went along to the beginning of term socials and chatted to the societal regulars in a bid to start feeling like I belonged. Even if I was tired and busy, I knew that I should go over and talk to people if I wanted to earn acceptance and friendship. Then later on (seriously, several months down the line) I would feel so much less of an introvert and the socials would become effortless to navigate.
Acquiring a Sense of Belonging takes time & effort. In my case it’s hardly ever instinctive, no matter how awesome the group of people I’m joining are. I rarely get it right first time, I don’t necessarily get it right every time, either.
Yet I try because, in the words of Jason Mraz: “And it’s our Godforsaken right to be loved…”