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Belonging To Yourself

We all want to have harmonious relationships and to feel that we belong somewhere. But sometimes ourselves and others get in the way of that. Some of us aggressively force others to bend to what we want, and others of us passively bend to what others want. At this time, I want to speak to the people-pleasers, the ones that have difficulty saying “no”, and most often just go along with what others say and want.

Brene Brown (2010) defines Belonging as “the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” In her research on True Belonging, participants often reported feeling of identity surrounded by “us versus them” cultures that create feelings of spiritual disconnection, and concern that the only thing that binds people together is shared fear and disdain, rather than common humanity, shared trust, respect, or love. They were far more aware of pressure to “fit in” and conform than connection to a shared humanity.

True belonging is not passive. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, to get uncomfortable, and to be present with people without abandoning ourselves. It’s the foundation of intimacy. Others cannot truly connect with us when we don’t show up, when we pretend to think or be something we’re not, when we avoid conflict. It creates what Scott Peck refers to as pseudocommunity, where a group/family appears to be functioning smoothly, but individuality, intimacy, and honesty are crushed. There is an underlying sense of mistrust, as we’re not truly certain of what’s there, where someone is at, who or what is behind the curtain or mask. It leads to feelings of disconnect and loneliness. The path from pseudocommunity to true community requires chaos and emptiness. First, it requires someone to be courageous and to speak their individual truth, which is often counter to the “norm” or commonly accepted stance. It takes someone admitting “Hey this is not OK, or I don’t agree”, which will often lead to chaos as others try to heal or convert the individualist. This then requires members emptying themselves of barriers to communication. The most common barriers are expectations and preconceptions, prejudices, ideology, the need to fix, heal, convert, or solve, and the need to control. It requires vulnerability as members admit to their fears, failures, and defeats rather than pretending that they “have it all together”. True community emerges as a group/family chooses to embrace not only the light but life’s darkness. True community is both joyful and realistic. The transformation of a group/family from a collection of individuals into true community requires little deaths in many of the individuals. Through this emptiness, this sacrifice, comes true community. Members begin to speak of their deepest and most vulnerable parts–and others will simply listen. There will be tears–of sorrow, of joy. An extraordinary amount of healing begins to occur.

The path to true belonging is not easy. It requires trust. It’s stepping outside of the comfort zone with the hope that amazing things will happen on the other side. We must learn how to trust ourselves and how to trust others. In order to find true belonging in others, we must first belong to ourselves. What is my truth? What’s true for me? And radical acceptance of whatever that is. When we feel solid in our truth we can stand up to the pseudocommunity, or that person that we often give into because it’s easier to just go along with whatever they want. Brene Brown refers to it as “Braving the Wilderness”. Trusting ourselves and others is a vulnerable and courageous process. Brown (2017) outlines elements to trusting others and trusting ourselves:

            Trusting Others

Boundaries – You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

Reliability – You do what you say you’ll do. This means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

Accountability – You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

Vault – You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.

Integrity – You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

Nonjudgment – I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

Generosity – You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.



B – Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?

R – Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?

A – Did I hold myself accountable?

V – Did I respect the vault and share appropriately?

I – Did I act from my integrity?

N – Did I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?

G – Was I generous toward myself?

Brown (2017) states that “True belonging is not something that you negotiate externally, it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something and in braving the wilderness alone. When we reach this place, even momentarily, we belong everywhere, and nowhere.”

Where are you at in the BRAVING process? In what ways can you improve self-trust and trust in others? Where are you at in belonging to yourself? And with whom might you practice sharing your truth with today?

Brown, B. (2010).  The gifts of imperfection: Letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. New York: Random House.

Peck, S. (1998). The different drum: Community making and peace. New York: Touchstone.

Shari Derksen, MA, is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and specializes in the areas of relationship issues and intimacy, as well as many others. For more information on Shari, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.