We all just want to belong. Belonging is an instinctual desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
It is a human need, a feeling inside of us that we really can’t control. It’s just there. It’s there when we arrive and it will be with us until we take our last breath. We learn to express this need in our hunger for connection to others. The expression ‘no man is an island’ best represents this. We were never meant to do this business of life alone.
Yet in today’s world, due to the advancements in technology, not to mention the small subject of a global pandemic, we are all becoming less connected every day. The irony isn’t lost on any of us that while we might have increased access to the lives of others, we are connecting less with the people around us.
We are motivated by a rush to fit in, to be accepted. We are influenced, for example, into thinking that the more followers we have on social media, the more likes we get on an Instagram Reel or from a TikTok video, that this somehow portrays to the world our true worth. Notwithstanding the mercurial aspect of this life goal, the main issue here is that we are perpetuating the mistaken belief that fitting in is the same as belonging. It is not.
The truth is that the more you try to fit in the less likely you are to belong. Fitting in is about looking at a given situation and then doing all you can to become exactly who you need to be, to be accepted.
Whereas belonging does not ask that you change who you are, in fact, it demands that you continue to be who you are. The difference, while it may at first appear subtle, is immense. That deep desire in all of us to belong, can not only lead us to seeking approval and acceptance from the wrong places and people, but it can prevent us from connecting with who we really are.
True belonging only occurs when we present ourselves as we are – the real, flawed, imperfect version of ourselves. Anything other than this is our attempt to be who we think other people want us to be in order for us to be accepted and fit in.
If you recognise yourself or your behaviours in any of this, please know that you are not alone. We can all get confused between who we are and who we need to be from time to time. Take that time in your life when you moved from childhood to adulthood, you invested so much time and energy into being exactly the same as everyone else. You imitated the clothes, haircuts, make-up and style of your friends. You developed the same interests, hobbies and tastes. You did this to fit in. You also did it to ensure that you didn’t stand out.
Where it gets really confusing is when you move into your thirties and forties and you start to crave being different, of standing out. You aspire to be fully yourself and the learned behaviours you practiced as a teenager can really send you mixed messages. This is where self-compassion comes in, the kind of self-love that requires you to learn how to trust yourself, to be kinder to yourself, to silence the voice of your inner critic and just let you be as you want to be.
It’s not easy, in fact, it’s really challenging for us to be more loving to ourselves. It’s far too easy to continue speaking to ourselves in a way that we wouldn’t speak to another, to deflect, to put our attention outside rather than having to go inward.
I would invite you to observe the language you use in your own thoughts and inner dialogue. ‘I’m such a fool for thinking I could do that,’ ‘what am I thinking that they might like an idiot like me?’ ‘Where am I off to trying to convince my boss I’m capable of doing that?’ If you spoke to a friend or a partner like that, in a similar derogatory tone, I’m guessing they wouldn’t hang around, they would feel very much criticised by you, unloved and unappreciated. Yet, and this is crucial, we think, every single day, with every single similar thought, that it’s okay for us to speak to ourselves like that. It’s really not.
Which is exactly why we waste so much time trying to fit in and receive acceptance from others, because we don’t accept ourselves as we currently are. We have no self-compassion. It’s far easier for us to say “I know, I’ll be who you need me to be or what you need me to be in return for me feeling like I’m part of this, like I’ve been accepted!”
If a situation or a person demands you to change who you know yourself to be, then stop and ask yourself are you being motivated by a desire to fit in or a desire to belong? Knowing the difference can really help you identify which is most important.
Understanding that we teach others how to treat us by how we treat ourselves can be a great motivator in all of this. If you can’t be true to yourself, if you don’t allow yourself to express your individual needs and desires, then how on earth can you expect others to honour them in you? It just won’t happen.
Let me share this with you, my intention for the year ahead is to prioritise myself more, to identify what I need to make me happy and not be afraid to ask for whatever that is. I know that doing this will continue to show others just what it is that matters most to me and that, in so doing, I am fulfilling my desire to belong rather than aimlessly filling a need to fit in. The thought of this, I have to tell you, makes me very happy!
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Transformation Coach, Writer and Host of TOUGH LOVE ENERGY™ Podcast. She’s known for her practical solutions to life’s challenges and her ability to tell you not what you want to hear but always what you need. Niamh is currently accepting applications for her 2022 The RESET for Change 3 Month 1:1 Private Coaching Programme. Find her on Instagram @1niamhennis or visit niamhennis.com.