Those words conjure up a very specific picture for me as a recovering fitting-in person. Striving to fit in had only created a false sense of belonging that was both weak and conditional. It's the emotional equivalent of constantly walking a wobbly tightrope with no safety net. The only person you're faking out is yourself.
Belonging is 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.
For someone with shaky self-acceptance (Me for much of my life), that definition can feel impossible, like an unclimbable mountain, especially since being ourselves can sometimes mean finding the courage to stand alone. I didn't want to stand alone. I wanted desperately to fit in, to disappear amongst the cool people, invisible because I was just like them.
We live in a world that pushes competition, constantly promoting feelings of "less than," and driving wedges of "us" vs. "them." These are the opposite of belonging.
Have you ever thought about who benefits from that culture? It isn't you or me. It isn't our relationships or businesses or health. It isn't humanity.
Competition by nature is divisive, and division is the enemy of belonging, the thief who comes under cover of emotional darkness to steal your sense of place within yourself and in the world.
What we really want is to feel like a part of something meaningful. We want to experience real connection with ourselves and with others. And we do not want to pay for that connection with our authenticity or freedom. We want to be real AND feel connected. We want to belong as our beautiful, imperfect selves.
True belonging begins with moving towards loving and accepting ourselves just as we are, warts and all. And to do that, we sometimes have to stand alone - brave the wilderness. Instead of focusing on fitting in and pleasing, belonging starts when we begin taking courageous baby steps (or giant leaps) into the wilderness of "uncertainty, vulnerability, and criticism."
Be of good courage. The path may be rocky, but the way is clear.
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Anne Wade is the founder and publisher of The Soulmate Dance. She is a writer, educator, life coach, and lifelong student of soulmate relationships, devoted to expanding our understanding of all types of soulmate relationships and experiences.