This is a big word for me. I did not place much value on it until I began following a therapist on social media. She did a series of posts and stories about this that have helped me understand the importance of belonging. We are social creatures and crave community, belonging, and of course security and love. Without it, I feel we do not have a chance to fully develop into our healthiest and best version of ourselves.
When I was a child, I felt out of place and like I did not belong. I used to think it was because I grew up in the 1970s and seemed to be one of the very few in my circle of friends and in my classroom that did not have the typical nuclear family. I had my grandparents and mother, but I did not have a father that was present or supportive in any way. I had a family who did care for and provide for me, but even that did not establish a meaningful connection in every aspect of my young life. I grew up with the nagging feeling of not belonging. In high school, it only got worse. I was often not included in activities that had been part of my culture and family heritage–such as debutante clubs, socials, or other activities that involved two parents and the financial stability to participate. I constantly struggled with trying to fit in. I was always the “extra” or the third wheel. I was excruciatingly mindful of this.
Once I graduated from high school and began working, I slowly began to find my tribe. These were the friends who just saw me; not my family background nor my lack of connections to influential people. They saw me for who I was. Gradually, I began to feel that sense of belonging and community with the tribe of friends who grew to become family. I was blessed with building those lifelong friendships in my 20s and 30s that have sustained me to this day.
Life happened and I relocated a few times. I always struggled to attain that elusive feeling of belonging and what I often refer to as HOME. I would often say, “This place doesn’t feel like home yet.” After a few years, I’d grow my network of friends and special places and that feeling of belonging would come back to me and I would cherish it. I didn’t quite understand this intangible thing I felt but it filled my heart and soul with love and a feeling of belonging and home.
This brings me here. I have been living in this part of North Texas for several years now. I have never felt at home or the sense of community and belonging I have craved to further my growth and healing process. I have become more socially isolated and oftentimes, it is by choice.
Here is what I have learned…
It was always up to me to be open to new friendships/relationships and seek out those connections and networks. I understand that it becomes more difficult if you are struggling with problems in your personal life or at work. As we age and grow through life’s stages and struggles; our views, feelings, and even habits may change. Every new challenge will either force us inward like a cocoon or push us out of the protection and essentially, the comfort zone or “resting period” as I like to call it.
I am not the bar scene-free-spirited 25-year-old I was years ago, but I’m not quite yet ready to join a senior community center either. I am somewhere in between rediscovering myself in this new phase of life– post-divorce, post Covid, and with new responsibilities and interests; and wanting to feel connected to old friendships while also being open to creating new ones in the present. I am quite comfortable going to do things alone and although that is a wonderful feeling of independence and confidence; doing things with a friend or two brings interesting conversations and a new perspective. This damn anxiety has forced me to seek out nature more than “crowds.” I’m not complaining, but I am recognizing that nature is so healing for me and I’m going to take advantage of it as much as I can.
I recently made a trip back to the small city that I was born and raised in–South Texas. These trips back down south were rarely filled with excitement or longing. Instead, they were filled with dread, worry, anxiety, and frankly, general unease about the whole thing. I was a little anxious this time around too and honestly, I was tempted to cancel the entire trip; but I had family obligations and recognized that the “belongingness” I was missing was right there for the taking. I knew it was time to reconnect with those important relationships that are so important to me and I pushed myself out of that “comfort zone of isolation.” I have zero regrets.
I kept waiting for the anxiety to hurl me back to my “comfort zone of isolation” which happened to be my hotel room, but I persisted and resisted. I was worried about that general feeling of unease, anxiety, dread, and fear starting to creep up and consume me. I was waiting to feel like…’this place isn’t home,’ kind of feeling. Guess what?! It did not happen. I learned that feeling of home, community, and belonging; is all within me and the relationships I cultivate and nurture. I have been searching for something outside of myself to give me the comfort and acceptance I needed and that was so severely lacking in my life. I finally got it. Home is not a place. It’s the environment we create with the ones we love around us. It’s feeling safe and loved. It’s laughing and sharing both happy and sad moments with your friends and loved ones. It. Is. So. Many. Things. Thank goodness I learned this so I can finally stop searching for what was never going to be found in a place.