Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Where Do YOU Belong?

It starts when you’re in about 6th grade, right?  You start to become more keenly aware of just where it is we belong in our environment.  You recognize different groups and cliques — you get accepted by some and rejected by others, and when you do get that rejection, your feelings are deeply hurt and it feels like your world is falling apart.

Where you belong, at school, will change over time — as you adopt new interests, make friends with different people, move to different neighborhoods (I’m thinking of my mom, who had to move more than 14 times during the course of her childhood, because her father was a marine), join various extracurricular activities, etc.
As preteens and adolescence, you tend to take your own family for granted as a place where you ultimately belong; it’s a given.  But it is your Outside Family (or Second Family) who feels more important during this time.  It’s those groups who speak your language, know your experiences, listen to the same music, have the same pressures, and either love or bitch about the same things.  You work hard to stay a part of this and other groups, to maintain your status in them, and continue to belong somewhere.

When you go to college, or try “Life In the Fast Lane” after high school, you try to find your niche all over again.  What major really defines you?  What fraternity or sorority will accept you?  What roommates or other people in your dorm will like you?  I remember finally figuring out where I belonged while I was a junior in college (yes…my 3rd year).  Through a series of wrong turns with other majors, I stumbled upon Psychology classes and as soon as I saw the curriculum, started taking my classes and began interacting with the kind of people who were attending them, I knew I’d found my sisters and brothers.  It was an amazing feeling to have such a strong sense of BELONGING.

If you went via the Life In the Fast Lane route, you may have tried a series of shit-jobs until you finally connected with one you had a knack for — you liked the people, the work was challenging enough (but not too hard) and you had a sense of capability and accomplishment that you were actually proud of — it was a good fit for you.

So then you looked for a mate.  With whom did you belong?  Like trying on a stack of collected clothes in a dressing room, certain guys or girls may look cute on the hanger, but when you actually try them on, they are hideous and/or don’t fit you at all.  We all go through this — one relationship after the other — until you finally find “the one.”  And since you want to belong to that person forever, you agree to commit ourselves to them — so you marry them, and now suddenly you belong not only to them, but their family as well.

You’ll have a feel for whether the place you both choose to live will be one where you belong.  It may be that it’s in the same neighborhood in which you grew up, or it may be one that caters to the stage of life you’re in at the moment (i.e. DINK’s or YUP’s).  Or…one or both of you may be in careers that move you around a lot, uprooting you from place to place, giving you very little time to grow roots and get a sense of belonging there.  In these more “transient” neighborhoods, you can bet there are a lot of superficial get-togethers, to force a sense of community.  
Then, you move into where your children fit in — schools, daycare, playgroups, etc.  You get the picture. All of this being a continuation of building, connecting, and belonging.

Until things start to unravel…
If your marriage starts to become mundane, distant, or unhappy, and you find yourselves in the ugly process of divorce, you move through the very painful process of pulling away, detaching, separating, unglueing, and splitting apart.  THEN where do you belong?  As a human bing, you have an existential NEED to belong somewhere.   an existence.

You might be the kind of person who goes back to their parents — moving back in “until you get on your feet again.”  On one hand it’s pretty humiliating, but on the other, it brings comfort to have people with the same last name, who know you like avocado on your salad, and who will sit and watch “American Idol” with you without judgment.  But it’s their presence that counts most.
For others, they go within and accept their isolation like a sentence they can’t appeal.  Their suffering gives them a “lost” look, and people notice.  Why?  Because when people see that someone isn’t connected to anyone or anything, it’s unsettling.  They have no way of defining that person, so they lack that Lego connector piece to make anything with them.

The fact is, with this existential need to belong, it is stitched into our DNA.  And if we don’t feel like we belong anywhere or with anyone, it causes major psychological damage.  When we get divorced, or we lose someone vital to our lives, or even if we’ve lost a job that closely aligned with our identity, it’s like we’re tumbling in a sea full of waves and we don’t know which end is up.  It’s one of the major reasons we don’t leave relationships (or careers) that are abusive or unsatisfying — it’s because we fear the lonliness and the impending process of hainvg to find a new place to belong.

I believe the key to having that process be less terrorizing, is that you learn to spread your eggs out in many baskets.  You need to belong in LOTS of places — diversify!  Make a list of all the groups in which you belong.  Right now, I belong not only with my husband and children, but with my colleagues at work, my co-workers at my private practice, my fellow yogis at my yoga studio, my siblings in three different states, my parents in two, my regular hairdresser and the employees there, and many other little “groups” with whom I share commonalities.  This is why Facebook has become so popular!!  It helps us “belong” to so many different groups! 
Look at the pie chart of your Life — see what sections you have in it and identify where and with whom you belong.  What really defines you and your purpose here?  If you were a Lego piece, how many connectors would you have and be a part of?  Are you just a 2-dimensional being or a multi-layered one?  You can build UP and you can build OUT — it’s all a matter of how you can contribute to the structures’ functions.  
Listen…you belong to more constructions than you may think…AND, if you keep developing and updating your particular connector piece right, you’ll be part of many, many others across the course of your life.  Think of how the Lego Company has adapted!

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