Tag Archives: belonging

B is for Belonging, Bravery, and Blogging

B2020To follow up on the A is for Alone blog, I thought I would write a bit about belonging. I was just listening to Brené Brown talk on 60 Minutes about vulnerability and courage and connection. Her research on vulnerability and shame has proven that humans are wired for connection and we can connect with others if we are vulnerable. I spend a lot of time encouraging my clients to let themselves be vulnerable, reminding them that we are, in fact, wired for connection. I reassure them that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable and real and brave in the face of uncertainty and possible rejection, they will discover belonging.

This is a difficult concept for many, myself included. We hold ourselves back from belonging because we are afraid that there is something wrong with us, we assume that this horrible flaw, should it be discovered, will keep us in isolation and lonely (i.e. without a sense of belonging). We don’t want to risk opening ourselves up because we fear being rejected for that flaw, that terrible thing that could send potential friends screaming in the other direction. So, we remain isolated and lonely, wrapped in our invulnerability, closed off so no one can see us, really. But it’s a self-defeating cycle. By if we refuse to risk rejection, we cannot open ourselves to acceptance and belonging. And somehow it seems easier to be 100% lonely than to risk rejection.

We have to summon our courage, become brave enough to risk connection, if we hope to cultivate a community in which we belong. For myself, being vulnerable means writing. Writing often means taking huge risks, both exposing my innermost thoughts and feelings and putting them out there for anyone to read. It is especially nerve-wracking now that I am a practicing mental health counselor. But writing is where I find community. It is my identity, more than any other part of me.  And while it is scary to put myself out there, the alternative is to make myself smaller than I am, to hide my true self, and to feel more alone and disconnected in the world.

And now more than ever, we all need connection. So, come on. Get your brave on. You might just discover you belong.

A is for Alone

For most of my adult life, I have not much cared for being alone. I grew up in the country, away from other kids, no neighborhood gang to hang out with, no one but my little brother to play with, and while he is amazing to spend time with now, it was different when I was 8 and he was 3. I learned to entertain myself. I read books and wandered the woods around the house pretending to be Laura Ingalls Wilder or Sam from My Side of the Mountain, the kid who left home to go live in a hollowed out old tree stump in the Adirondacks at age 12 where he trained a falcon to hunt for him and taught himself to tan deer hide. But birds scared me, I had no idea how to skin a deer (nor did I want to), and the hollowed-out tree stumps on our property harbored far too many spiders and other bugs to make it habitable for me. But I learned in those long days of alone time that I could be good company for myself. That I had an imagination and could harness the power of my mind to entertain myself, to explore, and to learn new things.

Only as I grew up, did I begin to equate being alone with loneliness. We moved a lot as a family once I turned 12. I went to several high schools. I struggled to make friends. I lacked confidence. And then began the dawning awareness that I was, in fact, different in one fundamental way. I did not then have a word for what I was, but let’s just say I had some spidey sense that being attracted to other girls, sexually or romantically, wasn’t okay (it was, after all, the 1970s). I wasn’t okay according to our family’s religious beliefs; I wasn’t okay according to our culture; I wasn’t a typical girl in that I did not like typical girl things. I began to feel more and more alone, apart, separate. I began to hide who I really was. Which limited my pool of real friends and made me feel lonely AND alone.

I began the work, then, of trying to make sure I was never alone. Because in my mind, in the reality I had constructed, alone=loser. Not alone=not a loser. Many years of therapy and hard self-work later, I have finally unlearned that destructive lesson and gotten back to my child self, that confident girl who could entertain herself, be comfortable with her own company, relax into learning new things on her own, for herself, by herself. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t grow to love myself and my own company again overnight or even within a year. But I kept at it—I kept talking (and listening) to my therapists and teachers, trusting my own judgment, taking risks, being honest about myself with others.

In time, I learned that being alone was not a measure of how much I was loved nor a reflection of my worth. I learned what it means to have true friends, people who care and value me whether we are out for happy hour or thousands of miles apart from each other, people who I trust love me because I believe I am lovable. These lessons keep returning to me now, as I, a single divorced mother of two grown children, hunker down for the duration. Alone. But I am not lonely. I am loved. And so are you.