I have recently come to appreciate Brene Brown’s work on the power of belonging. She says, “True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.”

I recently attended a retreat in Joshua Tree, comprised of 100 women. It was four days, filled with art, yoga and 5Rhythms movement meditation practice. In short, it was bliss.

There was also some serious personal work taking place. I am in awe of the courage it took for everyone to truly show up and be seen. Over the course of the four days, it was apparent that the masks and facades were beginning to drop, the inner walls were coming down.

It was due to the incredible atmosphere of trust that allowed this to happen. A sacred container was created to be able to make it safe enough for people to be themselves.

And wow — to be oneself — that is scary! It’s not often in life that we really, truly get to be the weird people that we actually are. Most social situations demand a certain amount of professionalism, put-togetherness, or even false positivity.

We mold ourselves to these ideals in order to avoid the awfulness of rejection. And in this, parts of us are lost.

True Belonging

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.”

Belonging vs Fitting In

First, I appreciate how she differentiates between belonging and fitting in, because at the core they are very different. Brown said that when we “fit in” as opposed to “belong,” we acclimate to the situation instead of standing for our authentic self.

Taking the Risk

Second, I appreciate how she talks about belonging as not always going with the flow. Authenticity requires great risk. Nobody wants to be called out or seen as an outcast, but sometimes we must stand alone in order to be in alignment with our own heart’s truth.

“As it turns out,” she says, “men and women who have the deepest sense of true belonging are people who also have the courage to stand alone when called to do that. They are willing to maintain their integrity and risk disconnection in order to stand up for what they believe in.”

During the course of the retreat, I saw the full range. People who agreed with each other and people who risked disconnection in order to stand up for what matters most in their heart. Regardless, people were standing up and expressing themselves. It became a forum to express thoughts and beliefs that are not always socially acceptable; but they are REAL.

Personal Commitment

Third, I appreciate how she says that it’s a daily practice, or a “personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” I don’t think we ever just “arrive” at being authentic and belonging. It’s an ever changing landscape that mirrors our own ever changing internal landscape.

Belonging Embodied

The facilitators also encouraged participants to confront them if there was something that they felt was not done in integrity. They encouraged us to exercise our ability to say no and to stand in our power, instead of mindlessly handing it over to others (especially those in perceived positions of power). This created an atmosphere of the utmost freedom and permission.

People were given the permission to be who they really are. In the presence of this permission, instead of an increase in discord, there was an increase in cohesion. People felt like they belonged, based on who they were, not who they had been conditioned to be.

There were other ways that we bonded with one another. Many of us (who were complete strangers to each other) laughed together, cried together, and shared stories of love, loss, sickness and joy. We were able to feel deeply connected through the range of life experiences that make us all human.

Brown says, “”We need to hold hands with strangers. We need reminders – collective joy and pain – reminders that we are inextricably connected to each other.”

This is what we had.

We also had the full experience, in mind, body, and soul, that told us we belonged. For me, every cell in my body felt like it belonged. The power of this, I am learning, is immeasurable.

Wired for Belonging

I’ll finish with this quote from Brown, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

hands giving heart

Next time you are feeling alone or like you don’t belong, don’t beat yourself up. A sense of love and belonging is a core human need. Instead of feeling stuck or paralyzed by it, see how you can reach out and connect; with a loved one, an animal, or nature.

Find a place (or places) where you can truly be your authentic self. Don’t settle for less. Make it your mission to belong. Your health and vitality depend on it. Others also need examples of brave people who are willing to take risks and stand up for what they believe in. Next time you step into your own authenticity, you may just be a catalyst to help someone else step into theirs.

This post is dedicated to Amber Ryan, Kate Shela, and the 99 other women at the retreat who were willing to take a risk; I see you, I feel you, and I am inspired by you. Thank you for helping me remember how much I belong.

If you are feeling alone and like you just don’t belong, please reach out. I offer free 15-minute consultations, so you can see if counseling or therapy is right for you.