The Importance of Developing a Sense of Belonging
Anybody who knows me knows how much I like to talk about belonging, particularly when it comes to our children’s mental health. A sense of belonging is crucial to our life satisfaction, happiness, mental and physical health and even longevity. It gives us a sense of purpose and meaning.
Research has shown that loss of belonging has been associated with stress, illness and decreased wellbeing and depression. Without a sense of belonging, it’s easy to feel lost and alone. Which is a pretty scary place to be in this wide world, especially for our children.
Humans have an instinctive need to belong. Evolutionarily, cooperation and group relationships led to an increased level of survival. Maslow felt it was of such importance that he placed belongingness just above physiological and safety needs, in his hierarchy of needs. Since the dawn of our species, there have been things to belong to: families, tribes, countries, religions to name just a few. But in the modern age, all of these are changing. Breaking down perhaps; widening and becoming less distinct, definitely.
Dr Dan Siegel describes a meeting he had with the leader of a tribe in a war-torn country experiencing famine and disease. When he asked how the people seemed so happy, he was told. “We’re happy because we belong. We belong to each other in our community, and we belong to Earth.” Although we in the western world are abundant with food, money and material things, studies show that we are some of the most unhappy people on the planet.
We may have a fundamental problem of not belonging.
According to Dr Siegel, this sense of isolation and disconnection comes about from the mind /brain problem.
Scientists generally view the mind as “the brain in action”. It follows then that if the mind is solely the result of brain activity, then the self, which comes from the mind, is separate from everybody else’s self. Dr Siegel holds that the true model of the mind needs to include an interpersonal aspect, and that relationships are as much a part of what makes up the mind as the brain is.
He explains that we are not a singular noun but a plural verb. The “me” discovers meaning and happiness in life by belonging to a “we”. We have a relational self that is equally as important as our individualised self. “Although we may think of, and treat relationships with one-another as the icing on the cake, they are actually the cake”.
We are all interconnected, and going against that natural grain by living as separate systems, is responsible for a lot of harm we are doing to ourselves, one another and the planet.
So how do we integrate these selves? By cultivating the awareness that we’re both a Me that’s a differentiated bodily self, and a We.
You’re an MWe!
When we realise the relational aspect of Mind, there’s a huge shift in our sense of belonging. When we keep in mind that each of us is not only a “me,” but part of an interconnected “we”, it helps to produce an integrated self — which leads not only towards caring for others but also towards living a life full of meaning, connection and belonging to a larger whole.
What would the future look like if we raise the next generation of leaders to realise that the mind, who they are, their identity, the self, is both within them and in their interconnections with other people and the planet? To realise that there’s an intra nature identity that’s filled with love and belonging. That the word self actually refers to both the inner and the inter- experience. A me + a we. They would be integrated and united. With themselves, one-another and the planet.