We all need to feel like we belong, like we’re in the place we’re meant to be, with the people we’re meant to be with.
But for many of us, that crucial feeling of belongingness doesn’t really exist.
Some of us might just be forcing the feeling or pretending that we feel it; others might be hiding from the feelings that they don’t belong altogether.
What do you do when you feel like you belong? Why do you feel that way, and will you always feel it?
Don’t worry. I think most of us have been in that situation where we feel like we don’t belong.
I’ve been there many times. And let those thoughts hold me down and back from what I wanted.
But I’ve also – over the years – learned quite a few things that help me stop feeling like I don’t belong which allows me to take action to make things better.
In this article I’m going to go over what it means to belong, and why some of us just don’t feel it.
Finally, I talk about what you can do to eventually find the place where you belong, whether that place exists in your mind or in another stage of your life.
What does it mean to belong?
The feeling of belonging is something we all strive for, whether we know it or not.
Feeling that you belong somewhere (or even to someone) is just as important to your happiness and contentment as feeling accomplished, or feeling needed, or feeling wanted.
Because to belong to a place — whether a physical place or a symbolic place — is different from being wanted or being needed there.
It’s the feeling that you were meant to be here, and whatever your purpose may be is intrinsically connected to the place where you belong.
In short, for many of us, to belong is to be.
To find the place where we belong is to begin the path towards a greater understanding of ourselves, to find that single purpose: why should you get out of bed and care? Why should you live another day, force another smile, pay another bill?
People find belonging in all kinds of things, whether it be:
- Their career or work
- Their hobbies and passions
- Their close friends
- Their family
- Their personal goals
- Their overall community
- Their own sense of achievement and accomplishment
But not everyone learns how to belong, or they lose parts of themselves that attached them to the place where they belonged, and now they feel like they’re drifting aimlessly.
And the worst feeling in the world is feeling like you have no place in people’s lives, and you feel like you don’t belong anywhere.
It was famous psychologist Abraham Maslow who sought to understand human motivation and desire in his model the Hierarchy of Needs.
The need to feel “love and belonging” came after only our physiological needs and our safety needs; once we’ve taken care of our shelter, our food, and our employment, we then turn towards fulfilling the need to feel that we belong.
But belonging isn’t always easy, and the modern world doesn’t make it any easier.
We have more time to think than ever before but it can feel like we have less reason to exist.
What positive purpose do we truly serve to the community around us when so much of our world has turned inward, connecting virtually rather than in-person?
More and more people are losing touch with the feeling of belonging, and it’s leading to a social restlessness that millions of us deal with internally.
There’s a growing individual emptiness in all of us; the feeling of being lonely and alone, even when we’re surrounded by people all around.
We don’t understand the feeling of not belonging.
We often confuse it with feelings like loneliness, boredom, and depression, and so we try to fill the void in the same way that we’d solve those issues; surrounding ourselves with people, staying overstimulated all the time, or taking medication to feel better.
We never actually address the true root of our issues: the reality that we don’t feel that we belong, and we don’t even know where to begin.
So understand what your belongingness means to you.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What is your personal understanding of belonging? How do you define it?
- What are the exact elements that you feel would make you feel like you belong?
- Is your solution to feeling like you belong realistic, healthy, and doable?
- Where or how did you learn your definition of belonging?
Before you can learn how to belong, whether for the first time or once again, you have to understand what is lacking in your life, and what you can do to make it right.
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Why you don’t feel like you belong
To understand why you don’t feel like you belong, you have to understand your own psyche.
Because feeling that you don’t belong isn’t always so cut and dry; it’s not always a case where you obviously don’t fit in with the people around you.
Sometimes it’s an issue that exists entirely in your mind, so you have to trace back the source of your negative beliefs.
For me, I used to feel like I didn’t belong because I had no common interests (or even values) with my friendship group. My friendship group mainly came from my old high school days.
When I understood why I feel like don’t belong, I worked to rectify it by building friendships with people that have similar interests to me.
It made a big difference.
It was also a big relief because once you realize why you feel like you don’t belong, you’ll understand that there’s nothing wrong with you.
There’s a reason for everything, and understanding why you feel like you don’t belong will give you greater clarity for how you want to live your life in the future.
Here are some deep-rooted possible reasons why you might not feel that you belong:
1) You weren’t very close with your family
Negative childhood experiences are almost always the first thing that psychiatrists and psychologists analyze when trying to understand an adult’s existing negative thoughts because our childhoods shape so much of who we are.
The feeling of belonging stems primarily from our family life, and whether or not your parents and family did a good job of making you feel like you would receive unconditional love and a constant home.
While childhood trauma and other adverse childhood experiences can leave permanent negative marks on our sense of self, you don’t necessarily have to experience anything “huge” in your childhood to be affected negatively by it.
Sometimes it can just be a lifetime of subtle pains and problems leading to you feeling like you could never really rely on your family to be there when you needed them.
2) You are smarter than your peers
Feeling like you belong means feeling like you are with other people who are like you, but that can be difficult to feel when you know that everyone around you doesn’t have the same mental capacity that you do.
This isn’t to say that you are better than your peers just because you’re smarter than them, but it can be much more difficult to connect with people when you feel that you always have to lower yourself to their level just to communicate.
As the old saying goes, if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.
We want to be with people who add value to who we are; people who can teach us, who can surprise us, and who can help us become better versions of ourselves.
If you are significantly more intelligent than everyone around you, then there’s no one around you who can help you think outside the box.
3) You have different religious or political beliefs
Just as intellect is important when determining whether we’re in the right crowd, our religious and political beliefs are important, too.
Our personal values shape the people we are, and if we constantly find ourselves disagreeing with the actions and thoughts of those who should be our friends, then we’ll never feel like we’re in the right place.
Ask yourself: what do you value? Are you a liberal or a conservative? Do you value giving back to the community or raising your own wealth? Do you want people who inspire you to work and achieve and accomplish, or would you rather surround yourself with people who are happy with what they have?
Understand your personal values and try to compare those with the people around you.
If you can’t find many or any similarities, that might be what you don’t fit.
4) You don’t look like the people around you
It may seem shallow, but it can be surprising just how much our animal brains are influenced by the visual cues all around us.
Whether it’s in your family or in your greater community, if you don’t really “look” like the people around you, it can be slightly more difficult to feel like you totally belong, especially when you’re the only person who doesn’t look exactly the same way as everyone else.
Whether it’s your weight, your height, your skin color, or even the color of your hair, it’s important for people to have a family or a community who has their same characteristics.
Our psyche and our ego are partly defined by the person we see in the mirror, and this is reinforced when we see those around us with similar traits.
5) You want different things in life from those around you
Finally, it might just be your ambitions.
It’s not always about who you are right now, because your persona isn’t defined by the person you woke up as today.
Your persona is also defined by the person you want to be in a year or in ten years; the person you want to grow into.
And when we constantly find ourselves struggling to define our goals and ambitions to those around us, it can leave us feeling disconnected and disassociated from those who should be closest to us.
It’s this reason why the feeling of belonging can come out of nowhere, even if you felt like you’ve belonged your entire life.
It might be that something snapped in you and you’re no longer the person you’ve always been, and now you just don’t fit the same way you always have.
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Everyday reasons why you don’t feel like you belong
Although external factors can definitely influence how you relate with other people, sometimes our own emotional hang-ups make it challenging to connect with others.
Isolation and feeling a little lost don’t always come from external stimuli.
We unknowingly develop habits and personalities that make it challenging for us to connect with other people despite them trying.
Unpacking these roadblocks will teach you to connect with people better and make it easier to find a place you can really call home.
Here are some “everyday” habits that could make it challenging for you to connect with other people:
6) You lack resilience
I get it, feeling like you don’t belong sucks. You’re always searching for your tribe, the people that you fit in with and make you feel comfortable.
Now, I can’t tell you when exactly you’ll feel like you belong, but what I can say with certainty is that to find those people, you’re going to need one thing:
Without resilience, most of us give up on the things we desire. Most of us struggle to create lives worth living.
And when it comes to belonging and finding the right people for you, it’s not going to happen overnight. You need to be able to overcome each setback and persevere.
7) You’re not opening up
This one is a no-brainer.
Even in the age of oversharing, there are some people who find it difficult to open up.
Introverts and people who are just naturally quiet may have a harder time finding their pack simply because they haven’t really tried engaging so much.
You don’t have to be the life of the party to make friends.
Volunteering information about yourself, being curious about other people’s lives, and earnestly listening to others when they share their stories are all fuss-free ways to open up.
8) You are ridiculously shy
It’s alright to feel shy. Not everyone enjoys being in the spotlight but there is a thing as too much shyness.
If you find that your shyness is actually stopping you from striking a conversation with strangers or keeping you from having a good time at a social event, you might want to do something to bring yourself out of the shell.
For starters, you could practice with friends and acquaintances instead of going directly to strangers.
Familiar people provide a sense of security that could embolden you to just reach out and engage more.
Take baby steps to build your confidence. After all, social prowess is like a muscle; the more you exercise and use it, the stronger of a communicator you’ll be.
9) You don’t really listen
There’s talking and then there’s too much talking.
If you feel like reaching out to people isn’t the problem, consider that your weakness might be in reeling it in.
Some people are strong talkers but incredibly weak listeners.
Without knowing it, you might be pushing your friends away because they never really feel like they get a say in the conversation.
The next time a friend is telling a story, try just listening to them instead of telling your own. Just listening is a great way to build deeper connections with others. It communicates to other people that you value their company and their voice, making you a lot more enjoyable to be around.
10) You try too hard
Friendships and relationships take effort to build, but it’s always good to understand what your boundaries are.
Showering your friends with too much affection or acting overeager may come off as overbearing, making you a little off-putting.
When your attempts at winning over other people’s affections are backfiring, take a step back and relax.
Remember that no one likes someone who tries too hard because it can come off as a sign of insecurity.
11) You’re too into what people are thinking
Caring too much about what other people think can stop you from actually being there with them.
When you’re too preoccupied with your own thoughts, you won’t be able to be in the moment and engage naturally.
To avoid seeming awkward or even arrogant, loosen up by asking people questions instead of talking the lead.
Listening gives you the opportunity to take a step back and relax a little as you gather your thoughts and compose yourself.
12) You’re just not trying enough
Maybe a reason why you feel like you don’t belong is because you’re just not trying hard enough.
Friends are constantly inviting you to parties and office mates are asking you for a round of drinks, and yet you still feel like you’re floating aimlessly in an empty universe.
As we said, feelings of isolation don’t always come from external sources.
If you’re still feeling this way despite the fact that other people are trying to get you out of your shell, take a little initiative to socialize instead of waiting for this feeling of belongingness to drop on your lap.
7 ways to help yourself achieve your own belonging
Although socialization and fostering deep bonds are two great ways to feel like you belong somewhere, you won’t ever really feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself if you don’t work on your insecurities.
Finding comfort in who you are, alone, without the constant need for stimulation, is a prerequisite to feeling secure in yourself.
Here are four fundamental that help create that sense of security:
1) Make your dreams happen
Having a job and having a vocation are two different things.
You might be earning $10,000 a month but that won’t mean anything if you’re overworked and unhappy all the time.
Humans are naturally predisposed to chasing meaning and purpose in their lives.
How can you expect to fit in if you don’t feel like you can fulfill your own desires and goals?
Take the time to understand what your dreams are, and take careful, measured steps towards them.
2) Set your own definition of cool
Ever remember those kids in highschool that were “too cool” for you?
Some children never grow out of this and find themselves avoiding certain kinds of people, or worse, believing that they can’t ever fit in with a “cool” crowd.
Instead of trying to fit the mold, set up your own definition of cool.
If you don’t like people who throw parties every week or drink every weekend, maybe it’s because those people aren’t your people.
Listen to your instincts and stop creating an idealized version of what friendship is.
Hang out with people you actually enjoy instead of trying to fit in a group you don’t necessarily identify with.
3) Embrace who you really are
Remember what we said about trying too hard? You can surround yourself with people but you won’t really feel connected with any of them if you’re only using a mask.
We have a tendency to put on a persona and do or say things we don’t really identify with in order to please others. This habit creates a discord between how people perceive us and who we really are.
This then leads to unsatisfactory relationships with others – increasing the feeling of isolation.
4) Know your worth
Ultimately, feeling like you belong is just about understanding that who you are is enough.
Insecurities have a way of convincing us that we don’t really belong in even the friendliest of groups.
In this case, it’s up to us to convince ourselves otherwise and work towards becoming more confident people.
When you finally understand your worth, you’ll realize that you don’t need to be this imaginary person in your head to be well-liked or loved.
Three nuggets of encouragement to remember when you feel loneliest
If you’re feeling hopeless or a little lonely, know that you’re not the only one.
In a world saturated by interaction, it can be a little ironic that likes, shares, and comments make you feel lonelier than ever. And that’s okay.
The modern world makes it difficult to find genuine connections in a sea of never ending interactions.
Feeling like you don’t truly belong is something everyone goes through.
It can feel a little hopeless at times, like you’ll never really find a place where you’ll finally feel at home but the good news is this feeling doesn’t last forever.
The next time you’re feeling a little lost in this busy world, try to remember one of the following things:
5) People actually love you
You might not feel like you belong with your friends, but just remember that they chose you for a reason.
Your friends like you for who you are, and even if you’re not the person you hope to be just yet, realize that they already love the person that you are now.
6) You don’t have to overhaul who you are to find better friends
You don’t have to make major changes to who you are as a person to finally be with the people you want.
You’re doing well just the way you are and you already possess a lot of awesome qualities that make you an amazing friend. Don’t be too hard on yourself and give yourself a break.
7) Maybe all you need is time
Maybe you just haven’t found the right people yet. Maybe you’ve been preoccupied with work or school that you haven’t had the opportunity to find people who are a lot like you.
It’s a little lonely right now but take comfort in knowing that somewhere out there, there are people who are just like you wondering where you are.
Keep building what you’re building until you finally have the chance to become a part of a tribe.
When you’re ready you’ll have a lot more to offer because you were patient enough to build your character first.
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