Do you remember a time that you did not belong? It could be that last working month finishing off a job you have resigned from. Work that did not suite your unique abilities. Moving somewhere without having any real purpose, network or support in place. Traveling so much that you can call no place ‘home’. Belonging is not something you think about unless it’s lacking. We recently ran a survey amongst a sample of Internationals in the Netherlands to identify their current biggest personal challenges and there it was. Even amongst those with 10 years of residency, ‘gaining a sense of belonging’ topped the list of challenges followed by ‘feeling disconnected’, and ‘managing cross-cultural relationships’.
It can be hypothesised that a causal relationship might exist between these variables; if we belong, we feel connected, more motivated and confident. Intuitively, we know ‘belonging’ has a positive impact on businesses, workplace performance, communities, schools and in homes. Maslow ranks ‘belonging’ third in his hierarchy of basic human needs.
The Impact of ‘not belonging’:
Whenever we feel ‘separate, isolated, inadequate and unsupported’, the sense of belonging suffers. We are understandably susceptible after making changes in our lives or work like an international relocation, a stroke or a divorce, but belonging can also suffer as a result of the ongoing change experienced by global nomads…‘Not belonging’ also surfaces every day at work or in school where people find themselves at odds with a non-receptive, unsupportive or resistant environment.
On a continuous basis ‘not belonging’ results in a sense of disconnection and an escalation in personal anxiety. And ‘anxiety is love’s greatest killer…it makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you’ – Anaïs Nin. Anxiety can lead to further withdrawal and a more clouded perception of reality. In January this year, the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry discussed the remarkable capacity of humans to relate to others but how and when this capacity fails, it can have unthinkable consequences. However, our inherent human need for belonging signals the solution: Human connection.
A Remedy Called Human Connection
Brene Brown defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship
Our sense of belonging grows through human connection. Belonging acts as a springboard for development (personal, community or organizational) and a safety net during uncertainty. Besides producing social harmony, a most empowering aspect to the concept of belonging is how personal energy and confidence is freed up and fuelled. That energy is not needed to fight nor flight in response to the stress caused by withdrawal, exclusion or isolation. Instead energy is directed to higher order activities : to think clearly, solve complex problems, innovate boldly, risk co-creating and act fearlessly. Stress and anxiety levels drop when we belong to an appropriate degree, providing a secure base from which we can achieve our potential.
Desmond Tutu calls people into ‘ubuntu’. Ubuntu is the acknowledgement that “my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound to yours.” He explains that we belong in the bundle of life. “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share”. Ubuntu is the action of creating and sustaining belonging. To be open and available to others, affirming of others. Not to feel threatened that others are good or able (2011, Tutu). Brown echos that by stating that in being human, you are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. Belonging creates an incredible sense of ‘feeling whole’ which is diminished when one is unsettled, withdrawn, humiliated, diminished, isolated, excluded or new.
Madeleine van der Steege
Please visit our website for workshops aimed at Internationals on http://www.synquity.com/workshops
Next blog coming soon : How to belong