Belonging vs. Fitting In
We humans are social animals. A need for a deep sense of connection with others is one of the most powerful that any of us have. We all hunger for a sense of belonging. But our culture doesn’t teach us the difference between belonging and fitting in. On the contrary, the two are commonly depicted as the same thing—so when we feel the hunger for a sense of connection, we often confuse that with a need to fit in. So, what’s the difference?
The idea of fitting in is most imagined in a visual sense—the way one looks, acts, speaks, dresses. It’s not about who a person really is, or what she thinks or feels. So when we try to fit in, what we’re really doing is augmenting those visible aspects of ourselves (how we talk, the clothes we buy, the hobbies and interests we participate in) in an attempt to portray a new version of ourselves that we think others will like. But in that process, we lose connection to our unique, authentic self—and the longing to belong grows. It becomes louder, developing into a nagging hunger—a hunger that we might try to feed in other ways, like with food or dieting.
A sense of belonging comes when you stay connected to your authentic self—the uniqueness of your very being—while you also connect with others. It is not just the visible depiction of belonging (that’s fitting in) but the real act of it. It’s the feeling of having a true community; a place to call home.
Have you ever abandoned your true thoughts and feelings while in relationships with others? Have you said yes to things you wanted to say no to, just to be accepted? Have you acted like things were okay when they weren’t, just so you could fit in? We all have, and the results (that growing hunger, that longing to feel truly accepted) can teach us the difference between fitting in and belonging. Our body knows. We just need to listen.
Our deep desire to belong is not sated by merely fitting in. In fact, when we disconnect from our true self, the opposite happens: The estrangement creates a deep ache within our being. We feel a pain so great that we will do anything to numb it, hide it, or distract ourselves from it. And if you have used food behaviors as a coping mechanism for pain, this disconnect can break your resolve to clear disordered eating behaviors.
So, what do we do instead?
Experiment a bit with staying connected to your true self, while also seeking connection with others. See what it’s like to be your authentic self—all of who you are—around people with whom you want to connect. Sure, there will be people you don’t click with—and that’s okay. Find the ones you do click with; find your peeps. Spend time with those who can appreciate the uniqueness of your being, and like you for who you really are. This is how you achieve the sense of belonging that feeds your soul.
I would love to hear what you think! How do you stay connected to your true self?