Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fitting in is not belonging

This morning, in Brene Brown's wonderful little book,  The Gifts of Imperfection, I am reading about the importance of belonging.

"Most of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably, and like many of you, I'm really good at fitting in.  We know exactly how to hustle for approval and acceptance.  We know what to wear, what to talk about, how to make people happy, what not to mention -- we know how to chameleon our way through the day.

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging.  Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.  Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are."

At one level this seems really obvious -- or, at least, it should.  But with one of those flashes of epiphany you get sometimes, I could see, upon reading it, that a lifetime spent moving from one community to the next (Before Bainbridge, I never lived anywhere or attended any school for more than 3 1/2 years) was excellent training for fitting in, but poor preparation for building a sense of belonging.

Which explains a lot, I think, about my current malaise.  Some part of me -- having lived in one place for almost ten years now -- is deeply restless.  And I think it's because I can finally see that fitting in is NOT the same as belonging.  Which means I have work to do, if belonging is important to me (and, since I'm human, it definitely is.)

Belonging, says Brown, "is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.  Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.  Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."

Guess I gotta work on that one...

So then, as always, the question becomes, why this image?  Partly just because I like it, for sure.  And the thought of rowing standing up is pretty harrowing.  But I think it's because I was never, growing up, part of a team; I never did sports.  And looking at this, I can see that in order for a team to function well together, each member needs to be clear about their struggles, their strengths, and their weaknesses -- at least in that particular sport.  But to make yourself vulnerable on that physical level probably means you're vulnerable on an emotional level as well.  So missing teams may be another reason I struggle with this one.

Not that I'm looking for excuses; mostly I'm just trying to understand where the work lies, and to relate it back to my own experiences being -- or trying to be -- part of various communities over the years.  But actually, Brown makes it clear where the work lies. "We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection."

Understanding this distinction between fitting in and belonging, she says, "forced me to acknowledge that cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional.  They aren't endeavors that I can look into if and when I have some spare time.  They are priorities."


How's that self-love thing working for you?


Maureen said...

Just watched (and tweeted) your latest video poem. Love what you're doing with your work.

Knowing what it takes to row (I used to be married to a sculler), I can't imagine standing up either. What an act of confidence in companions.

Maureen said...

Just watched your latest video poem. Love what you're doing with your work.

Having been married to a competitive sculler, I can't imagine standing up either. Takes quite a bit of confidence in one's companions.

Louise Gallagher said...

Working in this place where broken lives turn up at our door everyday with their plethora of broken connections -- we believe one of the most important things we can create is -- a place to belong. And the challenge is -- it's easy to 'fit in' at a homeless shelter. You just need to lose everything to do it.

Belonging, as Brene suggests, is a whole different matter.

People find a sense of belonging here because they are accepted, exactly the way they are. we don't rush in to change them, make them stop drinking, or doing drugs. We accept them, give them a place to catch their beath, to breathe freely and, in that process open up possibilities of coming home to themselves.

it's quite powerful.

Loving myself -- it is the greatest gift I ever gave my self. It is a present I open up every morning and exclaim, WOW! Aren't I amazing! :)

and I am.

Just like you.



Joyce Wycoff said...

great post and distinction. Maybe we have a tribe of chameleons we secretly belong to ... although part of my "declaration of freedom from the past" was to give up my chameleon badge.

For me, I think part of it you hit right on the head ... the imperfection of ourselves. I am finally, after kicking and screaming and throwing fits, finally about to admit that there is no way I'm ever going to be perfect. I am trying to accept being enough. It's through the intellectual layer ... a far distance still from the core.


Joyce Wycoff said...

my holy oatmeal! I am never going to catch up. I spend two weeks bleeding over a video, deciding that it's the coolest thing ever and will be part of my future only to pop back in here and find that you are doing poem videos!!!

you are my hero. please remember that copying is the highest form of flattery!