We know that people feel a sense of belonging from a range of situations – supporting the same footy team, hanging at a local cafe, or attending the same school, to name a few. But what if we are struggling to belong? Perhaps you’ve moved to a new place, feel out of place in a friendship circle you once felt comfortable in, or can’t seem to settle into a career long after your university days are complete. We usually think about belonging as attachment, about feeling ‘at home’ and, as author Michael Ignatieff points out, about feeling ‘safe’. But there’s another important lens we can view belonging through – self-acceptance.
Researcher and story-teller, Brene Brown, says that “Belonging 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”. In other words, when we accept ourselves as who we are, we can then cultivate a feeling of belonging with others. According to Brene’s research, individuals who rated themselves more self-accepting showed stronger tolerance of imperfection and being vulnerable with others.
It might be easy to say – but how do we actually go about developing self-acceptance, and in turn, a sense of belonging? One science-backed way is through identifying and clarifying our values in life – asking ourselves what brings our life meaning. Living a life that is in congruence with our values, a life where our behaviour matches what is most important to us, leads to a greater sense of self-acceptance as by doing so, we know not only who we are but what we stand for in life.
Identifying your values might seem complicated, however there are some excellent resources out in the world that can help. Values Ink is an app that takes you through the process of identifying your values step by step.
It also helps you sort through potential values based on importance and then prompts you to think about whether you are living a values congruent lifestyle.
Accepting oneself and living a life in congruence with our values is a challenging journey that requires patience and persistence. Similarly to how we have compassion to understand the struggle of people around us, we need compassion in the process of better understanding ourselves. Check out resources on how to identify your values and practice self-compassion below.
Niki Bruysters is a provisional psychologist and is completing her final year as part of the Masters of Clinical Psychology at the Australian Catholic University.