Thriving Together Series

Thriving Together Series: Know Yourself to Find a Sense of Belonging


By: Riverly Twardy, a Mason student majoring in Physics 

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” – Brene Brown

Lots of people say they wish they could “fit in” or feel like they “belong.” But while these terms are sometimes used as synonyms, they’re actually practically opposites. Fitting in, as the name implies, means changing something about yourself or your behavior to “fit” a certain standard, role, or expectation. Belonging means being accepted and appreciated as you are without any pressure to change or conform. If you’re “fitting in,” the fact that you’re changing yourself in some way means, by definition, you cannot truly “belong.” Here’s why it’s important to know yourself to find a true sense of belonging.

Figuring out how to find a place where you feel like you belong can be challenging. While there’s no single formula for how to get there, there are a few key things that most people need to find their true “belonging” place. Deep, meaningful social connections and shared values and/or experiences are often mentioned in this context. However, in my experience, the most vital one is also one of the most overlooked: having a clear sense of who you are as a person.

A lot of resources on finding a sense of belonging focus on forming connections with other people, and while this is certainly an important piece, it’s not the whole picture. Being connected with yourself is just as important as being connected with other people. This Psychology Today blog points out that, “Belonging isn’t just a connection to other people, but also to place, power, and purpose.” If you don’t know your authentic self, you simply cannot know if you feel like you’re accepted and appreciated as your true self, which is a vital component of the feeling of belonging.

This article explains the importance of self-acceptance in creating a sense of belonging in life, and how the society in which you’re raised can lead you to form preconceptions that create barriers to self-acceptance. In short, if you want to find a feeling of belonging with others, you need to be able to understand and appreciate who you are – in all aspects of yourself. The article also notes that: “Belonging is an archetypal experience that all humans seek… When we recognize that we’re not alone in our desire to belong then we can live with greater empathy – empathy not only for others, but also ourselves.”

Steps to Take to Find a Sense of Belonging

Everyone’s path to finding that sense of belonging is different, but you can take these few general steps to get started:

  • First, take time to learn about yourself and develop a sense of who you are and who you want to be. It’s impossible to know whether you belong as your true self if you don’t know what that true self is This can include taking private time to journal or otherwise reflect, talking with trusted friends/family members, or talking to a therapist. Learning who you are and how to express your authentic self can be a lengthy and effortful process, and it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow yourself to take the time that you need.
  • Second, consider whether the people you’re currently spending time with encourage you to be more like your authentic self, or less like Are you spending time with them because you genuinely like being around them and/or the things you get to do together? Or are you spending time with them because it’s what you feel like you’re supposed to do, or to try to boost your social status, or even just because you don’t know anyone else to hang out with? In other words, when you’re around them, do you feel like you belong?
  • Third, if your current social circles don’t feel like they are a belonging environment, look for ways to find new groups and meet new people, until you discover somewhere you do feel like you belong. It can take a while (and a lot of unsuccessful attempts) to find the right places with the right people, but it is worth it to have a community where you can be comfortable living as yourself, the way you want to be.

Additional Resources

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