Belonging: The Barriers, and the Benefits

To know that we are not alone, that we are indeed a part of something larger, is a psychological need that occurs as early as childhood.  Studies have shown that to be a part of a group or to have social connections are as critical to human survival as food, water, and shelter.   In fact, one such study suggested that there is a 50% higher likelihood of survival when individuals had stronger social relationships.

Psychologists and researchers discuss group dynamics as being part of “in-group” or having enough common similarities to feel a part of something bigger, and “out-group” or being an outsider.  It turns out, life is “easier” for individuals who are part of a group, as there is safety in numbers.  We also increase our concept of self-identity when we are a part of something larger, becoming a “we” instead of a “me.”  Being a part of a group decreases factors such as drop-outs and low academic performance when examined in a school environment.  The categories of belonging, such as race, gender, religion, and other concepts that we use to group humans are less important than the actual factor of belonging at all.  However, it is these grouping and stereotypes that can cause barriers in belonging, if we aren’t careful.

Emphasis on stereotypes can be harmful when looking at belonging as being a part of a group.  To take away individuation – and the knowledge that stereotypes are often negative – can increase an individuals anxiety, their guardedness, and can take away from the benefits of a group dynamic.  It increases stress, which then increases cortisol, and can impact thought efficacy and memory.  Our sense of belonging is also impacted by lifestyle changes.  While we have more digital means of connection than ever, we rely heavily on technology which is not a replacement for true, in-person community.  Jobs and opportunities cause us to move away from our family of origin or childhood friends.  The impact of loneliness activates the same part of the brain as physical pain does.

To create a build a stronger sense of belonging and community takes awareness and effort.  While we do have a culture that values individual differences, it may help to focus on what you have in common with your fellow co-workers, neighbors, or fellow parents.  Accepting others, and validating what they have to say, strengthens relationships which increases the community and sense of belonging.  Take on new opportunities, and reduce the judgment that you may naturally feel around others.

If you need help communicating your openness, or want to explore ways to increase your sense of belonging and community, contact us! We are here to help.