As Women Leading Montana approaches its fourth convening in October, the theme for this year’s event should seemingly prompt feelings of inclusivity and warmth. The theme is comprised of the two simple words “I” and “Belong”. I’ve read it in my mind, sometimes rapidly in multiples, “I Belong, I Belong, I Belong,” as if this repetition will magically prompt the feelings of inclusivity and warmth I seek. But it doesn’t. In fact, reading the words reminds me of the ways in which I do NOT belong. Why? I’m not sure. So, I suppose I’ll ask myself what my lovely (truly, he’s a Godsend) mental health counselor might ask me in a moment like this one – “Why do you think you feel that way?” or “Are you insane?” In case you missed it, the second question was a joke … maybe.
So, as one does in counseling sessions, I’ll take a deep dive into over-analyzing myself in hopes of achieving that ‘light bulb’ moment.
Belongingness is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. The word ‘need’ is bolded because research has shown that a lack of belongingness, or feelings of estrangement, is proven to have a negative impact on our emotional, mental, and physical health. I don’t know about you, but when I first read that I needed to be accepted, otherwise my wellbeing would be impacted across all spheres, it caused me to worry that I might perish into a pile of dust on the spot and that I needed to urgently start a foodies club, scotch club, and puppy club (of course), all to ensure my belonging meter was high enough to sustain my wellbeing into 2023. *DEEP BREATH*
Dramatics aside, the truth is, the phrase ‘I BELONG’ is not one that I (and perhaps those reading) have proclaimed many times throughout life. In fact, as humans (and perhaps even more as women), we spend our lives in relentless pursuit of “belonging” at arguably an unhealthy level. Starting at a young age, we quickly meet the yearning for belonging and as each year passes, the checkboxes needed to be checked in order to achieve that feeling get longer and longer—
□ Have lots of friends
□ Create perfect body
□ Get good grades
□ Have a happy family
□ Be a good partner
□ Be a good parent
□ Win the promotion at work
□ Be a good mother or daughter
□ Buy a house
□ Have nice things
□ Receive recognition from others
—the list of checkboxes grows with time. Comparison to others and the pressures of society fuel the growth. What are the checkboxes that keep you from feeling accepted by yourself or others?
Perhaps the checkboxes we accumulate are what keep us from belonging and achieving the feeling of acceptance of others. What if we gave ourselves permission to remove a few of those checkboxes? What if doing so brought us closer to confidently stating ‘I Belong’?
Author: Gianna Vanata