Take a moment to consider a time when you felt peaceful and secure in a group of people — a time when you felt you truly belonged. There was no need to alter your beliefs, your core values or even your appearance in order to fit in. You experienced connectedness in a way you’d never experienced before and felt seen and understood in a unique, intentional way.
This feeling — this sense of belonging — is not only a crucial determining factor in the success of one’s recovery journey, but it’s also a crucial factor in the overall improvement of your mental health.
What is a sense of belonging?
The need to belong is an innate desire to be accepted into and a part of a social group but at a much deeper level than simply “fitting in.” Belonging “involves more than simply being acquainted with other people. It is centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of the group as well as providing the same attention to other members.”
When we feel that we belong to a group, that we have been seen and accepted for who we are by other members, we, in turn, can begin to recognize other members in the group for who they are and provide them with that similar sense of safety in a mutual acceptance of each other.
Traditionally, this sense of belonging begins in infancy, when a baby is accepted into their family. It continues throughout childhood and all the way into adulthood as we seek groups of people with shared beliefs, experiences and goals to form a community of like-minded people willing the good of the others in the group.
Why is belonging important?
It can’t be stressed enough that a sense of belonging is critically important for one’s well-being and mental health. Lacking a sense of belonging goes well beyond feeling isolated or lonely — without a sense of belonging, you’ll likely feel out of place, unaccepted and invisible. As we were not created to live isolated from each other, feeling like you have no community or group to belong to is contradictory to human nature and, therefore, detrimental to your mental health.
Fostering a sense of belonging is essential because it provides you with a group of people among whom you can share your opinions; it gives you a place to feel supported and encouraged when you’re going through challenging times; and it offers you the opportunity to give back to other people the sense of belonging you received from other members.
In the end, a sense of belonging can reduce depression and anxiety, decrease isolation and loneliness, improve emotional well-being, and provide a support system and community.
How can I foster a sense of belonging?
For some people, finding a sense of belonging comes naturally and they easily find their way into accepting social groups; others may feel supported by their family and see their core sense of belonging from within the home itself; still others, such as those in a transitional stage of life like addiction recovery, may find themselves seeking a place in which to belong.
This seeking is good! It shows motivation on your part and a desire to find that which is crucial to a healthy mental and emotional state. And your hard work will pay off in the long run.
Finding a sense of belonging can take time, but there are steps you can take to help develop it:
- Seek out a group – There are so many places to find groups of like-minded people, like clubs at school, communities at work, meetings through your church or classes at your gym. Take the time to seek out a group you may be interested in and see if they have any gatherings or events to attend
- Don’t give up – It takes time to develop relationships with other people, but deep, honest friendships don’t happen overnight. If you continue to put in the work, you will be rewarded in time and will even end up creating a safe space of belonging for those around you as well
- Focus on the others – Instead of focusing on the traits of the others in the group which you may struggle with, pay attention to their positive qualities. Be interested in them, their experiences and their stories. You can learn so much from other people when you take the time to have intentional conversations with them
- Keep an open mind – While a large part of belonging is participating in a group with like-minded people, you’re not guaranteed to agree on everything all the time. This is ok! By keeping an open mind, you can learn from these people and find yourself accepting and exploring new perspectives. We can learn a lot from each other if we want to
- Accept people how you’d want to be accepted – It’s the job of every member of the group to work together to foster a sense of belonging and provide a welcoming environment. To do so, focus on accepting all other members with the same level of acceptance you desire. Try not to cast judgment, but work on accepting them where they’re at. This will foster a deep level of trust between all group members and create a stronger sense of belonging overall
Belonging to a community takes effort, but is well worth the time you put into it.
Seeking a community?
In recovery, belonging to a community is crucial to sustained sobriety. To learn more about becoming part of a support group, contact Silvermist Recovery today by calling 724-268-4858.