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Sandra Dean – Registered Member

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A sense of belonging is important, socially, mentally and physically, be it in friendships, educational groups, support groups and much more

I attended a conference yesterday, in London, arranged by Forums and Events Ltd, called ‘Human Rights, Dilemmas & Solutions in Personality Disorder’ which was educational and inspiring. Dr Steve Pearce talked about the importance of ‘belonging’ with regard to mental health and I wanted to take the topic much further to look at how we can belong, what belonging is, and the issues of not being able to belong, as well as how it is associated with our physical, mental and social health.

The affect on our health if we do not have belonging is similar to loneliness – please see the article I wrote 3 years ago on ‘Loneliness’ CLICK HERE

So, what does it mean to ‘belong’?relationships

First, let’s look at what groups we could belong to…

  1. A knitting group
  2. A college class
  3. A gang
  4. A school music group
  5. A facebook group for readers or writers
  6. A family
  7. A church
  8. A group of friends from school
  9. A mental health group with similar or the same diagnosis

I could go on and on… But, I won’t. We have a diverse list above so let’s look at each one, with possible positives and negatives outlined.

  1. Going to a knitting group – Meeting up at various times to chat and knit could give us the social contact we desire, an incentive to knit, an incentive to leave the house and join the group, something to look forward to and a purpose. It’s constructive mentally, socially, physically and, with the production of knitted pieces, there is something to show for it as well. Win, win!
  2. Joining a college class – The positives are similar to the knitting group, but the outcome could be more focussed on learning, personal or work development and maybe also an end product depending upon the course; it could be physical or in the form of a certificate or diploma for example. When the course ends, friendships may end, or they may continue. The relationships could be different if not as regular and without the focus of the course, but they could also flourish into lasting friendships.
  3. Being a member of a gang – The ‘social’ side is covered when the group meets up. There’s incentive and purpose too; perhaps more so than the two examples outlined above. There is even more sense of belonging, because you HAVE to be accepted into a gang. Whether that means proving yourself in some way to the other members when you want to join or whether you are invited, it’s very much about acceptance and being good enough. We would miss out on some of the more constructive sides from the above, and our ‘membership’ could lead to a more negative outcome depending on the type of ‘gang’ it is. NOT being accepted into a gang we may wish to join could lead to harsh feelings of exclusion or could ruin a person’s reputation or lead to them being mocked or bullied, so this could be devasting, especially if a person has already been in the gang and has been kicked out. To avoid this, behaviours such as ‘conforming’ despite a gut instinct to do otherwise, could occur, we could be manipulated, create a false sense of self, and even find ourselves in a position where there is no way to escape and worse (gangs involving drugs, violence etc.)
  4. Attending a school music group – We need a sense of belonging at a young age. We need to be able to form friendships at school, so we have a sense of belonging to the school or groups of friends. On top of this, we may have a hobby or talent that we wish to pursue, so we could join a separate group who shares this activity, be it gymnastics, music groups or drama for example. Finishing any relationship/friendship can be hard, especially as a child, so this needs to be managed as school only lasts a few years. Some friendships go on way into adulthood, some lifetime, and some will dissolve.
  5. Being a member of a facebook group for readers or writers, or all sorts of other interests – We can join a facebook group, where we can read what others’ have to say, without even commenting. Or we may comment or write posts of our own. We become part of a network of people. Without leaving home, we can chat, learn and add value for others’ when sharing our own knowledge or thoughts. Shared experiences can be cathartic and/or helpful. We feel valued and useful. We can create purpose in groups. On the flip side, if we are outed from a group, we have no comeback and can be left feeling hurt or confused. Or we could get into arguments, or even be bullied for our ideas. These are extremes, of course, but social media relationships are quite different to face to face relationships and need to be treated as such.
  6. Belonging within our family – the term ‘black sheep of the family’ is one I hear of from time to time. It comes either from the family outing a family member because they are ‘different’ to the rest of them, or the family member who feels the whole family are ‘different’ to them. ‘Different’ is a wide term, but I don’t want to dissect it too much for the purpose of this article. Whichever way, the sense of belonging to a family can be very positive for us or, if we do not belong, very harsh indeed. If someone is unwell, passes away, gets married, has a baby, all sorts of things, the outed member will not be included. They may not care, but if they do, this can cause a great deal of pain, suffering and feelings of loss.
  7. Being a member of a church – In this one, we have the social aspect, a regularity of meetings (on a Sunday for example), and shared beliefs.
  8. Socialising with a group of friends from school – relationships after school or college change as we don’t see each other as much as we had been used to, but we can get closer or less so, as we grow and age. Most people will take some friendships from school or college and continue with them after it ends, and these friendships can be some of the closest we will have, with shared history, memories and extensive knowledge about each other. These relationships can be sisterly or brotherly as they also started at such a young age. We care about the other people and they care about us. We know they look out for us as we do them. These can be very special relationships. But, if we drift apart, or move away etc, these relationships can fizzle out or end. It may be our doing, which is one thing, or their doing which can be harder to bear, but whatever way, these endings can be very difficult indeed. All the history lost, seemingly even a waste of time for some. Our belonging to that group or person is lost and we have a loss that needs to be treated as such.
  9. Being a member of a mental health or other health group with similar or the same diagnosis – If we look at this as a facebook group, like example 5 above, we can see similar things occurring. The addition in this case is that we can learn valuable health info about our condition from others and share information and our own experiences. But, on the negative side, we could have the addition of being brought ‘down’ by others’ sharing negativity and hopelessness. It is very important to keep safe in these groups, and make sure we are not manipulated or adversely affected by negativity if it is brought into the group. Hopefully, there will be an admin of the group who will monitor activity and stop this from happening.

The damage that is done, mentally, emotionally and physically, by exclusion and a lack of belonging, can range from lightly hurtful to seriously harmful. Isolation and loneliness could lead to bad diet, lack of self-care, a sense of giving up and excluding other things that are good for us, and mental health issues such as stress, low mood, anxiety and even psychosis. Then we have even more issues and possible reasons for exclusion. And so, it could go on.

Acceptance is key in all the above and more. We want to be accepted rather than excluded, as exclusion hurts our ego, self esteem or confidence. But what if our self esteem is healthy and we are independent? It will hurt less if we are excluded for sure. If we don’t get the job we want because the interviewer doesn’t see our potential, or we are missing a skill in order to get on a college course, or we are not quite good enough to join an established, talented group, we can fall down and give up and feel emotionally awful, or we can look at the reasons why, logically, and make plans to solve the issues stopping us from getting what we want before reapplying.

To sum this up, we need a sense of belonging. We generally need social ‘strokes’ from other people. Therefore, it is important that we seek and hold relationships that give this to us. It is good for our mental and physical health and we just need to make sure we are seeking belonging in the right places to avoid negative experiences.

All the best 😊

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