I’d rather belong than fit in. It’s taken me years to put a name to something I’ve always known but it’s a thing I struggle with every day. I like to think I’m getting better at it but I have my lapses.
I’ve blogged about Brené Brown before and linked to her TED talk here about shame. Brown has written an amazing book called The Gifts of Imperfection – Letting Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. In it, she says that one of the biggest surprises in her research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing and that fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are. Nice.
Here’s Brown’s definition of belonging:
Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Brown believes that we are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and belong. When those needs aren’t being met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. We drink. The absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.
Brown goes on to say that given we’re hardwired to seek belonging, it’s no wonder we spend our lives trying to fit in and gain approval because it’s much easier to say “I’ll be whoever or whatever you need me to be, as long as I feel like I’m a part of this”.
Ugghh. We’ve all done this. But how does it make you feel? For me, it’s exhausting. I’m a pretty quiet introverted person. If I act in a way that isn’t me, I feel sooooo tired. For example, if I’m around a big group of extroverted people (except my closest and oldest friends because I can be ‘myself’) and I try and act as they do (so I can fit in), it feels wrong. But I do it because I think that’s how they’ll accept me. Wrong. It’s about self-acceptance and not feeling shame when we show our so-called imperfections. It’s about acting in an authentic way which Brown describes as the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
Not an easy path to take because as Brown says, we start asking ourselves what if I think I’m enough but others don’t? What if I let my imperfect self be seen and known and nobody likes what they see?
Another personal example. Alcohol. These days I’ll have a drink about 4 times a year but other than that I don’t drink. I’d love the proverbial dollar for the amount of times people have tried to force a drink on me. “Go on Lis, just one”. Um no. They think I’m weird. I actually don’t mind it when I do drink but I don’t particularly have an off-button and alcohol makes me physically sick. Sure, I could keep on drinking to ‘fit in’ but the consequences aren’t pretty so I don’t.
I love this quote from Margaret Young (American musician 1900-1968) which is also in Brown’s book.
Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things or more money in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.
So sacrificing authenticity for fitting in may mean you experience anxiety, depression, addiction, rage, blame, resentment and inexplicable grief.
Do you sacrifice your authenticity to fit in?