I am no stranger to the feeling that I don’t belong. Most of my childhood I was given messages that I didn’t belong. I was definitely the only one in law school with babies, and I was even told by career-services at my law school that they wouldn’t work with me because I had small children. At the same time I was trying to figure out if I should hide my motherhood from my professional life, I was part of bible studies and life groups where I was the only mom pursuing anything outside of my home and it felt like I was choosing to ‘sacrifice my children on the altar of my career”. One mom at church was so concerned about my choices she offered to give our family a free family portrait session so that I could start appreciating what I have. I’ve travelled overseas, and convinced that I didn’t belong on my team, lost out on a lot of the joy and blessing of the experience. I am at a new job now, and often battle not feeling like I belong when I am in new situations. If I am being honest, I still have times when I am in a room with people I know love me for all of who I am, and I feel like I don’t belong.
In those moments when I feel like I don’t belong, I feel invisible. If I don’t feel invisible, I usually want to become invisible. I feel alone. I feel unworthy. I want to hide, and I imagine when I do no one will even notice I am gone.
I mentioned in my last blog that one of my son’s is getting ready to graduate. The thought that he, out on his own, might feel alone, like he doesn’t belong…that he might feel like he needs to hide, that his ‘otherness’ might paralyze him and rob him of his joy…that thought is heart-wrenching to me. I so badly want health and wholeness, peace and joy to go with my man-cubs always. I don’t want them to have to feel like they don’t belong – ever. Knowing that’s not very realistic, instead I am going to write out a letter, something of a prayer, for my boys – about things I’ve learned and things I hope for them (and some things I hope for you too):
There will be times when you feel like you don’t belong. Whether you walk into your first college class, you go to a party with people who don’t truly know you, or you are at a new job, there are moments you will feel like you don’t belong. The question is, what will you do with those moments? Will you run from them? Will you take the time to figure out why you feel like you don’t belong, and what is at the root of your feelings? Will you persevere and continue on your path, in your truth, even when it’s hard and you feel alone? Will get a shovel, dig a pit, jump in, and let the ‘otherness’ paralyze you and rob you of joy?
I still have moments when I feel like I don’t belong, but I have learned to lean in to those moments, learn from them, fight for the truth, and share myself with others so that they can help me in the fight. What I’ve learned is not to be surprised by my feelings, and not to fear those moments. Those moments of aloneness, of not belonging – they are not the whole truth of who I am, but they do feel very real and very hard. Here are some things I’ve learned that might help you in your moments of not belonging:
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not 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.” Brene Brown
We all have moments that we feel like we don’t belong.
You are not alone in your aloneness! You are also not alone in your need to feel like you belong. You could be sitting a table with eight other people, considering the ways that you don’t measure up or the ways you are different from the person next to you, while at that very same moment the person next to you is doing the same thing. Each one of us carries some baggage, some measure of suffering, some way in which we feel different or not enough. May you always remember to wonder about the woundedness and needs of others around you, even when they are excluding you or you feel like you don’t belong with them. Enter in life with love, gentleness, patience and compassion going before you, and not only will your eyes for others and their behavior toward you change, but you will also find yourself dwelling on your own otherness a little less. May your eyes for others, and yourself, be His.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown
Lean into ‘the feels’ and look for the root of your ‘otherness’.
Don’t just run from the negative feelings or stuff them away in a tidy little box. Allow yourself to press into the negative space of feeling like you don’t belong, and really look at why you feel that way. Sometimes it’s a lie, and there’s something in you that needs to be healed. Comparing yourself to others, trying to measure up to some false, unattainable standard, or believing that you are not worthy or not enough as you are…those are lies. You need to go after those lies and weed them out of the garden of your thoughts and your heart. Sometimes you feel like you don’t belong because you NEED to be different. Doing the right thing, or even just what you are called to, can leave you on the outside of a group. Sometimes you aren’t supposed to belong. This is when you need perseverance and you must take courage. I pray that you will never love feeling like you belong more than you love doing the right thing. Whatever it is that has caused you to feel like you don’t belong, take time to know yourself and then be ok with all of who you are. You can’t expect anyone else to accept you if you can’t accept yourself. May you end each day accepting all of who you were – and weren’t – that day, and may you live your life in courage and vulnerability.
Assume the best about yourself, others, and your situation.
Go in to a situation believing that you are worth being known, and don’t start out being suspicious. I work with a student with special needs and special intelligences. She is well known at our school, and she definitely doesn’t fit the mold of a ‘typical’ student. She doesn’t really ‘fit in’ in any traditional sense. Still, she knows that if she asks for a hug, she will always get one. She knows that if she stops to talk to someone, they will talk back to her. She knows that she belongs at our school and she goes into every situation assuming that whoever is there has been placed there to love her. If you choose not to love this precious girl, the issue is clearly yours, not hers. That’s the attitude I pray you have wherever God takes you. Every time you enter a room, may you assume that you are worthy of being loved, and that if God has placed someone in your path or in your room, you are with them because you are supposed to be.
Focus on the Truth.
Whenever you feel alone, unworthy, like you don’t belong – focus on what you know is true. You are loved. You are worthy. You are God’s masterpiece, and you have a purpose. Read the bible, listen to worship music, inundate yourself with the truth. May you be intentional about fixing your eyes, your heart, and your mind on what is true and right about yourself and where your identity is.
Depend on your community.
Allow yourself to be seen. This one is still hard for me. I still find myself waiting until after I have journeyed through what I deem a ‘moment of weakness’ or my own ‘silly irrationality’ to share that part of me with the people I love. I don’t like people to see me and know me as a broken, hot mess – only as a strong woman that has it all together. BWAHHHAA. I know, funny, right? That’s what I pretend. The reality is that we can allow our brokenness to be an invitation into someone’s life. When we share our true selves, it allows other people to be more truly themselves. This is scary, but it is so worth it. When you don’t have to fight life’s battles alone, the fight gets a lot easier and you automatically stop being alone in it. Belonging is also a choice YOU have to make, not just the people you are seeking to belong to. You will never feel like you truly belong until you are fully authentic. May you be bravely authentic fully known, and find true belonging to a group of people that love you for all of you are.
I am so sorry that you have felt, and will continue to feel, moments when you don’t belong. You are not alone in those feelings; every single person you meet has been there too. Don’t be afraid or surprised by those moments, but lean in to them, and know that those moments are just moments. You do belong, you are worthy, and you are not alone. We will be together in our un-belonging. We will persevere, we will search out truth, we will be courageous, and we will find hope and belonging.
Stop on by my dear friend Meg’s blog at Meg on Tap to hear about belonging from one of the women that has taught me the most about becoming loved. Then roll on through all of our blogs to read some wise thoughts from a lot of other great women.