Why Do We Need To Belong? Belonging And Exclusion. By Dr Linda Berman.

51102363637_ae10046031_oClaire Tabouret – The Soccer Team [2019]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“There is a reason the word belonging has a synonym for want at its centre; it is the human condition.”

Jodi Picoult.

  • The Importance Of Belonging.

We all have a need to belong; this is a part of our shared humanity.

From our earliest days, we form attachments to our caregivers that give us feelings of safety and security, of warmth, comfort and belonging.

We have a basic need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves, where we can learn from and identify with others, have them reflect and affirm who we are, engage with us, give us a feeling of being loved and accepted.

The poet John Donne was right when he said:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Indeed, reading poetry and literature helps us to know that we are not alone in our need to feel a part of something.

So many themes in literature are about the need to belong.

8669237109_597f8a6116_oFranz Eybl ‘Girl Reading’ 1850. Flickr.

“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

“We read to know we’re not alone.”

William Nicholson

51100315221_2117c19587_oPhilip Wilson Steer – Chatterboxes [1886]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“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.”

Brené Brown

When we are a part of a group that functions well, such as a supportive circle of friends, a caring family, or a well-run workplace, we feel a sense of acceptance, wellbeing and increased strength.

“People will typically be more enthusiastic where they feel a sense of belonging and see themselves as part of a community than they will in a workplace in which each person is left to his own devices.”

Alfie Kohn

These healthy interpersonal connections with others can enable us to work in a team, play and socialise, developing rapport, affiliation and kinship with those around us.

As we grow and develop through such a sense of belonging, we will become a part of the group’s history; we will share memories and experiences with others in the group, strengthening further our sense of being a part of something, past and present.

There will be shared stories, photographs and videos that help us reminisce as a group, emphasising some firmly-held bonds that make us feel included and contained.

“Talking about the past also helps create and maintain our individual and shared identities. We know who we are – whether as individuals, groups or communities – because our memories provide a database of evidence for events we have experienced and what they mean to us.”


“Stories in families are colossally important. Every family has stories: some funny, some proud, some embarrassing, some shameful. Knowing them is proof of belonging to the family.”

Salman Rushdie

Such experiences can reduce stress and isolation, helping us to feel supported and safe.

We all need to feel that we are not alone, that we can call on others for help, empathy and encouragement.

  • Exclusion.

A sense of being excluded can be excruciatingly painful; because our need for belonging is so hard-wired into our psyche, being left out by others for whatever reason can feel like an awful punishment.

30594834951_416aa34a13_oJohn George Brown – Not In It. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Exclusion is a rejection by others, and social exclusion can make one feel isolated and bereft.

We are social beings, and the pain of being left out can be acute. It takes a good deal of strength and resilience to manage such experiences.

49892763168_c625470b85_oVilhelm Hammershoi – Interior with Young Woman seen from behind 1903-04. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Never let anyone who cannot bear your pain make you feel you are unbearable. Not everyone is capable of walking with you, but that does not mean you are not worthy of belonging.”

Morgan Harper Nichols

Sometimes, we may come to the conclusion that we might need to move on from those who have excluded us, in a way that may help us make a new start.

50897473036_d642e9fcb6_oPablo Picasso – The Glass of Beer (Portrait of Sabartés) [1901]. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés

If a feeling of exclusion seems to be repetitive, we might need help to understand why this is happening to us. We may need to examine ourselves and discover what might be contributing factors within us.

  • How Can We Gain A feeling Of Belonging?

Feeling At Home With Ourselves First And Foremost.

50920953218_7695e005b8_oHenri Matisse – Woman Before an Aquarium [1921-23]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“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.”

Brené Brown

“The trance of unworthiness keeps the sweetness of belonging out of reach. The path to “the sweetness of belonging,” is acceptance – acceptance of ourselves and acceptance of others without judgment.”

Tara Brach

What does it mean to ‘feel at home with ourselves?’ In order to feel a sense of belonging, of being a part of something, we may search for a place to feel at home.

However, if we do not feel safe, secure and comfortable inside, an external home will not in itself satisfy our need.

“This is because home, the real home we are seeking is something within ourselves and our own being.  Symbolically, it is the center of the mandala.  Home is connection with the centre of our own being; it is to be accepting of and at home with the deepest part of the self.  But to find that, we must undertake an inner journey.”


For this journey into the self, we might use meditation, religion, psychotherapy. This journey is surely one where we must discover for ourself that we are good enough.

It is true that a home inside the self, a feeling of self acceptance and belonging inside us, is what many people might be seeking when they come for psychotherapy.

In this case, home means so much more than a place, a building, bricks and mortar. This home is related, not to physical space, but to psychic space.

Even if we do not have family, or groups of friends, we may still nevertheless feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, which can be enough for some of us.

We can carry this feeling around with us, wherever we go in life.

“Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.”

Albert Einstein

“A sense of belonging is not physical. We cannot find it by changing where we live or what we do. We have to carry it within us.”

P. C. Cast

We all need to experience a feeling of belonging, to be a part of something. This is a universal need, even if we find it difficult because of painful life experiences.

5542040565_d5f34ec645_oGari Melchers – Woman Reading by a Window. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”

Maya Angelou

“Each person with his or her history of being accepted or rejected, with his or her past history of inner pain and difficulties in relationships, is different. But in each one there is a yearning for communion and belonging, but at the same time a fear of it. Love is what we most want, yet it is what we fear the most.”

Jean Vanier

Helping Others.

Through helping others, we will ourselves discover feelings of belonging.

Becoming involved with other people through assisting them in some way will inevitably add meaning and value to our lives.

Learning That No One Actually Belongs To Us.

Sometimes, people may feel excluded because others experience them as too proprietorial, too clingy, perhaps acting as if they ‘own’ another person.

Even constantly expressed ‘worry’ and concern for another might be seen as being over-protective and suffocating.

We do not possess another person; each of us is here for him or herself, to experience a life of freedom and individual choice.

That does not mean, of course, that we do not care for others, but such care needs to focus on respect for another’s autonomy and separateness.

That is genuine care, and real love.

21642682750_9fc12b91d8_oAlyssa Monks – Aiden Study [2015]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Khalil Gibran

© Linda Berman

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