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Inclusion and Belonging

Many disregulated eaters long for inclusion. They are lonely, by themselves and even with others, but also feel social anxiety. So they eat—at home by their lonesome or in social situations—which only makes them feel more estranged from others and more of an outsider. And more convinced that they’ll never belong anywhere or with anyone.

To greater or lesser extent, the desire to belong is universal. Some people are avid connectors and group joiners, while others have one or two intimates or a small circle of friends they know care about them. A sense of belonging springs from the part of us that knows we can’t go it alone, an innate hankering for human contact, and a desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. Mostly, it comes from a need to be seen, heard, validated, valued and loved. It is natural and normal to want to belong.

Because the family is our very first group experience with belonging, our childhood experiences heavily shape our beliefs about inclusion and exclusion from then on. Many disregulated eaters insist that they never really felt part of their family—they stayed in their room a lot, pursued their own interests, created their own worlds, and felt as if they “lived in a bubble.” Ideally, our families let us know overtly and covertly that they accept and value us as part of the group, but also allow us to enjoy our own identity. For example, you’re still loved and accepted if you’re the only family member who doesn’t love sports, get top grades, eat red meat, or go gaga over Dancing With the Stars.

However, when your family doesn’t provide a sense of inclusion, you come to believe you don’t deserve it, and that lack of deservedness and feeling like an unlovable outsider stays with you when you enter school and encounter groups later in life. You expect not to be included, so you may not try to belong or may sabotage the experience so you won’t be hurt when, you assume, group members inevitably boot you out. The reality is that most groups in adulthood are nothing like your family. Sure, there are hurtful people everywhere, but there are also loving, kind, nurturing folks who may have similar fears to yours and who will go out of their way to make you feel included.

If inclusion and belonging are issues for you, reframe all your beliefs on the subject to get your head on straight about groups, then observe your self-talk about social situations. Rather than abuse food, notice and experience your feelings and discover what’s really going on for you. Choose groups wisely, then focus on dispelling your fears and how you can be included, not by being different, but by simply being yourself.

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