Karen's Blogs

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Wanting to Belong is Not the Same as Wanting to Fit In

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, TED talker, and author of four bestselling books, can’t help opening her mouth and spouting wisdom. Being interviewed on NPR, she shared some interesting insights about a topic that often arises in treating dysregulated eaters: the need to belong. For more on this subject, read her interviews at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/author-brene-brown-social-scientist-new-book-braving-the-wilderness/ and at http://www.oprah.com/spirit/life-lessons-we-all-need-to-learn-brene-brown.
In both discussions, she talks about the difference between wishing to belong and wishing to fit in. You might think that they are the same or that in order to experience the former, the latter must happen. Not true. Instead, she maintains that people who have the truest sense of belonging are not those who try to blend in with others, but those who can stand up for their authentic selves and who are comfortable in their own skin.  
Somewhere along the way (okay, in childhood), many people learn that to belong in their family, school, or neighborhood means being like everyone else or blending in. In client cases, I see a great deal of this. Mom or Dad were rigidly controlling, critical and/or narcissistic, so that children were discouraged from developing differently from them. Children learned that in order to be loved or accepted, they had to suppress their individuality or independence, a cruel lesson for them to learn and carry into adulthood.
Brown insists that, “Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.” (oprah.com)
Paradoxically, belonging comes from being yourself, which includes doing what you uniquely enjoy and expressing your thoughts and feelings, although they are different from those of others. Brown maintains that, “Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you're enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don't have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.” (oprah.com) Amen.
I’m guessing that a great deal of what Brown says resonates with you. If so, take a minute to examine how you turned out to be a person who seeks to fit in above all else. Take note of what you’ve suppressed and surrendered about yourself in order to be liked and accepted. Pay special attention to how your upbringing shaped how you feel about your body and weight and what you had to do to fit into your family. Then set an intention to experiment with being yourself. Ironically, the more you follow you own drum and accept yourself, the closer you will get to true belonging—to yourself and with others.
Wanting To Be Normal Or Healthy
Why Do You Lie To Yourself?

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