After my previous post on how I’ve created my own loneliness, I'm ruminating on the concept of "fitting in." I get that it is primarily a perception thing and not an actual construct. Remember back in pre-school when you were automatically friends with anyone who made eye contact and was about your same size? You introduced them as your friend sometimes without even knowing their name! I boldly propose that those conditions for friendship never really change. It is just our perceptions of acceptance and fitting in that alter as we grow older. We experience more hurt and more deficiencies in interpersonal relations and we start to create narratives in our minds on who will and will not love us. For example: I have felt completely alone and marginalized by my inability to accept love and friendship from others. What is that about? I have also had friends tell me how, initially, they were stand-offish and reluctant to befriend me because of their belief that I wouldn’t want to be friends with them. Talk about misperceptions!
There is a beautiful African proverb that reminds us, “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm.” I take that to mean: if we just got over our desire to fit in, then we would see how we actually fit in everywhere. After all, haven’t psychologists, self-help advocates, and eastern gurus been preaching for years on how you can only know acceptance by seeking it within?
At this point, I believe it is important to clarify my working definitions of “fitting in” and “belonging.” I am using them interchangeably. I do not mean fitting in as a way to dampen your own talents as you bend or conform to expectation. I mean fitting in as a means of using your talents to the benefit of yourself and others as you find your tribe. Fitting in and belonging are therefore a safe space where you can let your freak flag fly and just do you.
“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For the sake of my ruminations, I’ll assume humans are, at our most basic level, social animals. We are designed to seek out similar groups. For as long as we have records of human interactions, we have records of our desire to create labels and boundaries and to fit in somewhere. I believe, for most, their first experience of somewhere is family.
Without getting into too many specifics about my immediate family (gotta save something for the memoirs), suffice it to say that I did not "fit in" there. My immediate family did not fill my basic human need for connection let alone aid me in fulfilling any greater purpose or eternal destiny. So I taught myself how to supplement this lack of connection and to fit in to my surroundings by reading people, normalizing their experiences, and then making them feel loved and accepted. I created safe, tolerant, judgment-free realities for others by offering what I was not getting in my own life: validation, love, and acceptance. But, to do so, I sometimes hid or sacrificed parts of my self, leaving me feeling less and less connected to anyone. I was genuinely loving others, but I was breeding my own loneliness by being guarded and inauthentic in the sharing of myself.
Maybe you would see this as a weakness in my perception of belonging. But, try for a moment to imagine that you've never known what it feels like to be part of a family. Without the basic witness to your life that a family offers, perhaps finding a group to claim you and to accept you in your most authentic form becomes fundamentally important to you as well. So fundamentally important that you are willing to sacrifice whole parts of yourself in order to gain acceptance. Maybe "fitting in" takes on a deeper more philosophical meaning. Perhaps the search for belonging becomes key to your survival. Perhaps, as you seek to find the place where your small part fits into the greater whole, the little idiosyncrasies and cultural expectations around you create a grim climate where the only chance of survival is to adapt.
Where is home if you've never known one?
What is safe if you’re never experienced it?
Where do you feel inspired / loved / respected / appreciated?
Where do you “belong”?
Where do you "fit in"?
For many people, I believe these questions can be answered as "within my family." But that is not the case for everyone. So it is important to remember how connected we all already are. (John Donne's Meditation #17 comes to mind. If you don't know it, HERE it is. Memorize the "no man is an island" paragraph. It will change your life. You're welcome.) It is important to remember what allows love, respect, and appreciation into our lives: Being vulnerable. Being authentic. Being open.
Because I crave a greater connection, I want to always be looking for opportunities to inspire, love, respect, and appreciate others. My journey today and always is to continue to practice constant equanimity and genuine honesty. My promise to myself is that I will not let uneasiness, anxiety, misplaced perceptions, or loneliness keep me from recognizing the beauty and love in others.
And maybe, by so doing, home gets a little closer.