8 Steps to Create a Sense of Belonging in Life

create a sense of belonging

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Create a sense of belonging in life.

I showed up to the restaurant a bit nervous. I had been invited to the birthday dinner on a large group message. While I didn’t feel obligated to come, I decided it would be best to attend. After all, it was a chance to make more connections with a few colleagues and some women in town I didn’t know very well.

I found my seat at the round table and listened quietly to the discussion I had walked into. Each new guest arrival prompted me to become quieter and quieter in the conversation. When I did muster the courage to speak up and make a joke, several of the women didn’t even give me a pity laugh.

When the dinner was finally over, I left gladly – ready to retreat to my circle of best friends for my next meal out.

It wasn’t that the night had been awful. I simply craved the sense of belonging that my closer circles gave me. Acceptance, loyalty, comfort, connection – words representing a sense of belonging.

We all crave a sense of belonging, whether we realize it or not. Whether it’s at social gatherings, at work, or in our families, we want to feel accepted and comfortable. 

In fact, we need to create a sense of belonging to live happy, healthy lives.

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What does it mean to have a sense of belonging (and why it’s so important to create a sense of belonging) 

Before you can learn how you can create a sense of belonging in life, it’s important to understand what a sense of belonging is.

A sense of belonging is our fundamental need and motivation to be accepted by others. We must feel like we’re part of a social group that embraces who we are, rather than feeling a need to hide aspects of our life and identity. This desire is deeply rooted in us and hugely impactful in how we act and view the world. We can find belonging in different relationships and communities, whether it be with family, friends, teams, or work.  

To fulfill this need, we need to have a minimum number of enduring relationships in our lives that we value and appreciate. These relationships need to be meaningful to us; therefore, they must include qualities like trust, support, and compassion. 

sense of belonging

We need this sense of belonging at every age.

We also need to develop a sense of belonging in the various spheres of our lives. For example, it’s critical that we develop a sense of belonging at work. In schools, teachers must work to create a sense of belonging for students. Whatever social groups we attach ourselves to must contain belonging. 

Any time you walk into a community, you want to feel accepted. If you don’t, the anxiety and uncertainty of your social situation will – over time – diminish your well-being more than you realize.

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What gives us a sense of belonging

Have you ever said something silly, invoking laughter from the people around you? If the people are your trusted confidants, you might’ve laughed too and moved on. However, if you didn’t have strong relationships, the misstep in speech probably sent you into a momentary tailspin of regret and shame. (Oh my gosh, they think I’m stupid now.)

No imagine this scenario magnified to a larger scale. In life, you feel a sense of belonging when you can be authentic and make mistakes – and trust that it won’t affect how people view you. Your relationships don’t hinge on moment-to-moment behaviors. Instead, you are accepted for who you are.

Conversely, if you lack a sense of belonging, you don’t have this trust. It feels like your actions are a continuous means of determining whether or not you will be accepted. As a result, you feel the need to prove or define yourself constantly. (Which, for the record, is exhausting.)

Acceptance, connection, and trust are words that represent a sense of belonging. You are comfortable and confident with your relationships, and subsequently, with yourself.

sense of belonging and shame

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Why it’s so challenging for us to create a sense of belonging even though it’s important

A bunch of obstacles makes it challenging for us to create a sense of belonging in life. We aren’t self-aware of who we are or what we need. Brain science is holding our emotional intelligence back. We get distracted on our journey of self-discovery by false societal narratives.

You can overcome these challenges, however, and create a sense of belonging in life.

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8 Steps to Create a Sense of Belonging in Life

create a sense of belonging

1. Understand the difference between a true sense of belonging and “fitting in”

Let’s face it, we all want to feel like we belong. (No really, it’s literally wired into our human DNA that we want to belong). Because this desire is so great, we can do just about anything to find it.

Sometimes, in our attempt to create a sense of belonging in life, we fail to recognize the difference between true belonging and fitting in.

The true definition for a sense of belonging is that the people in your life accept you for who you are. You are your authentic self, and they wholeheartedly want you to be yourself. You can talk openly about your writing dreams, express your fear of raccoons, and spill your desperate wish to be on the TV show Survivor. (Yes, yes that is my authentic self).

Fitting in, on the other hand, lacks this acceptance. When we try to fit in, we change ourselves for the situation or group that we’re around.

We’re all guilty of trying to fit in. We want to impress our coworkers or get in with a new circle of friends. I get it – it can be really tough to make new connections. However, you’ll only develop a sense of belonging when you’re able to be your authentic self. 

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2. Identify who is most important to you to create a sense of belonging

When I graduated college, I kept a little notebook with the names of everyone I wanted to keep in touch with. I tried calling and messaging all the names on my list every couple of months. Then I began to make close friends with my new coworkers. Quickly, I began facing conflict after conflict: do I call my high school friend, or go to the movies with my new friend?

We cannot maintain close relationships with everyone. The more people we try to “be close” with, the more diluted those relationships become. 

You need to identify who is most important to you in life. Who are the essential people who give you the most back? For some of us, these are family members. For others, it’s a group of best friends. While you can have all types of relationships in your life, you need to know which each relationship gives you.

We all need different things. Some of us value loyalty, trust, or compassion. Others want laughter and fun. You’ll only create a sense of belonging if your relationships give you what you need.Find out what you need, and then prioritize the relationships that meet this need.

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3. Recognize that you need different types of relationships to be fulfilled

It can be very easy to focus on a couple of meaningful relationships. My fiancé is my partner in life, so I should put all my time toward him. Or, my best friend has helped me through my worst times. She has to be my go-to. While this focus is important, you must recognize that we all need different types of relationships to feel fulfilled.

In fact, there are five different types of relationships you need, including people whom you work with collectively and people in your proximity. While these peripheral people might not seem important, feeling a sense of belonging around them is.

Imagine having three extremely meaningful relationships in your life. People that you talk to every day. But, as you go about your day, you’re surrounded by nameless, unrecognizable strangers. I don’t know about you, but this sounds awful. (And a bit like a Stephen King novel.)

You can create a sense of belonging by finding relationships in all categories. You must develop a sense of belonging at work, at home, and in your social arenas. It’s the balance that will keep you feeling energized and happy.

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4. Cultivate your relationships for a sense of belonging

With these five essential types, you can’t just expect the relationships to pop up in your life. Whether you’re talking to the man in the copy room or your best-friend mother, these interactions won’t derive meaning if you don’t put the effort in.

To create a sense of belonging in life, you must cultivate them with time, energy, and care.

Does it kind of feel like I’m talking about cultivating plants in a garden? Perhaps it does, but the same message still applies. (Just with less pesticide and weed killer.) Our relationships require continuous care and attention to maintain their meaning. We cannot expect to lock someone into a relationship, and then reap the benefits for the rest of our lives. We want to establish an identity focused on togetherness.

You can cultivate your relationships by being fully present, asking questions, giving time, and listening to what the other person has to say. Relationships require two people to make them meaningful. Make sure you’re not the one that’s holding them back.

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5. Don’t get caught up prioritizing other societal distractions

You might be thinking, She’s already told us to cultivate our relationships and spend quality time. Aren’t we already prioritizing our relationships? Perhaps – but I bet you’re still being pulled away by other distractions.

Our society does a great job of tricking us about what is meaningful. Unfortunately, developing a sense of belonging is not always first on our culture’s to-do list. (Even though it absolutely should be.)

We attach self-worth to external accomplishments. We buy into the false notion of individualism and trying to “make it on our own.” Heck, we even trick ourselves into thinking that we’re improving ourselves for the benefit of others. When, in reality, we’re taking away from our relationships.

A sense of belonging is the most essential component of a meaningful life. Period. Every time you feel yourself believing otherwise, you must stop yourself and refocus on the people in your life.

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6. Develop your self-awareness to feel belonging

What does self-awareness have to do with belonging with others? Everything. Belonging is all about feeling like you’re accepted for who you are. (And this acceptance starts from you accepting who you are.) However, we can’t let our true selves shine and be accepted if we don’t know what our true self looks like.

Self-awareness is an ongoing process, and a number of obstacles get in our way. Our emotions and biases make it difficult to fully understand ourselves. Then, our culture and society add a layer of “should-be’s” and shame that we often get sucked into. Oh, and our environments affect our perception more than we realize.

Fortunately, we can develop our self-awareness with time and practice. By learning to be more in tune with ourselves in the present, we can build our identity. Ultimately, we can learn what drives us – and then share this with the world to feel a sense of belonging.

7. Have the courage to be vulnerable

Being vulnerable means being willing to take emotional risks, even when we don’t know the outcome. When it comes to developing a sense of belonging, it entails presenting our true selves – even if we might be rejected for it.

Our most meaningful relationships are the ones in which we can be vulnerable. While this might seem like a no-brainer, it’s much more difficult than we think.

I’ve been with my fiancé for three years now. I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with him. You’d think that vulnerability would come easily, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I have to actively work to open up, push aside my fears, and show up as my most authentic self in the relationship every day.

It takes courage to be vulnerable, but it’s necessary to create a sense of belonging in life.

Every day, we’re fighting back an onslaught of negative emotions that hold us back. In particular, shame drives much of our behavior. Having the courage to be vulnerable will open up a whole new sense of meaning in your relationships.

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8. Maintain an open, curious mindset

When we close ourselves off to new experiences or questions, we limit the belonging we can feel in life. This is because we hold back our growth, as well as our appreciation for others. Acceptance is a practice, not an inherent trait. Humans naturally meet others with judgment. While we can’t eliminate this bias, we can broaden the lens through which we judge others.

The more you can say yes to new opportunities, allow yourself room to grow, and accept others for who they are, the more you’ll open your mind to new experiences. You’ll project acceptance to the people in your life. Inevitably, this project will be reciprocated.

Being curious also allows you to look at your life through an optimistic lens. Obstacles and challenges become a means of learning, rather than a setback or failure. Consider asking questions like, “What did I learn from this? How can I grow from here?” You’ll be surprised by the natural link between these growth-oriented questions and how to create a sense of belonging.

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Conclusion

We live in a world that puts a lot of things before our relationships. However, our relationships are the things that will give us the most meaning.

If you’re struggling to create a sense of belonging in life, or want to feel a bit more fulfilled, you can follow these eight steps to develop a sense of belonging in your life.

  1. Understand the difference between true belonging and “fitting in”
  2. Identify who is most important to you
  3. Recognize that you need different types of relationships to be fulfilled
  4. Cultivate your relationships
  5. Don’t get caught up prioritizing other societal distractions
  6. Develop your self-awareness
  7. Have the courage to be vulnerable
  8. Maintain an open, curious mindset

Liked what you read? Read about how you can be more vulnerable in your different relationships. Otherwise, post a comment below!

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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When do you prioritize your relationships in your life?

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Do you a feel a sense of belonging in your life?

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Who do you feel like your most authentic self with?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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How can we balance our ambitions with our relationships?

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Why is it so difficult for people to be vulnerable?

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How can we help create a sense of belonging for others?

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9 thoughts on “8 Steps to Create a Sense of Belonging in Life”

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