Christmas is here. Well, almost here.
What a great time of year for a moan and groan – family gatherings again. And so we start projecting. “Everybody knows who” will show up with the usual “know it all” attitude. As he does every year uncle Steven will arrive late and be grumpy all day for no reason and your oldest and loudest brother will have the best solutions to “all of your business problems” and the best recipe for your perfect life. Great! Sounds like a lovely family time. Sounds like every previous year.
Coaching and personal development can help in preparing the best coping strategy – learning skills for more assertiveness, emotional resilience and the ability to set personal boundaries. We can look for ways to protect ourselves and speak our mind when necessary. At least something would be different than every other year.
But what if this year we made it about something else than the usually dreaded family time?
Belonging is an innate human need.
According to Maslow (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) humans naturally need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups.
As toddlers we naturally belong. Before we reach the age of 6 or 7 we can go anywhere and everywhere and simply be ourselves, authentic and genuine. The more social groups we start to be a part of, the more “social archetypes” are starting to emerge. To fit in, children age 6 or 7 begin to understand that some friends are physically stronger than them, they are smarter than few other kids in class, one boy is a joker and he always entertains everyone, but there is also a lovely girl who is always nice to everyone. These “social archetypes” are roles we notice and acknowledge in the groups we belong to and also the roles we accept for ourselves, often unconsciously. This means that we are adapting to the “social mechanism” that will inevitably stay with us for the rest of our lives – comparison. Does it have to, however, rule our lives?
Comparison in our adult lives quickly becomes an enemy of belonging and connection. Belonging, defined by Brene Brown as showing up and letting yourself be seen as you really are. Our natural need for connection is often replaced by a struggle to be who we believe we are expected to be, like someone else who we perceive as better (in any way) and regardless of our own unique personality traits. Combined with our adult right to choose where and how we want to belong, it leaves our natural human need for belonging unfulfilled. The need is still there but to avoid shame, exposure, emotional openness and hurt, we limit the number of people and groups we are willing to identify with.
And again – the need is still there – the need to connect, contribute, be cared for and care for others, to be welcomed and accepted. It’s natural. As adults however, we seem to believe that we can control this need and so “win” over the forces of nature. So we strategize.
Some of the phrases that I’ve heard from students, clients, friends or even my own internal voice, are “I don’t need help from anybody and I don’t need to ask them. I’ll do it myself”, “I don’t really have a strong need to be around people. I guess others do, but I don’t see it in me that much.”, “I carefully choose who I spend my time with. Most of the time I’m perfectly fine just on my own”.
And everything would be ok, if it wasn’t for this need for belonging that, regardless of what we tell ourselves, is still there.
Those statements we use are nothing else but a verbal representation of our coping strategies and self-protection systems we designed to avoid vulnerability, authenticity and honesty. It’s just easier. We silence the sensitive side of us, we numb emotions. Through these statements we reinforce the belief that belonging isn’t “cool” and we have to have our own selves figured out at this point. If you’re an adult, you don’t need to depend on others… (well unless you still have some growing up to do… ) Needing others means that you’re not always “in control” and asking for help and being vulnerable are weaknesses.
Oh, I’m so good at that.
So recently every time I read a new chapter from one of the Brene Brown’s books, it feels like I can breathe again. Instead of putting on a face of being ok, having power and inhuman strength – I enjoy being myself. Just being. It’s a space where a balance of emotions can be found and none of them is denied its place and purpose. Where apart from professional groups where belonging is based on skills, knowledge, common experience and interest, I’m braver with my connections. This means finding friends, colleagues or relatives and showing up for, sometimes challenging, relationships. It’s allowing ourselves to be seen in order for our need for belonging to be fulfilled through relationships with those who we can be more vulnerable with, who listen and understand, who love and care for us, even if sometimes it’s done in a way different than what we’d prefer. It’s being authentic, genuine and honest with no skills, diplomas and degrees, just being accepted for who we are and how we are. Naturally. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
And only we can make space for it. Only we can “open up” to truly allow others to get closer. Christmas is a perfect time to “let someone in”. Can you feel the emotional challenge of that? Me too. But so what?
Still choose who, where and how but consciously invest in the most meaningful relationships for you. Give someone the gift of real you this Christmas. It’s courage that’s required for wholehearted living. Instead of rolling your eyes thinking about your upcoming family get-together this Christmas, purposefully step in, show up and connect with someone to get closer in a new way. Let someone know that their presence and support is needed, valued and makes a difference. Share yourself.
Brene asks “What would happen if you put down the weapons and took off the armour?” Oh, boy!
Get curious and find out. Happy Belonging this Christmas.
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