When we experience social rejection, or feel like we don't belong we can hurt as bad as we do when we feel actual physical pain. The parts of our brain that light up when we stub our toe (and shout several profanities, at least in my version of the story) also light up when we feel the pain of being rejected or when we walk away feeling like we don't fit in.
This has always been a theme in my private practice. We are wired for connection and we all have the inherent need for love and belonging. When we don't feel like we have belonging in our lives we feel sadness, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
It is now, as a 35-year-old woman without children, where I'm struggling, thankfully, for the first time in my life, with the sense of not belonging.
I have learned there are two major things no one tells you when you begin the journey of IVF:
1. You will always have the dates in your head and heart.
- The day of the transfer (or conception).
- The day you received the negative pregnancy test results.
- The due dates of each baby, and therefore, the date of the would have been first birthdays.
- Which then can become when you would have had a kindergartener, a track star in middle school, a high school graduate, a psychology major in college, etc., etc., etc.
2. The journey never really ends.
IVF didn't work for us. We don't get to have kids. And no, adoption isn't for us. Which means I am constantly reminded that I don't quite fit in... in the congregation full of families or in the group of moms discussing feeding schedules or soccer schedules or even in the childfree by choice group who doesn't even necessarily like kids. As time passes, I'm sure this list will only continue to grow.
My solace has been referring back to the work of Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly and in my training as a Certified Daring Way Facilitator. When we change ourselves to fit in, our self-worth is at stake. Fitting in means I change myself to be like you.
But, what if some things just cannot be changed? Does that mean that never fitting in means I will never belong?
When we live our authentic truth and are brave enough to show up and be seen, our self-worth is not on the line. Only when we live our lives this way, will we find that we will always belong, no matter where and no matter with who.
We. Always. Belong.
I have this conversation with my clients at least several times a week. With the preteen or teenager who is struggling to find their friend group at school. With the 20-something-year-old who is finding it difficult to meet new people. With the 30-something-year-old whose friends are all doing things at a different rate. With the 40-something-year-old struggling with self-care and socializing. With the 50-year-old trying to figure out what this season of their life is. And, with the 60-year-old searching for meaning and dignity.
Because, we all desire and need to feel belonging. But, what we need to learn and remember is that we always belong. So, I use myself as an easy to understand example of the difference between fitting in and belonging:
By the most classic and widely accepted definition of a woman my age, I will never fit in, I am not a mother. And I can choose to allow this to fill my soul with sadness and bitterness or I can truly own my story.
Owning it allows the hurt to heal.
Owning it allows me to talk about it openly without shame.
Owning it allows others to see my heart.
And only then, will we always belong.