Pursue What Matters
Episode 207: True Belonging
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you ready for real connection, love and intimacy? Well, you won’t find it by trying to fit in. Join me to learn all about true belonging.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:12
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So true belonging, it’s what poets write about what singers sing about, it’s what we all want. And here’s the thing, it’s critical to our well being. But too many of us fall for the false substitute of trying to fit in, but it never works. So check out last week’s podcast where we talk all about fitting in, and the ways that we try to fit in, so that you are up to date on that. So from Dr. Brené Brown, the thing is that we are wired to be a part of something bigger than us so deeply, that sometimes we will take fitting in as a substitute. But actually fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging, because fitting in says, Be like them to be accepted. And so, of course, Brene Brown does a really good job of helping us understand the difference between fitting in and belonging. And so when we are trying to fit in, we change ourselves to try to be acceptable to others. And it actually takes us further from ourselves. But belonging right requires us to show up as we are to be genuine and in in being genuine and vulnerable, right. That’s where we find meaningful connection. And so every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead. And so today, we’re really looking at curiosity, and leading and building a community. So curiosity is all about self awareness to know are we being genuine, are we seeking belonging or just fitting in. And then of course, belonging helps us to find our community, it helps us to develop deep bonds both at home, and at work. And so we really want to pay attention to that. So let’s go ahead and jump in to our first with our first point. So belonging requires that our basic safety needs are met. So that is a given. So when the physiological and safety needs are met, there will emerge the love and affection and belongingness needs.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:36
So this comes to us from Barry Scott, Scott Barry Kaufman, in his book transcend. When one feels belonging, one feels accepted and seen. And when one is deprived of belonging, one feels rejected and invisible. And I think probably we can all relate to that we’ve all had experiences, where we have felt invisible, where we felt rejected, and times when we’ve felt loved and accepted. And so it’s important to pay attention to the fact that our safety needs and our belonging needs are correlated, when our safety needs are met, our needs for belonging may actually decrease. So in times of relative safety, the need for belonging may not be as essential because we’re on solid ground, we’re doing pretty good. So but right when we have times of increased perceived instability and danger in the environment, that’s when our social protection system is most likely to become activated, and really exert its effects. So for example, when we have high safety, right, so we’re secure, we have a lower need for belonging. So the brain says, I’m okay, I’m secure, and life is good. But when we are in a situation of low safety, we have a higher need for belonging. So right, the brains basically says, I’m not safe, I need to clean to those I know, because we find safety in numbers in groups. And so the social protection system, which I’m going to talk about a little bit more in a minute, is on high alert. So we increasingly identify with specific groups, often to the exclusion of other groups. Now, this can be a problem in the world we live in, right that with a pandemic, there’s been a lot of polarizing effect. And it’s been very easy on social media, to move to our echo chambers to move to those groups of people that share our beliefs and opinions and attitudes. And that’s a very common response when we feel low safety, right. So with the pandemic, there’s tons of uncertainty, risk, danger, death. And so, you know, it’s natural to kind of move to those groups. But if we’re not careful, we can get really entrenched in those groups and lose perspective and lose the ability to make meaningful connections. and with others who you know, maybe don’t share our opinions, but who are still wonderful, and who we can connect with meaningfully.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:09
So, the other thing to pay attention to is that when there is a lack of resources, this can be another strong motivator of belonging. So tight Economic Times high uncertainty, high inflation, any of this sound familiar, loss of jobs, foreclosure, so all of these forms of lack, right or deficiency will really kick up our, our needs around belonging. So it’s just, it’s helpful to understand how this relates to our basic safety needs. And so, you know, our needs for belonging also show up very early in life, right, we are hardwired for this. So from Kaufman, our tribal impulses run deep, and they spring early. So we see this behavior, even in small children, this group behavior, and it really does become a safety mechanism. So now let’s talk about our second point. And that is that our social protection system keeps us attuned to safety. And so this is an evolutionary system that you know, has had important survival and reproduction functions over time. So first, their safety and numbers. So strong affiliations among small group tribe members throughout history, offered greater resources, information, and cooperation to overcome stress and threat. So that’s how we’ve survived all of this time as humans is because we’ve had groups. So think about families think about tribes think about villages, there is safety in numbers. And so you know, the other thing that’s true about that is that we need others to survive, literally right, so literally and figuratively. So because we are intensely social animals, the need to seek at least a minimal amount of acceptance, while avoiding complete rejection is vitally important for gaining social rewards in virtually all social situations. So that comes to us from Kauffman, and his excellent book transcend. And so what’s true is that as humans, we have an exquisitely sensitive social protection system that continually tracks our levels of belonging, it detects threats to acceptance, it warns us right most often through incredibly painful emotions, whether the perceived threat is high, and whether exclusion and ostracism are possible. And so our brains are on high alert, to assess our social safety. Right? And this is physical and social safety. Are we accepted? Are we rejected? What does that mean for us? And so the next point when we think about this social protection system, is that it’s normal to be upset by perceived rejection, this is totally normal, that perceived signs of rejection will trigger uncomfortable emotions. Now, I think it’s really important to talk about this key word, which is perceived signs of rejection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:18
So if you’re not careful, right, if you come from a place of deficiency, you will read rejection wherever you go, even if rejection is not what’s being thrown at you. And so sometimes our social protection system can be in overdrive. And it leads us to not have an accurate assessment of what’s happening in a social situation. Okay. But, you know, if we perceive rejection, it’s totally understandable that we would be upset about that. So you know, when we tell ourselves, don’t be upset, it wasn’t that big of a deal. We’re actually making our social protection system less accurate. That’s not good that it’s an important system. Now, we don’t want it to be on a hair trigger, but it conveys really valuable information for us. So what are some of these uncomfortable emotions, right? Like we’ve all experienced them, just think about junior high, that’ll tell you everything. We’ve got hurt feelings, jealousy, sadness, we can. So what happens as a result, right is we can have increased attention and focus on solving the problem. So that can look a lot like rumination, right, where we’re just anxiously rerunning the situation or the dialogue through our head, trying to understand it trying to make sense trying to figure out like, was that rejection? Or was I just being too sensitive? And so again, it’s really normal to be upset by these perceived rejections.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:43
Another point when it comes to our social protection system, is that the brain does not distinguish between social pain and physical pain. Now, this is fascinating research to me. So social pain that accompanies perceptions of low belonging right so this feeling of rejection has been shown to be indistinguishable from physical pain. So our brain registers social pain in the same places that it registers physical pain, right? So the brain does not distinguish between, for example, a physical assault and an emotional assault. The brain experiences shame and rejection as traumatic the same way it would physical violence. That’s really powerful, because I think it helps us to understand just how important belonging is right, as humans, We’re hard wired for connection. And so when we experience rejection, it’s really painful, our brain goes on high alert, and it creates a lot of uncomfortable emotions. Now, of course, none of us like those emotions. But those emotions serve a purpose, right, they can serve to help us create more understanding, they can serve to help us seek meaningful connection. And we really need that in order to survive as humans. And you might think, right, so this is an evolutionary model that it’s like, okay, well, that may be fit 1000s of years ago, but it doesn’t really fit for us today. And what I would say is, that’s dead wrong, it actually fits more than ever. And so one of the ways that we see this show up, and I’ve talked about this recently on the last podcast is loneliness. So we have, we have higher levels of loneliness than any time on record, right, and that this carries very high mortality risks for us. And so we need connection just as much today, as we did 1000s of years ago. So this of course, carries big consequences for overall functioning, functioning. So from John Kashi oppo for a social species to be on the edge of the social perimeter is to be in a dangerous position, right. So think about those experiences in junior high of rejection or trying to fit in how extremely painful it was, well, we have similar experiences to that in our life. Now, hopefully, we have some emotional reserves to help us to not feel so. So hurt and injured by that, but, but the experiences are much the same, right? Like we’re always on heightened awareness for those perceived rejections. And so in these moments, right, with that social protection system, the brain goes into self preservation mode. And this can bring many unwanted effects, right, so it can be protective, but it comes with some liabilities. So it can include micro awakening at night, as that brain remind remains on high alert for threats. So think about having an argument with someone that you care about. And have you noticed you have a hard time getting to sleep or, you know, you notice that your mind keeps turning back to the situation. So this is the brain trying to understand the situation makes sense of it. It’s it’s kind of rehearsing the situation trying to find another solution. This is the stress response in action. And it also keeps us on heightened alert, like what if it could happen again, there’s also social evasion and depression. So we just try and pull away from people because it hurts.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:23
So there’s social isolation, loneliness, and of course, those are contributors to depression, because we’re staying stuck in our own pain and not getting the value of perspective and connection and love. As an antidote to that difficult experience. We also see various forms of narcissism. And this can be really toxic. In our society, we’re seeing higher levels of narcissism all over the place. This can also sadly, result in suicide is also been linked to mass shootings. So when we think about some of these modern day plagues around, you know, mass shootings, higher rates of suicide, we’re seeing that a ton in our society right now. We always want to go to some of these root causes, right? There will always be surface correlates and factors that may be valuable to take a look at. But we need to pay attention to what’s happening to our social fabric. What’s happening to our sense of belonging? Do we do we maintain social bonds? Do we belong to cohesive families where we can get support and love and encouragement? And, you know, I, I think that there’s a strong case to be made for the fact that the breakdown of our family and our communities is a big driver of some of these, some of these horrible consequences of rejection and perceived rejection. So the other truth that we want to pay attention to and this is our third point, is that we all very In our need for belonging, right, like there’s individual differences. Of course, we all need that sense of belonging. But the degree to which we have those needs really varies. So independent of societal conditions, people differ greatly from one another in their need for belonging, which, like most things, is a result of a multitude of individual genes intricately interacting with personal experience. And so for example, early childhood attachment insecurity, influences the development of brain regions associated with avoidance and sensitivity to threat. So this can lead to the development of extreme need for belonging. So we think about that anxiously attached child may really have a very strong drive for belonging, sometimes this can show up as fitting in, but there’s anxiety related to that. And so that would, we would think about that as an intense need for belonging. And so as a result, we can get stuck on this need. And again, this might be where you could see someone going for that false substitute of trying to fit in instead of really seeking meaningful belonging. And so our last point, and I hope this can be practical application for you, is we really want to look at increasing belonging in your life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:22
And so I’ve got three recommendations for you here. The first one is attend to stressors that you can impact that you can really have an influence on. So think about your finances. Are you taking on unnecessarily financial unnecessary financial burdens, and thinking about what that does to your stress level, that’s going to make it hard for you to, to really seek out meaningful belonging and you can get stuck in not fitting in or hustling. Think about that in terms of rest? Are you getting adequate rest? Do you have self care practices, daily consistent self care practices? Do you have job stability, do you maybe need to seek out more job stability, so that we can again, attend to the stressors in your life and lower some of the intensity of those stressors that you might be able to impact. The second recommendation is to repair your relationships. So relationship repair aimed at cultivating love connection and intimacy can be incredibly helpful for having a greater sense of belonging in your life. So increasing belonging really hinges on the distance between your need for belonging, and just how unmet this need is in your daily life. So when we what we see is that the highest levels of loneliness, are correlated to the highest unmet need for belonging. Now, that makes perfect sense. And that the greater the discrepancy between a person’s need to belong, and their satisfaction with their personal relationships, the higher the level of loneliness, and the lower the level of life satisfaction in their daily lives.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:06
So these are all drivers of wellbeing. And so if you don’t have much satisfaction in your most important relationships, you’re going to have a low sense of belonging, you’re also going to have lower life satisfaction. And so we think about a target that can really help you to improve, you know, both your sense of belonging, and your life satisfaction, which all drives greater well being. And that is repair your relationships, work on strengthening your relationship. So if you recognize, gosh, like, the marriage is kind of hollow, or we don’t really connect, or we argue all the time, let that be your focus, put in effort and time and energy to that. It might feel like a big uphill battle, initially, but that’s where you get the most bang for your buck, right? Like, repairing your most important relationships can have an exponential effect, on not only your sense of belonging, but also your well being and life. And so to me, that’s, it just feels like a no brainer, but you know, we we tend to resist some of those activities, unfortunately. And then the third recommendation that I have for you is to increase the quality of your connections. So simply living with someone does not guarantee that connection needs are being met, right, like plenty of people can attest to that. So it’s the quality of the connections that really matters for predicting loneliness, not the quantity of connections, or even the proximity of connections. And so think about ways that you can cultivate high quality connection. Think about that with colleagues at work. Think about that in your meetings, like are you connecting? Are you developing friendships? You don’t have to be best friends with folks at work. But do you have high quality connections? Do you care for people that you work with? And same at home? Right? Are you cultivating meaningful connection? Are you really getting to know your children? Are you curious? about their lives. Are you curious about your partner’s lives? Thinking about that meaningful time with friends, you know, think about activities that, that cultivate connection and intimacy, right. So I have a friend that we like to hike together, those are really awesome because we’re out, and We’re adventuring. And we’re doing fun things, but we also have the best conversations. And so those are activities that really drive connection and intimacy. It also drives this second thing to think about, which is fun and adventure. Like, are we getting out and having fun, these are really powerful ways to create a greater sense of belonging in our in our relationships.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:43
So head on over to the website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode, you can find that at www.drmelissasmith.com/207-truebelonging. So one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/207-truebelonging. So I will link to any resources on the show notes. And of course, I would love it if you wouldn’t mind reviewing the podcast on Apple or Spotify. And of course, join me @dr.melissasmith on Instagram. I always have additional resources every single day related to the podcast and I would love to connect with you there. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai