A ‘Sense of Belonging’ refers to a feeling of being accepted by a person or group of persons.
According to Abraham Maslow, the need to belong was a major source of human motivation and was the need that immediately succeeded physiological and safety needs in the hierarchy.
This is not only a feeling within us, but also something that is influenced and developed by social constructs and conditioning, especially with the advancement of the internet and social media.
What is interesting about this feeling is that we are able to feel it’s absence more acutely than when the need for acceptance is fulfilled.
The need to belong is the reason humans socialise with each other. When we belong to a group, we feel as if we are a part of something bigger and more important than ourselves, and are willing to ‘conform’ or adapt in order to remain a part of the group. We all have the tendency to evolve our behaviour to experience the sense of emotional security and safety that also comes from being part of the group. Being accepted may also facilitate an understanding of the self that is more positive especially when we are part of the accepted social norms. It is important to draw out a distinction between belonging and fitting in. Fitting in means altering aspects of one’s core self or beliefs in an effort to be accepted. However, belonging happens when you are accepted into a group for exactly who you are, where there is a shared understanding, resonance and way of being. Someone is more likely to feel protected, respected, loved, supported, and valued when they feel accepted for who they are and don’t have to pretend to be part of the group.
The sense of belonging is linked to our physical and mental well-being. This desire to belong or the need to feel that acceptance is also present in the workplace. Similar to how students seek to fit in at school, employees want to fit in at work. They desire praise and acceptance of leaders, managers, and other employees. Research suggests belongingness increases employees’ cooperative behaviour. It is important to work to build inclusive cultures and values at the workplace to ensure that the need for belonging or feeling accepted is fulfilled in order to maintain a healthy and safe working environment.
Since we are all different, the things that help each of us feel accepted will differ. Common mental health challenges that are linked to a lack of belonging include depression, anxiety, and suicide. These situations can cause social behaviours that interfere with a person’s ability to connect with others, leading to a cycle of occurrences that weaken a person’s sense of belonging even further.
Remember, your feelings are valid, and you are not alone. You matter! If you find yourself struggling to experience a sense of belonging or battling loneliness reach out to a professional for mental health support. It’s okay to reach out.