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Belonging and Feeling Safe

Brené Brown defines Belonging as the “innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because, true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

For this to happen, we need to feel safe, we need to know we will not be “attacked,” “killed”, “kicked out” of our “tribe”. I place inverted commas because all these do not take place at a physical level, but it takes place at an emotional level with criticism, rejection, being laughed at. The body survival system will kick in to prevent all the above so we feel safe and can “survive”. This is a primal fear that is triggered to encourage our survival as human beings. For this safety to develop, we need to develop trust in ourselves and in others.

A sense of belonging is more than just being acquainted with other people. It is centred on gaining acceptance, attention and support. And this need for acceptance, attention and support is a very primal need to feel safe. We feel safe if we are part of our “tribe”. Anyone outside a tribe is at risk. They have no one to protect them. No one has their back. They are not wanted or supported. Thus, we can see how our sense of safety is connected very strongly with our desire to belong. In order to belong, many of us strive to conform to the standards and norms of the group. I find this at times a conflicted situation because for some this comes at a price of losing their voice. We get a sense of belongingness and safety but we are not true to ourselves. It creates what Scott Peck calls pseudocommunity where a group/family appears to be functioning smoothly but individuality, intimacy and honesty are not welcomed. There is an underlying sense of mistrust, as we are not truly certain what is there, where someone is at, who or what is behind that mask. This mistrust creates a feeling of lack of safety, a sense of conditional acceptance and love. All this leads to feelings of disconnect and loneliness. The very opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

Belonging is that feeling of connectedness to a group or community. It’s the sense that you are part of something. You feel attached, close and thoroughly accepted by your people. However, it only works if we are present authentically and are accepted without judgement. If not, it is just a hollow sense of belonging.

Belonging is a fundamental part of being human: we need people and this need is hardwired into our brain. An MIT study showed that we crave interactions in the same region of our brain as we crave food and another study showed that we experience social exclusion in the same region of our brain where we experience physical pain.

This would explain where many of us would rather live with pseudocommunity and pretense than risk pain. Some of us aggressively force others to bend to what we want and others of us passively bend to what others want (otherwise known as: people pleasers, conflict avoiders…).

So, how do we develop this sense of safety so that we can truly belong. Brown tells us that we need to learn how to trust others and also develop self-trust.

Trusting others

1) Boundaries: You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s okay or not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

2) Reliability: you do what you say you’ll do. This means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

3) Accountability: you own your mistakes, apologise and make amends

4) Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing any information about other people that should be confidential

5) Integrity: you choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them

6) Non-judgement: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgement

7) Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible for the intentions, words, and actions of others.


B Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?

R Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?

A Did I hold myself accountable?

V Did I respect the vault and share appropriately?

I Did I act from my integrity?

N Did I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?

G Was I generous toward myself?

True belonging is not passive. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, to get uncomfortable and to be present with people without abandoning ourselves.

In order to find true belonging in others, we must first belong to ourselves. What is my truth? What’s true for me? What are my boundaries? What are my strengths and limits? And radical acceptance of whatever that is. If we cannot answer these questions for ourselves and many of us can’t, we show up and behave “immature”, “passive aggressive”, with loads of resentments. This happens when we did not know our boundaries until they were crossed, we do not know our needs until they were not met. We end up wanting others to mind-read which is impossible. We need to take responsibility and belong to ourselves first.

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