“When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love.”
My first day of highschool I wore a green and white-striped shirt with a BIG watermelon across my chest. It was from my newly-found favorite store, Urban Outfitters (heard of it?), and I was obsessed. I thought it was the perfect representation of who I was; a non-conforming public school girl who had decided to go to a small private high school 30-minutes away to pursue my dreams of becoming the first female hockey player in the NHL. I thought people would appreciate my unique sense of style and think that I was different and “cool.” Instead, I was subsequently labeled “watermelon girl” for the first few months of my highschool career.
As is the case for many teens, high school was my first experience feeling the difference between fitting in and belonging. Psychologists like Heinz Kohut have been studying the feeling of belonging for decades. Feeling a sense of belonging, or a sense of connection with others, is actually one of the most important core needs of the self. Feeling like you belong with others has a huge impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
Research has shown that feelings of loneliness and isolation can cause serious health issues such as anxiety, depression, and chronic physical pain. On the contrary, feeling a strong sense of belonging amongst the people you spend the most time with can help eliminate feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, ultimately eliminating the potential for chronic disease in the long-run. In later posts I will go deeper into the research on interpersonal neurobiology and the role healthy relationships play on our health and wellbeing. But for now, let’s take it back to high school.
Desperately trying to fit in after the whole “watermelon girl” incident, I begged my mom to buy me a collared shirt and North Face jacket. My “unique sense of style” felt suddenly isolating and idiotic. I grew anxious coming into school, hoping that my efforts to fit in would eventually make me feel the sense of belonging that I was seeking. What was really happening, as the above Brene Brown’s quote emphasizes, was self-betrayal.
Seeking a sense of belonging by trying to fit in through material things like clothes is something we all do. When we trade in our own values for the sake of fitting in (or in this case, a watermelon shirt for a collared one), we can feel that subtle hint of self-betrayal. On the other hand, when we feel a sense of belonging, we feel comfortable expressing our truest forms of self. We are able to be goofy, to be passionate, and to feel heard and seen without the need to change our external appearance.