Fitting in and belonging

I initially created this blog months ago but never posted, although I must have composed a hundred different posts in my head during this time. More recently, I was encouraged to begin a blog as part of a Twitter Blog Challenge and have composed over a dozen more mental posts this past week alone. Getting something on screen however, has been more difficult. 

Deciding what this post, and the blog as a whole, would specifically be about, stirred decades-long conflict about identity and deciphering where I fit in. Am I writing as the person with lived mental health experience or the one with a psychology honours degree? As a former endorsed enrolled nurse or a student registered nurse? Or perhaps as the emerging clinical and cognitive neuroscience researcher who’s career was unexpectedly cut short?

The people I interact with the most on Twitter are professionals with established careers. My qualifications so far are probably a fairly unique combination, however I am far from experienced and only beginning the registered nursing journey. Where do I fit in and what if my thoughts and opinions are completely wrong because I am lacking experience? These thoughts are wonderful fuel for anxiety.

When you are unsure if you fit in so you stand awkwardly at the back of the group.
Photo from my Flickr

Throughout her work [1], Brené Brown suggests that when we try to fit in, we shape and mould ourselves to fit with what we perceive others want. We think there is a need to have a certain characteristic(s) otherwise we will not be accepted into that group. The concept of fitting in therefore, is understandably linked to social connection [2]. For me, it has also been related to loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Rather than trying to fit in, Brené Brown believes belonging is a more genuine and helpful practice.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

Brené Brown. 2017. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House.

Earlier versions of this post did not start as something about fitting in or belonging, however the metamorphosis my writing has undertaken has perhaps lead me to the perfect starting point for this blog. My lived experiences are continually evolving and shaping my reemerging professional interests. This is my current area of expertise. 

I have shared only ‘need to know’ snippets of my story with those in my life, other than the health professionals who have helped with my recovery. I have always been wary about stigma and discrimination and have had a disastrous experience with disclosure. Much of this comes back to wanting to fit in (and previously, a very large dose of social phobia). The idea of sharing leaves me incredibly vulnerable and scared so I have mostly avoided this, leaving a heavy burden weighing on my mind, which I would like to reduce.

I hope writing this blog will change my relationship with the anxiety I experience about potentially and actually sharing my story and I will be able to foster my own sense of belonging, while sharing how this has shaped my journey back to nursing and the nurse I will become.

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness – an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.

Brené Brown. 2017. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House.

Footnotes and references

  1. I do not have a specific reference for this, however if you pick up any of Brené Brown‘s books you will find this is a common theme throughout her work. Brené’s TED Talks provide a great introduction to her work as well.
  2. Walton, GM, Cohen, GL, Cwir, D & Spencer, SJ. (2012). Mere Belonging: The Power of Social Connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3), 513–532. doi: 10.1037/a0025731