Belonging and its Role in Confidence and self Esteem

A sense of belonging is the most crucial element in the confidence triangle. Try as we might, we cannot function without others as we are social beings. From the moment we are born and bonded with our parents, we begin the social cycle of inclusion: in family, relatives, schools, friends, relationships, associations and work. There is no escaping others because they validate our existence and reinforce our culture and identity. Others act as mirrors which reflect our existence. When this reflection is confusing, or does not match with our own self perception, it leads to isolation or an identity crisis.

Other people’s attention, recognition, praise, affection and love are lifelines to our endeavours, reinforcing who we are and giving us the purpose to continue with our lives. When others we care about reject us, we are likely to reject ourselves too, internalise the hate and spew it back on the family and community in the form of deviant, selfish behaviour. Most juvenile and adult problems are caused by a deep sense of not belonging to anyone or anything. Such people are most likely to have experienced rejection of some sort in childhood or in a relationship which leaves them with a sense of isolation, probably a desire to be destructive and a feeling of not having anyone on their side who really cares about them or their future.

For example, this bright, but sensitive, young 14-year-old girl was always being called nasty, hurtful names because of her surname. She had a terribly low opinion of herself and didn’t see herself advancing far, despite her abilities. Having being picked on constantly, she felt ‘unloved’ and ‘lonely’ and wanted to leave school as soon as she could. She saw the greatest event in her life as ‘getting married to a nice guy who loves me as I am’.

Lack of Affirmation
Her peers’ cruel behaviour did not affirm who she was so she had begun to reject herself too, rating herself very low in esteem and refusing to acknowledge that her surname had little to do with her looks or talent, or that she could still be anything she wanted. As the social mirror did not reflect her self-perception, she was very hurt and began to reject her schoolwork, precipitating her steady decline. This girl’s negative feelings came as no surprise but they are disturbing. At this age, the friendship of her peers and being considered ‘one of the gang’ are very important in her development. If she is continually teased and rejected it makes it difficult for her to appreciate herself and her potential or to recognise herself as someone worthy of respect and love.

In fact, one of our worst emotions come from a sense of total rejection by those whom we care about most, hence the traumatic effect of any broken relationship which is not mutual. The sense of not belonging is very obvious when a relationship breaks. The loss of a partner is an immediate loss of self-esteem. We suddenly cease to be attractive in our own eyes and we do not care about anything for a while. We become non-persons whose value has dramatically fallen. Yet we would still be very desirable to an awful lot of other people. At these times, it is pointless telling someone to ‘snap out of it’ or that ‘things will get better’. Their sense of exclusion and lack of belonging mean that they cannot see what well meaning advisers can!. They have to go through a painful period of denial, acknowledgement, acquiescence and finally full acceptance of their situation before they can begin to come to terms with the loss and rebuild their self-esteem.

Some people never reach this third stage of acceptance and remain bitter and vengeful for years. They cling to the past because the memories are so painful they are difficult to relinquish. The present means little to them because the past remains unresolved. By hanging on to the pain, as hurtful as it might be, they still have a ’cause’, a status and a ‘good reason’ to do nothing to change their situation. However, along the way they lose their sense of purpose in relentless negativity and create an emotional void which gradually affects their capacity to develop truly positive relationships or to trust others.

Anxious and Isolated
So, a sense of not belonging, especially with those who matter to us, destroys our confidence utterly because it is the reactions of others which moulds, confirms and maintains our self-image. Who we are and where we belong are dictated by our cultural history, individual background and significant others around us and when they cease to care, so do we, which has the biggest effect on our personal value. If our loved ones do not share our perspectives, hopes or aspirations, we become more anxious, isolated and unproductive. We cannot achieve our potential because our ambition disappears too.

A sense of belonging to someone or something is therefore our greatest need. We identify a niche for ourselves, according to the roles of those around us, and take on that persona. That is why two people cannot occupy exactly the same position in any family, friendship or work unit because a sense of belonging depends on individual uniqueness. There would be problems of social and personal identity. Our own confidence is controlled by this feeling of belonging because most of our actions are geared to align with, or to disrupt, our environment, depending on our sense of security. If it is strong because we feel wanted, there are fewer hang ups, as we feel less threatened by others. If it is weak, we are plagued by insecurity and find it really hard to be positive. When we feel isolated, insecure or rejected, our self-esteem takes a nosedive.