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Belonging Versus Fitting In: There’s a Big Difference.

My Truth: I didn’t belong for most of my life because I tired too hard to fit

The Feeling of Not Belonging (boo!!)

For years I’ve heard this word – Belonging. But, it was not until recently I heard it described in a way that changed everything.

Maybe that sounds dramatic… But this word, with its new definition, had a profound impact on the way I saw the world from then on.  Dramatic or not, the word belong finally means more to me than it used to.

For a good chunk of my life, I have felt as if I did not fit in. I didn’t belong. For myself, it meant I felt like an outsider. A wallflower. Someone perpetually on the sidelines instead of being involved with the group. No matter what I did to fit in, it didn’t work. I did not feel as though I belonged in any one place in particular. 

Looking back it makes sense as to why I have had such a hard time belonging as a recurring theme in life. Especially after my family moved to Oregon in 2016. Once we moved to our new town, it got even harder to fit in – starting from scratch, looking for a place to belong is magnified after uprooting yourself from the only place you’ve ever known regardless of if you fit into that first place or not.

Before moving, I felt inadequate. Nothing I did was ever “good enough” for the people around me. Like when I graduated from college, there were no honors marked next to my name. When I wo

This is something that could have been my own perception, nature vs nurture right here! Or, it could have easily been reality. Either way, I did not feel as if I fit in then. And, Oregon was even more difficult.

Getting Technical – A Story About Belonging vs Fitting In

We moved to a new town and state – Bend, Oregon. When we initially made the move, I naively thought it would result in a new start and I would finally belong. We moved to a community that had a health focus, yet an obsession with beer, and a huge focus on the great outdoors. We enjoy all these things, so belonging only felt natural. Right?

To my disappointment, it did not feel as though we fit in. I was too considered an outsider in a town that took heritage to a whole new level (something I had never experienced before). By not being born and raised in our new town, we were somehow less than. Again, I felt as if I did not belong.

Maybe you have never had trouble fitting in. You could be reading this and thinking I am totally crazy for not understanding the word belonging until now. If that is you – whether you realize it or not – you are very lucky. However, if you’ve read this far, you have likely felt the same way before or at least to a certain degree. 

For myself, belonging – or, rather, not belonging – has been a recurring theme in life. Some of my earliest memories of feeling like an outsider stem from watching my mom and sister cuddle on the recliner while I sat alone on the couch. From my roots, I’ve been an outsider looking in to the family where I didn’t belong. And, it didn’t help that I’m the only redhead in my family. You can say I have felt much like the phrase “redheaded step child” made me feel.

It was not until recently I realized where I belong…

For You – The Technical Part Here

First. Let’s define the two words – belong vs. fitting in. 

Belong: being accepted for who you are. 

Fitting in: acting a specific way to feel accepted. 

Really looking at these definitions, it is clear I have spent most of my life trying to fit in. And, when you are working on trying to fit in:

  • You are not entirely your true self.
  • You watch what you say.
  • You are careful about the words you use.

Can You Relate to This List? 

Elaborating from the list above… There are thoughts you have that you hold back – for fear that you won’t fit it for sharing the opinion of the people around you. You act a specific way to feel accepted by those around you because you want to fit it. All of this means you build a wall around you. It’s not apparent you have done this, but this wall is a way to protect yourself. At the same time, it keeps you from creating real, lasting connections with people.

What’s Happening?

When you act in a way to feel accepted, you are led to believe you belong. But, that is likely not the case. If you put up a front and act a specific way to be accepted then you are not your true self. You can fit in and feel accepted, but this is not what you want. By striving to fit in, you end up feeling as if you are out of place – been there, done that! You may even be fearful for the day you accidentally say something that you had previously held back from the group and now all of a sudden they look at you differently than before… When you finally speak your truth, the thoughts you have previously held back, you are “showing your true colors.”

Showing your True Colors (aka your true self)?

What do I mean by showing your true colors? As you start to feel like you are comfortable enough with someone (or a group of people) then reveal your true thoughts. In a sense, it is as if you are “letting your guard down.” Really, you are revealing your “true self.”

What do I mean by true self? The version of yourself when you are behind closed doors, the one who curses like a sailor, laughs when people fart, enjoys sexual innuendos followed by the phrase “That’s what she said.” Or, the version of you that loves to inappropriately quote TV shows, such as Family Guy, and South Park.

Side note: These are legit examples here. But, ones that I typically do not share with people until I have known them for a while… Some people have known me for YEARS and have never seen this side of me.

Here’s the crazy part: Even though you feel as though you “fit in,” the opposite happens when you reveal your true self. You go from being accepted to rejected. Unfortunately, this can cause you to have internal conflict. Thoughts may swirl in your head, such as Why don’t people like me? Am I good enough? What did I do wrong?

You have finally felt comfortable enough to reveal your true self, but…

You end up being rejected. Talk about a mind f*ck.

Sadly, the worst thing happens here. Now, you want to reject your true self because it has caused you to lose friends (or really just the people you have surrounded yourself with). All along, all you really wanted was to belong. And, you come to discover that being yourself does not allow for that to happen. This provokes a vicious cycle. Striving to fit in by acting in a way that seems to be socially acceptable while your sense of belonging is crushed.

How can you belong when acting like yourself causes you to lose your ability to fit in?

This is when you make the realization that you must always be your true self. If you fit in or not, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are true to YOU. 

Once you are yourself – without trying to fit in – you begin to have a true sense of belonging. In fact, I am speaking from experience here. This is where I found my own sense of belonging. Being true to myself – f-bombs and all – even if it means I don’t always “fit in.”

The truth of the matter, being your true and authentic self feels amazing. And, is wayyy better than pretending to fit in with a group of people who don’t accept you when you show your true colors. Take it from me. Been there, done that. It is a vicious cycle I have repeated over and over again. 

So, ask yourself these questions.

Am I trying to fit in?

Or, am I being true to myself and finding my own sense of belonging?

I hope you are in a place where you belong. It is an incredible feeling once you learn how to get there! In case you need a little guidance to help you on this journey, here are some things you can do. 

Actionable Steps to Finally Start Belonging!

  1. When you are with friends, are there things you think but hold yourself back from saying for fear of how they will react? Hint: If this is your current situation, this is sounding like a “fitting in” situation.
  2. Take some time to be introspective. If your friends would accept you no matter what, how would you act? What would you say?

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