You know that feeling when someone reaches out and invites you to do something? Or when you’re a member of a group, club, or sports team? You feel that you matter, you are important to others and you are accepted. It’s the feeling of belonging.   

We all have an innate need to belong. It’s essential for our wellbeing: finding our people and feeling their acceptance for who we are. We can let our hair down and have no worries about showing our true selves – all parts of ourselves, even the messy parts. We feel included and valued by others, connected and a part of something. There is a sense of security. 

The feeling of belonging is as essential as other basic human needs like water, food, and shelter. Our need for belonging is what drives us to connect with others. 

Social media can connect us and fill our need of belonging… but only sometimes. It can be a place to virtually hang with our friends, share good news and funny memes, and make plans together. A place where we cultivate relationships. It’s our community, and can bring us all the good feelings of being a part of something.   

But sometimes social media can show us when we don’t belong. We may or may not know if we aren’t included in a get-together, but jumping on social media definitely lets us know. And our natural curiosity causes us to watch the occasion and constantly check out everyone’s location–all while we might be sitting alone in our room. This only increases our bad feelings of not being included. It can be painful. Again, like pouring salt into a wound. We talk a lot about FOMO (fear of missing out) but it’s not just FOMO, it’s also fear of not belonging. When we aren’t included by our peers, it can feel like we don’t matter, and our feelings of belonging take a hit. 

There are some people who use social media as a vehicle to harass, make fun, and down right make us feel like we don’t belong. Bullying runs rampant on social media because it’s easier to be mean or tear people down online than in person. There are less inhibitions to say and do things that hurt others because it is not a face-to-face interaction. It is so hard to escape and can greatly impact our mental health.  

Not all bullies intend to bully. Some just go along even though it wasn’t their idea or intention to bully someone else. They may feel they will be rejected by their current group of friends if they don’t partake in the kindless act. They fear if they speak up and don’t join in they may be excluded from the group. OR they may be next in line. Either way their belonging becomes at risk.

Others are compelled to comment when no comment was asked. They feel others must know their opinion when it wasn’t solicited. If the comment or opinion is positive or supportive, then great. How nice to put something out there in cyber space and get back some kudos. But when the tone of the comment is negative, it can cause the same result as bullying behavior, the feeling of ‘I don’t belong.’

We know bullies can be hurting in some way themselves. They may have problems at home, being treated unkindly by someone else, have low self-esteem, or a need to exert control or power because they feel powerless in some way. 

Whether it is bullying or a few unkind words said in cyberspace, it can be painful for the person on the receiving end. It can have a lasting negative impact on our mental health. I know it doesn’t take the hurt away, but know that their negativity is really a reflection of them not you. 

How Can I Help Myself in the Moment?

Use your interests to find your people. Be curious and try new things. It could be a sport or activity you like to play, a club, a group where you can use your creative side, arts, or music.  

Ask yourself, am I passively scrolling or am I actively interacting with others? Scrolling and peering into others’ lives can bring some bad feelings because comparison is most likely what’s happening, not connecting. This can bring feelings of loneliness and isolation. Actively interacting with others is what can enhance feelings of belonging. 

Ask yourself,  am I spending more time online with my friends than in person. We need face-to-face interactions to foster close relationships.  

Ask yourself if your sense of belonging is taking a hit when engaging with social media. If the answer is yes, make a conscious effort to change your use. If you know you weren’t invited to a party, then don’t watch it happening. I know this can be sooooo hard. But would you rather satisfy your curiosity, or save your mental wellbeing?

How Can We Get Support From Others?

Ask a friend to venture out with you and join a club or group together. 

Family can be one of the most important places we feel we belong. And sometimes rituals and traditions with those we are close to can bring the feeling of belonging into our lives. Talk with your family about how you can create traditions–and make sure you’re practicing the ones you already have established and are important to you. 

And when it comes to social media, let someone know when you’re hurting about not being invited to something. Talk about it! Ask them to do something with you as a distraction, instead of watching and following everyone’s location. 

When we feel we matter, are accepted and have a sense of belonging, our feelings of security and self confidence increase, helping us move through life’s difficulties with more ease.

Caring about YOU and your mental health,

Susan

Read the next blog in the series: Vocalize: Finding the Language to Ask for Help