We humans are sociable creatures. A sense of belonging is fundamental to our wellbeing. A simple hello from a stranger can go a long way to lift our spirits, just as much as a dismissive eye-roll can do the opposite. The truth is, loneliness is fertile earth to a depression. The less welcome we feel, the greater our urge for company. This urge will do more good than harm. It will lead us to seek out the strangest of bedfellows and in our desperation it will even repel the ones we look to attract. So, how do we create a sense of belonging? This has been a question on the lips of many of my clients, a lot of whom have come to me whilst suffering from long bouts of depression instigated by the instability of a global lifestyle. Many Third Culture Kids or migrants may find this article of particular interest as many of them struggle to fully belong to any of the countries that they are associated with. Others, people whom deem themselves to be outcasts, or simply ones who have a hard time adjusting themselves of late, may also find this article useful. You are all welcome here.
I want to anchor this article to a fundamental theory of belonging. Therefore, I must introduce Nira Yuval-Davis. Nira Yuval-Davis is a professor at the University of East London and a prominent writer about citizenship, migration and gender relations. She theorizes in her book Politics of Belonging that there are three ways in which we create a sense of belonging. I introduce each of them in the following section of this article and simply demonstrate how they can apply to people suffering from a depression associate to loneliness or from a feeling of rudderlessness associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (Third Culture Kids).
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The first way a sense of belonging is created is through the individuals own notions of his or her identity as well as the emotional connects they have to the place in question. Who one sees themselves as can be a question that is particularly hard for Third Culture Kids to answer. For them it may be that they feel like they are from all of their countries and none of their countries at the same time. The pertinent question here would be how willing are they to commit to this one place without feeling like they will lose the part of their identity associated to their other homes? This is where the sense of belonging becomes difficult for Third Culture Kids as they have competing urges, one being the urge to belong to a certain place and the other being the urge to maintain an association with all of their other countries. Discussing these competing urges in therapy sessions can be one way of forming an understanding around the issues. Another way would be through self-reflection. The emotional connection aspect of the first way of creating a sense of belong is considerably easier to achieve. As Yuval-Davis theorizes, the more one sets out emotional anchors in forms of attachments to friends and places in the place in question, the higher the likelihood of feeling as if you belong. With this said, people who are suffering from a depression related to loneliness can quickly improve their mood by seeking out new emotional attachments (activities, social excursions etc).
The second way a sense of belonging is created is through social practices. By immersing yourself in the local culture and learning how things are done there, how conversations are carried, how people introduce themselves and what they do during cultural ceremonies etc. A simple way of improving your sense of belonging and alleviating your feelings of loneliness is to participate in cultural programs in your area and to be with people who have lived there for a long time and adjust your social practices to theirs.
The third and final way a sense of belonging is created is by sharing similar values to the people you spend most of your time with. This can seem quite obvious but it is fundamental in achieving a sense of belonging. To live with people or in an area where most of your values are not shared, can be very isolating. Keep in mind that Yuval-Davis wrote this in regards to migrants who have travelled long distances for work or refuge. These are people who may have a different religion, or differing views pertaining to family etc. Simply put, the way to feel like you belong is to find like-minded people and the only way to do this is by actively seeking them out via organisations, social gatherings, activities, clubs and so on. But in order to do this, you must first know what your values are. This can also be examined through therapy sessions or through disciplined self-reflection.
This has been a brief overview of how a sense of belonging is established. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you are currently suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety or from a feeling of displacement associated with a cross-cultural lifestyle (Third Culture Kids or Migrants) feel free to book a session or contact me.
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Philip Andersson – Life Coach
Philip Andersson is a life-coach who is currently studying to become a psychotherapist. He treats people suffering from depression, phobias and anxiety. Having been raised in Hong Kong and having lived in England and Japan as an adult, Philip also treats people who are overcome with feelings of displacement and rudderlessness associated with a global-nomad lifestyle such as Third Culture Kids, Cross Culture Kids, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.
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Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions to people suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety as well as to people who suffer from displacement issues associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (i.e.Third Culture Kids – people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture – and Cross Culture Kids) Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 3-sessions or 5-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.