Belonging & Fitting In

I was in the middle of writing a blog post when Lowell showed me this section in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. The quote shot straight to a deep place in my soul. Brown had identified and articulated so clearly the struggle I was trying to capture in the post I was agonizing over. I’m abandoning my efforts this morning. Receive rather this from Brene Brown:

“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting is is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

She goes on to explain how she asked a large group of eighth graders to break into small groups and brainstorm the differences between fitting in and belonging. Their insightful answers were spot on.

“Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.” *

Brown’s quote is tucked into a chapter on parenting. She emphasizes the importance of children having a sense that they belong in their own family. For me the issue is broader than parenting or family structure. Belonging and fitting in have been a part of my struggle to settle as an adult wherever I’ve landed.

I’ve been mulling these themes over in my head this week. I’ve been trying to come to a deeper place of acceptance of who I am –even trying to embrace those spaces that still don’t seem to fit in, or those times where I’m still not convinced I belong. I’m afraid I have yet to land on firm conclusions but I invite you into the process. I’m praying for insight. I’m asking Jesus for his opinion on these things. I’m telling my struggle’s story to a few close friends. I’ve met with my soul care provider and mentor, Diann. Certainly the struggle has served as an invitation to trust God in deeper ways and for that I can be grateful.

Brene Brown asked eighth graders, let me ask you. What has been your experience in the difference between fitting in and belonging?

*Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Avery, 2012), 232.

6 thoughts on “Belonging & Fitting In

  1. I began reading B Brown a couple of months ago with The Gifts of Imperfection. I’m currently on ch 6 of Daring Greatly. I’ve gotten a couple of my best friends reading her too. 2 of us are in a tumultuous season right now and are struggling with belonging outside of our immediate family and close group of 4 friends. I have always struggled to “fit in” on the larger scale, but managed to belong to smaller, tight knit groups throughout my life. Only now, as I’m older, do I see that belonging to the smaller groups is the best way to live and fitting in on the larger scale is exhausting and impossible for the long term peace.

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  2. Jonathan has just entered the world of Brene Brown, but I think he’ll be hooked for life. He uses the material with people all the time. He thinks he told me about this fitting in versus belonging bit, but I don’t remember him talking about it.

    I do, however, relate. I never felt I fit in at school during my childhood and adolescence, but I did have a deep sense of belonging in both my nuclear and extended family, and in (most) churches I was a part of. So yes, totally agree they are different, and your discussion here makes the idea of wanting to “fit in” even less palatable than it was before, if it’s all about changing ourselves so that some one will accept us. That sounds really yucky.

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  3. I belong in a church, but I remember 20 years ago coming back to my childhood church after being away for well over a decade. I knew I ‘belonged’, but a lot of others did not and I was largely ignored after polite greetings. I just kept on acting like I belonged, and finally met a few other folks who accepted me as belonging. One of them was what I could call an IT-girl for the church, though she was 70 at the time! Anyway, once she started treating me as belonging, a whole lot of other folks did, too. I talked to the pastor about the problem I had “breaking into” the social life of the church, and he was aware of it, I was not the only person who reported the situation to him. He has made it one of the goals of the church this year, to be a friendlier and more accepting body, and actions are being taken to encourage–not merely dictate–this happening. I do see change, though this church has always had problems with cliques.
    This is a slightly different form of belonging vs. fitting in, because I refused to “fit in” and sort of demanded that I belong. It took more than 2 years before I felt that I was truly accepted as belonging, and even then I obviously did not belong in the minds of some. (Mostly quite wealthy people who weren’t going to accept anyone not introduced at the debutante ball!) It is sad that it took so long. I still keep up ties and friendships in that church, and go occasionally, but I am regularly attending another church that is less wealthy, in a newer part of town, and very open to new people and anxious to have them belong. (I started at this church because it was just a mile away from my job and apartment at the time. It is a long drive now, but this church supports me, so I continue to mostly attend there.)

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    1. This is a very helpful distinction. I’m an ENTP, so I love shredding people’s sacred cows; I also have a very high F, so the ENFP secondary type wants to connect with people, and this is often frustrated when I, smiling, blow up the beloved holy thing in their living room to show them that they were swindled. Hard to belong that way, but much harder to fit in (thank God!).

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