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“I Don’t Belong” – Can’t Find Your Place in the World?

Andrea M Darcy

Constantly left feeling, “I don’t belong?” Even when surrounded by so-called ‘friends’?

What is belonging?

Belonging is defined as feeling part of a group, whether that is a family, a set of friends, or a workplace.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his famous model about human motivation called ‘the Hierarchy of Needs’, saw ‘love and belonging’  as so important he placed them third only to our basic ‘physiological needs’ like food and shelter, and ‘safety needs’ like employment and good health.

But in our modern world, belonging can feel hard to come by, and has perhaps taken on new meaning. When we talk about our desire to belong, it’s not the sort of thing joining a group can fix, certainly not another Facebook group.

Many of us aren’t even sure what ‘feeling part of something’ means. In a world where we can connect with anyone, anytime, we have a restless, empty feeling we want answered. And for some of us, what we are really saying is, “I feel lonely, all the time, and I don’t know why’.

What is ‘belongingness’ to you personally?

It can help to look at what you are really talking about when you say ‘I don’t belong’.

For example, if you are saying “I don’t belong” and what you you find you mean is, ‘I don’t feel like anyone values my input’, this can immediately give you new goals. You can start to look for new friends as a starting point, or look for a job where you skills are valued. 

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i don't belong

by Freddie Marriage

If you discover that when you say “I don’t belong”  you really mean you want to be constantly approved of or liked? Or have 100 thousand Instagram followers? 

Then you might start to realise this is not the healthiest form of belonging. It’s not realistic for everyone you meet to like you, or healthy, particularly if you are being something other than yourself to win approval.

And if you really are saying, “I am terribly lonely and can’t connect with others“, then it’s time to dig deep and look at the root causes. 

How did I end up someone who feels “I don’t belong?”

Feeling you don’t belong is a belief. And negative beliefs tend to come from negative childhood environments and experiences.

Childhood trauma.

Things like sexual abuse are often behind a feeling we don’t belong. It leaves us mired in shame, and feeling flawed and unloveable. How can we feel we belong if deep down we feel like a monster? It also destroys our sense of self. To belong, we need to know who we are, and what we have to offer.

Adverse childhood experiences.

Also called “ACEs”, they can also leave us with low self-esteem and a weak identity. They include things like neglect, a parent who is an addict or alcoholic or has a mental illness, watching a parent being abused, and your parents divorcing.

Poor parenting. 

You need to have had at last one caregiver as a young child who gave you unconditional love, acceptance, and safety.

If instead your caregiver was inconsistent, or you had to ‘earn’ love, you end up an adult with ‘anxious attachment’. You are still trying to fit into what you think other people see as loveable, never feeling at home in relationships or, indeed, the world.

Can psychological issues and disorders leave you feeling an outsider?

Yes, often.

Things like depression and anxiety can make us feel an outsider because of the shame they can bring. We feel flawed, faulty, not as good as everyone else.

Personality disorders mean you see yourself, others, and the world in a way that is outside the current norm. This can make fitting in really hard.

Autism spectrum disorder can include  needing more order and less emotional input than other people. And environments that others can easily handle can feel too much for your senses. Being so different can leave you feeling an outsider. 

Adult ADHD can also disrupt your ability to feel you belong. In groups you can talk too much or interrupt, no matter how hard you try not to. The end result is you feel a social pariah. And you can give up on things like courses and projects, meaning you take yourself out of groups you were just starting to belong to because you feel too frustrated to continue.

Where does your idea of being part of things come from?

Didn’t have a tough childhood and don’t feel you have a disorder? But still feel like you don’t belong? 

Often the ideas, values, and beliefs we live by, and take for granted, aren’t even our own. They are things we learned from parents and caregivers, or borrowed from partners and peers.

Why does it matter? Because we can be chasing something that isn’t even what we deep down truly want or need. How can we feel we belong anywhere if inside we are going against ourselves?

Belonging and personal values

It can help here to look at your personal values, and how they might give you keys to belonging.

Knowing and following what deep down matters to you leads to meeting people you actually have things in common with, and to making life choices that give you a sense of purpose.  Do you value money, or charity? Adventure, or stability? Are you going to feel you belong in a business setting in the town you grew up in, or on an overseas charity mission?

Belonging – something we find, or something we create?

Writer Toko-pa Turner, in her book Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home , questions the old ideas of belonging as a mythical place we find outside of ourselves.

Instead, she suggests belonging is a skillset we can learn, and that belonging works from the inside out. 

“Our longing for community and purpose is so powerful that it can drive us to join groups, relationships, or systems of belief that, to our diminished or divided self, give the false impression of belonging. But places of false belonging grant us conditional membership, requiring us to cut parts of ourselves off in order to fit in. While false belonging can be useful and instructive for a time, the soul becomes restless.”

She suggests we start with repairing our identities and worth, and our relationships with ourselves, creating belonging within. From there we can find ways to connect our authentic selves with what is around us. With this perspective, we can truly find belonging everywhere.

Time to face the root issues that leave you lonely, disconnected, and feeling like you don’t belong? We connect you with London’s top talk therapists. Or find UK-wide registered therapists on our booking site, along with online counsellors you can work with from anywhere. 

Still have a question about constantly feeling, “I don’t belong”? Or want to share your experience with other readers? Use the comment box below. Note that comments are moderated and we do not allow harassment or advertisements. 


Andrea BlundellAndrea M. Darcy is the editor and lead writer of this site. She studied person-centred counselling and coaching, and likes to write about trauma, relationships, and authenticity.

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Blog Topics: Self Esteem

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