The Montfort Group

Cultivating a Sense of Belonging

A few weeks ago a client came into my office, collapsed onto the couch, and deeply sighed:
“I am so tired of feeling like a foreigner!”. Her words touched a nerve. Her pain and sadness
sounded so familiar. What I recognized was not the struggle of a person who was born in
another country (which I was) and speaks with an accent (which I do). Instead, I could relate to
her hunger to be seen, appreciated, loved, and included. They were looking for a sense of belonging. After all, who doesn’t want to be accepted and be part of something larger than ourselves?! But I also know from experience that
constantly scanning the environment for reassurance that you fit in is truly exhausting and can
take us away from what really matters.

Longing

In his book “A Liberated Mind” (2019), Steve C. Hayes defines belonging as a universal birth
right. We all deserve to be valued and loved regardless of what we look like, or how we think,
or how much we achieve. Belonging is not predicated on exceptionalism; it is not a popularity
contest. While it certainly feels good to receive compliments and praise, being liked and feeling
special, rarely, if ever, move us towards a rich and meaningful life. In fact, if you live in
alignment with who you truly are, there will inevitably be some who won’t like you.
Belonging is an internal, “wordless, embodied” experience but it can be
elusive because our external world often emphasizes separateness over unity. Whole groups of
individuals are pushed to the margins of society simply based on who they are.

Rejection

On a personal level, we sometimes experience the pain of rejection at the hands of the people
in our lives. Holiday gatherings could become awkward when our values and beliefs diverge
from those of our families; we might be judged and even ostracized by our religious
communities for asking questions they deem inappropriate; friends might stop including us
when we no longer share the same interests and/ or social status; unconventional ideas and
nonconforming behaviors could leave us isolated in the workplace. In all those instances, we
internalize the message that we are not accepted because we do not fit in. As a result, we get
caught up in a negative self-story of “I don’t belong because I am not enough”, “I’m not smart
enough, not beautiful enough, not articulate enough, not agreeable enough, not lovable
enough, not (insert your own word) enough”.

Belonging

The good news is that we do not have to be extraordinary or recognized by others to belong.
Belonging is “not a problem to be solved, not a box we check and move on”. It just is, we already have it. We have belonging because we exist.

“Our bodies know that they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless. Guided by longing,
belonging is the wisdom of rhythm. When we are in rhythm with our own nature, things flow and
balance naturally.” J. O’Donoghue
Sometimes life disconnects us from that deep rooted sense of belonging, but we can find our
way back. We can foster belonging from the inside out by focusing on the following:

  1. Self-acceptance – fully and unconditionally accept all parts of yourself, including those
    that have caused shame and inner suffering. We tend to pursue perfection and shun
    characteristics and behaviors that fail to meet some unrealistic and inflated standards.
    Reawakening our sense of belonging requires accepting that we are flawed humans. We
    are both beautiful and unattractive at times, we are intelligent and can make some
    dumb decisions, we can excel and fail, we can be both lovable and hard to love, but we
    are always worthy.
  2. Daily meditation and mindfulness practices – learn to maintain contact with the present
    moment to attune to inner experiences; drop into ordinary moments of love and drop
    out of limiting self-narratives. Mindfulness helps us let go of the struggles and step away
    from our doing mind to connect to something larger than ourselves.
  3. Practice a stance of loving kindness towards self and others daily
  4. Expressive arts and free writing – there’s a plethora of research on the benefits of
    creative expression to process emotions, gain a new perspective and shift thinking
    patterns. Dr. McKelvie points to poetry in particular as an effective
    tool to reconnect with our natural human goodness and satisfy the yearning to belong.

“When you connect with pure awareness and find your natural goodness, something larger than
yourself, when you connect with your birthright to belong, you don’t have to determine whether
you’re good enough or not.”
Meg McKelvie, Ph.D.

Gergana Markov, MBA, MS, LPC

Gergana Markov, MBA, MS, LPC

I am a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. I received my Masters of Science in Counseling from Southern Methodist University and also hold a Masters in Business Administration from Georgia State University. I had a successful career in real estate acquisitions, corporate marketing, and advertising prior to becoming a counselor. My clinical training and experiences include counseling individuals, couples, and groups in various treatment settings, including private practice, community clinics, and hospitals. I am an EMDR trained therapist and utilize trauma-informed interventions in my practice. Additionally, I have specialized training in parent-child dynamics, gender and sexuality issues, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Safe Conversations for couples and communities. I am also a passionate LGBTQ+ ally.

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