I’ve been thinking about this need for a while now, analysing it, and trying to understand it. Basically, all humans need it, just like we need food and shelter. Whereas obtaining food and shelter would seem straightforward, finding belonging can be an entirely different matter altogether.
Take for example someone who is a Jehovah’s Witness. If you were born into this high control group it would mean your entire social network would be other Jehovah’s Witnesses. These would comprise of family, friends, acquaintances, your congregation, the elders, the international brotherhood. In short all eight million plus that is reported in the year book as active members of Jehovah’s Witnesses could potentially be known by you, and that exclusive group is your ‘herd’ so to speak. Your sense of belonging to this group is incredibly strong, and in fact that desire of belonging to a special group is strengthened repeatedly and constantly through your years going to meetings, doing field service, and attending larger gatherings like assemblies and conventions. The outside world becomes undesirable and more often than not, entirely frightening.
I do think that assemblies and conventions are the high impact ‘belonging pill’ that JW’s get to emphasize in the biggest boldest letters possible ‘You belong HERE with US’ and for a little while that need feels sated, just like when we have a meal, even if it was really awful.
When you start waking up from the lies and delusions of Jehovah’s Witness teachings, the last question many have asked is ‘where will we go then?’ This is a loaded question – one aspect of the question is purely about belonging. Do you sacrifice your very intelligence, conscience and self-respect in order to maintain that sense of belonging, or do you let it all go and face whatever happens ‘alone’. I say alone in inverted commas because you may not be physically alone at all, but in your mind and your heart your sense of belonging is ripped right out of you. Your entire perspective on life and the world is shattered. Your herd is no longer on your side, but instead is ready to rip your heart out and cause as much emotional pain to you they possibly can, all because you decided that integrity has a higher value than a false sense of belonging.
It is similar to the phrase ‘falling in with a bad crowd’. How many of us in our younger days joined a ‘bad crowd’ simply because we wanted that feeling of belonging? The need is seriously strong, so the pain we feel when losing that sense of belonging is deep and all too real. It is not something we are just going to ‘get over’. There is a period of mourning we go through for the intense loss we have suffered. Our grief can take many forms and we all heal at our own pace. Giving ourselves permission to feel the pain and mourn what we have lost is important, even though what we lost isn’t truly what we thought it was, it doesn’t mean our hearts and minds didn’t think it was the real deal when we were in the group.
A sense of belonging is intricately linked to our self-worth, and we immediately crave and seek that sense of belonging again from somewhere. It is very easy to go straight into any other group just in order to placate the need driving us. Think of being ravenously hungry and making do with stale crackers or grabbing a high sugar snack just to keep going until you get a proper meal. We all know we can’t live on high sugar snacks alone, it’s unhealthy and over time our bodies will show us in a myriad of ways that our food choices were poor. In a similar vein we need to be careful with finding our new ‘herd’. How do we even go about finding a new ‘herd’ anyway?
Integrating back into society as a whole is a very daunting task, but it is doable. One of the first things to explore is finding out who you truly are. Really sit down and get to know yourself. What do you really like, not what you were indoctrinated to like as a Jehovah’s Witness, but what do you, in your heart of hearts really like? Start with the simple stuff, your music, movies, books – how would you describe your style, your taste, your dress sense? What hobbies do you have, if you discarded all your hobbies in your attempt to be more ‘spiritual’ in the eyes of the elders and brothers and sisters, what has always interested you? Make a list if that will help. Jot down ideas as they come to you. The world is open to you now, and though that can be incredibly scary, especially when you were trained from young to view the world as a dangerous place, being able to enjoy the things you were denied can be exciting in its own way.
So, you have been learning about yourself and slowly expanding your horizons, and maybe even joined a club, maybe signed up for dancing lessons – but still your feeling of not belonging eats away you inside. Recognise it for what it is, a simple, basic need that we all have and you have no reason to despair about not finding your herd yet.
The fact is all human beings are linked to each other, we all influence one another is millions of ways, from massive corporations to the little girl down the street who always greets you. We do all belong to each other, obviously we are far closer to some than others, but our feelings of being inescapably alone can be overcome by perceiving what is right in front of us. This entire planet full of people is our ‘herd’. We may like and love certain people in our lives, and perhaps openly detest others, but we all do belong on this blue and green and brown ball. Opening yourself up to the possibilities of being part of everything can be truly liberating. No group or charismatic leader could ever delude us into joining his exclusive group because our self-worth says loud and clear I know I belong, right where I am, with these people I love and choose to be with. I belong here where I help out at the food bank, or the soup kitchen, I belong here where I take care of and love my spouse and my children, I belong here, laughing with my friends at the pub. I belong here with my family, regardless if they are your blood family or not. I belong here, speaking out for those who are silent, working hard at my job, giving my best, enjoying my holiday, running through the forest, hiking up a trail. Whatever you may be doing, accomplishing and striving for. You belong.