Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Belonging as Affirmation

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 28, 2010

Joanie, seventy-one, comes in, wearing a red shirt and beige pants, and so was I. She says, “we look alike”, reminding me of Peter Blos, an expert on adolescent development coined the term uniformism to describe the teenager’s need to be just like his peer group. Judith Harris, another authority on adolescents, proposed that peer relationships are more important in character formation than parental values. Joanie continues in the session telling me how she has never “felt a part of anything.” She describes her childhood where her mother was overwhelmed with her five children. Her dad, never had an emotion, “at least not one I could see,” she says, almost as if she is trying to be funny. “I miss not belonging,” she says, causing me to  wonder about her choice of the word “miss”. “It is interesting that you miss something you never had; it is like a yearning, an imaginary experience in which you think belonging would solve your inner discomfort,” I say, not wanting to be too picky about her word choice, but at the same time, wanting to separate out missing from yearning. “Yes, I can see that,” she responds quickly, seeming to have a deep understanding of my point; her projection, or her idea, that she wants to believe that  belonging would solve her issues of painful insecurities. She says “it  is a wish to have an external fix for an internal problem. ” At the same time, Joanie and I both acknowledge that group affiliation can be character affirming. The weaving of the internal and the external are alive in our session today. Our matching color choices made her feel like she came to the right place. She belonged.

3 Responses to “Belonging as Affirmation”

  1. Suzi said

    Beautiful post! I’m so glad you found yourself wearing the same colours. I have recently found out that a very good friend has always struggled to fit in or ‘belong’. I pointed out a tiny tiny couple of reason’s why no one would ever think that. Then I realised that all those things were done so that she may oneday feel as though she might belong somewhere… some how.

    Unlike my friend, I know when I don’t belong. Although that is a terrible state to be in, it causes me to watch and see if I actually WANT to belong in that group.

    I don’t think I truely understand the ‘belonging’ thing. It seems to be a mental thing… just what people think and therefore, do (or behave). I figure I’m a human being so, in that alone, I have a sense of belonging I guess.

    Yeah… I don’t understand lots of terms (words) that we use. They don’t pan out – no one means the same thing when they use the terms so when ever you hear the word ‘love’, ‘friend’ or perhaps ‘belong’, each speaker of those words is thinking of something different to the other. This language is so confusing!

  2. Shelly said

    What a right-on blog. As children in a private school, my sister and I never felt we belonged because our family was not wealthy like the other families. In temple, we also never felt we belonged because our parents didn’t actively participate in temple activities. In high school, we focused on academics instead of attending football games. In university, we didn’t join sororities and lived at home. Now, as adults, my sister and her husband are active members of her temple and their children are wildly popular young adults. However, my husband and my family live in a wealthy community and I still feel that I don’t belong. I still feel lonely. I do have a few close friends, but only one very dear friend who lives very, very far away to whom I can speak my mind. Does one’s upbringing leave such a lifelong impact on one’s ability to form friendships and relationships? What is loneliness about and what does it take to feel that one belongs?

    • Thanks for sharing. One’s upbringing certainly has a huge impact on one’s ability to form friendships and relationships. Loneliness, it seems to me, is a combination of feeling internally defective along with external connections which feel inadequate. Thanks again.

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