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Longing for Belonging

It’s the beginning of Fall, the usual time for transition and new beginnings. I see people all around me gearing up for classes. The classes are coming in all shapes and sizes this year—virtual and in person, hybrid and pure, solo and shared. Seems everyone around me, even if they will be quarantining at home, is trying to find a group to whom they belong. For some, these places of belonging will be school-related or friend-related. For others, belonging is being part of a task or work organization—volunteered or paid. For others still, a sense of belonging arises from being part of some group that is working for a meaningful cause. For all, in this time of racial unrest and hateful discrimination, belonging is a deep and abiding ache to be seen and to be valued as humans and citizens. In theory and in reality, there are lots of potential homes for belonging.

Psychologists tell us the need to belong—to feel safe and part of some social group or connection—is a basic and powerful need (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We are fundamentally wired to be in connection with others. It makes sense. Our survival since the time we were born depends on being connected to others who care. The deep-seated call for belonging is what makes us ache when it is hard to find.

In this transitional period of my life (that I have learned to call “semi-retirement”), I feel a deep longing for belonging. Where work and my work colleagues were once important harbors and energy sources for me that I could count on, these groups are harder to access. And when I do engage with work-related activities I feel that I am on the outside and less relevant, which only makes the ache to belong more acute. Added onto this feeling of lost belongingness is the isolation imposed by the pandemic. Even when I tell myself, “but I am so relatively privileged in so many ways, by my skin color, my class, my education etc.,” it does not diminish the longing to belong.

So what can I do to reduce this sense of longing? How can I (or maybe you?) work toward belonging in this time of COVID19 where given my risk factors, I need to stay close to home and pretty secluded?

  1. Tend to mind matters. Pay attention to those moments when I do feel “a part of something where people care”. I know too well the impacts of how what we pay attention to deeply affects our bodies and the stories we activate in our lives. I need to call up, savor, elaborate moments when I am or have been in safe harbors of belonging.

  2. Initiate new connections. This is harder than I could have imagined, especially given I spend so much time writing and talking about high quality connections. I know what I am “supposed to do” to connect, but in reality the humps of awkwardness, shyness, fear of rejection can delay me taking the first steps. I have to keep reminding myself to “show up” and “take the initiative”, as well as remembering that this is as important as getting exercise, getting good sleep, or eating a nutritious meal!

  3. Reboot “old” or dormant connections. I am 68. Fortunately I have lots of life experiences of belonging. There are all kinds of ways I could reconnect to old friends or groups as ways to re-ignite sites of old belonging. It was actually this possibility that prompted me to reach out to a pal I had for many years who I met in the 4th grade. It was a wonderful conversation and perhaps a new, rekindled site of belonging.

  4. Get over myself. Even writing this blog feels self-indulgent at a time when our earth (and its people) are screaming for care. I know from so many sources that the best way to feel a connection to humanity (and beyond) is to serve others. I know this at so many levels, yet I must confess, it is sometimes hard to do.

I wrote this blog to wrestle with “my own stuff” but also to invite consideration of the longing for belonging that each of us might harbor during these times but also in more “regular” times. If you have additional thoughts about how to quell the longing for belonging, I would welcome a conversation. Just email me at

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529

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John Paul Stephens
John Paul Stephens
Sep 08, 2020

Jane, thanks for this humble (and humbling) set of reflections. I think that so many of us, including myself, are wrestling with these same thoughts. Mining our own experience to help serve others is a good start to finding connections once again.

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