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    Belonging during the Holiday Season

    It’s November, and the holiday season is upon us! Depending on our family or cultural traditions, recent life changes, and success in navigating relationships, these next couple of months can provide abundant opportunities for connection, significant challenges in feeling disconnected, and a wide range of experiences in between. Through it all, no matter our stage in life, we all have the opportunity to see the ways in which we belong this holiday season.

    So what is belonging? Belonging is “a subjective feeling that one is an integral part of their surrounding systems, including family, friends, school, work environments, communities, cultural groups, and physical places.” Checking in with yourself, and thinking ahead to the holiday season, do you feel as if you already belong?

    If you answered “yes” to this question – great! It is likely that you already feel comfortable being your authentic self and have learned how to share that with others in your life, cultivating a shared sense of appreciation and connection.

    If you answered “no” to this question – let’s talk more as we realize together than while some experience a feeling of belonging within and around them all the time, there are many who do not. Traumatic events, lack of reliable connections, addiction, illness, and other significant life changes can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves and others. It is in these times I encourage you (if you have not already) to seek assistance from one of our Alpine Lakes Counseling Center clinicians.

    In times when we feel as if we don’t belong, cultivating that felt sense within us is still possible. First and foremost, we begin by remembering the ways in which we belong to ourselves. As a starting point I invite you to take time (as you read these words) to think about who you are and gather the feeling and essence of your whole self in this moment. Much beyond what has happened to you in the past, the family roles you play (as sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent), who you are as a friend or co-worker, or how you share your life with others, what are the qualities that at your best are naturally expressed within you? Are you happy and joy-filled? Are you sensitive and gentle? Are you in action with continuous momentum? Are you constant and grounded? Take just a few moments to gather the authentic qualities of your whole self as a feeling within. If you like, write down a few words that capture those qualities.

    With these qualities fresh in your mind, think about how you respond to them and express them in your connection with others. Are you open to sharing these qualities you enjoy about yourself? Are there some that perhaps you hold back because they are not appreciated or honored by others? Are there qualities that you don’t like within yourself that cause you to withdraw or hide part of yourself? Seeing it all, I invite you to practice self-love and self-compassion by reciting statements of affirmation and expansion to yourself using the qualities you’ve identified above. For the sake of this example, we’ll use the following five qualities as an example: Sensitive, Good Listener, Intelligent, Caregiver, Advocate. While sitting in a comfortable space or standing in front of a mirror, place your hand on your heart and say to yourself, “I am Sensitive, but that’s not all. I am a Good Listener, but that’s not all. I am Intelligent, but that’s not all. I am a Caregiver, but that’s not all. I am an Advocate, but that’s not all.” Listen to the words you hear and feel them deeply within you. Allow yourself to consider what more “but that’s not all” brings to mind. To the best of your ability, fully embrace and accept all you are in this moment.

    In her book, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown shares “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

    As you prepare to “be who you are” this holiday season, I invite you to belong to yourself first. Begin there in embodying and expressing your authentic self to yourself. As you encounter others, trust that your authentic self is enough and is worthy of sharing with others. If negative thoughts, words, or actions of conflict separate you from yourself or others, take a few moments to look through a window or walk outside in nature. Watch the leaves falling from the trees and join in the natural process of letting go. Let go of trying too hard. Let go of negative memories and hurt from the past. Let go of the thoughts and emotions that no longer serve you. Let go of others’ expectations. And just as the trees are drawing in nutrients from the leaves and ground to reenergize their trunks and branches, go deeper within yourself and draw in the nutrients of self-care, self-compassion, and self-love you need to rejuvenate and live as your authentic self.

    In closing, I’ll offer the following quote from Ernest Gaines, “We all have much more in common than we have difference. I would say that about all people all over the world. They don’t know how much in common that they have.” This statement reminds me of our shared humanity and the ways in which we all sometimes experience happiness and connectedness, and the ways in which we sometimes experience struggle in grief, loneliness, self-worth, and in relationship with ourselves or others. This holiday season, I invite you to seek meaningful connections with yourselves and experience belonging in the ways that are available to you in the moment. May we all find the ways in which we belong to ourselves and with others this holiday season.

    Be well,

    Beverly Reimer, Intern

    References:

    Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the heart: mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience (First edition.). Random House.

    Hagerty, B. M., Lynch-Sauer, J., Patusky, K. L., Bouwsema, M., & Collier, P. (1992). Sense of belonging: a vital mental health concept. Archives of psychiatric nursing, 6(3), 172–177.