We are living in a time when everything conspires to make us feel separate from one another.

Instead of that comfortable feeling of knowing who we are, and being in an environment where our authentic selves are accepted, we are a nation of strangers: moving frequently in search of better jobs or housing, having left behind the concept of the neighborhood or the extended family for that of the nuclear family. We celebrate our rugged individualism while we yearn to be loved for who we truly are, but at the same time making it difficult for anyone to get to know us. Moving fast, we are a target that’s hard for anyone to hit.

Abraham Maslow, the Humanist Psychologist, set up his famous Hierarchy of Needs, placing basic survival needs – oxygen water, food, shelter – at the base of the list. The next level? Belonging.

Anthropologists have found that in societies where shunning is used as a form of punishment the accused frequently goes home, lies down and dies – for no physical reason.

Why is a feeling of belonging so important? It has to do with the fact that we have two basic physical modes: growth and protection. The first is a state where we are healthy. Our minds are functioning well to solve life’s problems, our bodies are repairing themselves, and we are happy.

The second, the protective state, is where we are defending ourselves against an unsafe environment. When we were running from sabretooth tigers this was an efficient system; now our dangers are mostly social and the bodily states that saved our lives, such as running fast, are no longer needed. But our bodies still go into survival mode. The immune system shuts down, cells stop regenerating and our problem-solving prefrontal cortex shuts off and yields to the area of the brain given over to reflexive behavior. There’s not much happiness to be found in that state.

Because we are social animals, needing to cooperate with others in order to survive, not belonging is a very primitive threat.

In order to belong, you must first connect with others. In my years of teaching social networking skills to others, and of watching how people behave in networking groups, I concluded that we are a nation of people with poorly developed social skills that could bail you out of any situation no matter how awkward.

Connecting with others means taking pains to learn about and understand their uniqueness, then supporting them in that role. First you have to find out what their uniqueness is.

The filters we have been building since early childhood already have us screening people out who don’t fit a mold of which we are only dimly aware that we have set up. Those same filters make us feel that sharing who we are makes us too vulnerable. Result? Disconnection.

So here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
When have I felt I truly belonged – in a group, or a setting? (If your answer is “right now,” you can probably stop reading here. But maybe not.)

Why did you belong? Was it the setting, the people? Was it all up to factors outside yourself or did you contribute to it? Was it all a happy accident?

What is the hidden gem you hold in your heart that you wish others recognized and loved you for? Why don’t they recognize it?

All of these questions and more are well worth asking if you want to live a full, rich life.

If any of those goals are important to you, click here to find out how to join us for Sunday Connections, an upcoming ongoing weekly forum for exploring the mysteries of human-to-human relationships within ourselves, with those around us, and with those we have yet to meet.

Sign UP For Sunday Connections Weekly Forum

Lynette Crane M.A., has over forty years experience in the fields of stress management and human growth potential. Her focus has been on “quietly brilliant” people, often introverts and those who enjoy deep thinking, desire a much fuller and richer life, and recognize that it may take a little effort to get there.