Two years ago, at a homeschool conference I attended, I heard Marie Filion Sherwood speak. Marie holds a Master of Science in psychology and is currently working on her Ph.D. She knows all kinds of interesting things about the brain and human behavior.
Something that stuck out to me from one of her many talks that weekend was when she spoke to us about peer dependency in children. She explained to us that when a child’s resource for how they learn about life switches from their parents to their peers several changes occur in the personality and development of said child.
Two key areas that are keenly observable when peer dependency happens are that children lose the desire to be curious and they establish a fear of looking stupid in front of others. They quickly realize that in order to survive in this jungle they need to blend in. Hone their camouflage if you will.
I wonder if adults are suffering the same loss. Is is possible that even as mature, wise grown-ups (ahem) we are making the mistake that fitting in is the same as belonging?
Let’s clear this up.
Fitting in: Changing you to match the group.
Belonging: Being you and being accepted by your tribe because of it.
Are we still stuck back there in middle school praying that the cool girls would just flick their hair in our direction?
I know at times I have opted out of sharing because I didn’t want to be asked any questions that I don’t have answers for. If I haven’t thought of something, I must certainly look like a total dunce. So I stay quiet instead of contributing.
Seeking to belong is terrifying. It requires revealing who you really are bit by bit and hoping you will not be rejected by the herd. (Not that I’m saying our friends are cows… no, ma’am, we are freaking zebras! All fabulous in our stripes galloping through the plains and such).
Really there are two things we need to start believing in order to overcome these feelings of insecurity.
The first is that you are not alone. Other people share your hopes, worries, quirks (ok not everybody shares all of our quirks but someone at least shares one or two). Yes, we are unique individuals, but in a we are all human with the same basic brain functions sort of way. I’ll say it again. You are not alone. There are a whole bunch of “me toos!” in this world who totally get you.
Second what other people think of you actually doesn’t matter. This is both frightening and freeing if you can actually wrap your head around it. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a great big permission slip to start wearing your onesie pajamas to Wal-mart. But it is a permission slip to recognize that even if someone doesn’t like you, you will be OK. It might hurt and you will probably have some heated conversations with that individual while you are alone in the shower. In the end, however, it just won’t matter.
There is a place where you belong. A group of fellow humans who you can learn from and who want to learn from you. You don’t have to alter your personality or your wardrobe to be welcomed into that circle. You are totally, breathtakingly awesome, just the way you are.