We attended the Scots Day Out in Rosalind Park Bendigo. We stood among the crowd watching the street parade while the pipe bands filled the air with the stirring sounds of the Scottish Highlands. Throughout the park were a number of displays highlighting the various Scottish clans. A clan is a kinship group among the Scottish people. It is recognised that clans give a sense of shared identity and descent to members.
This is but one example of how people nurture their sense of belonging. Sadly we live in a time when many people feel alienated from those around them. We feel estranged from our neighbour. Maybe it has to do with our value system or perhaps a personal trauma or even a mental illness.
As human beings we need meaningful, reciprocal relationships. We need to be imbedded in a family or circle of friends or other valued group. We need to belong.
Dr. Thomas Joiner in his book ‘Myths about Suicide’ poses the question, “Who desires suicide?” He believes that when people hold two specific psychological states in their minds, simultaneously and long enough, they develop the desire for death. These two states are the perception that one is a burden and the sense that one does not belong.
A person at risk of suicide perceives that they do not fit in. They feel alone, cut off, isolated. They believe that nobody truly cares about them or alternately nobody can relate to them and understand their situation. Feelings of isolation and loneliness undermine overall wellbeing and can be detrimental to a person’s physical and emotional health, resulting in stress, anxiety or depression.
The will to live is strengthened through our social connections. We need to be part of something. Social connectedness and belonging are important in ensuring our personal wellbeing. It is about being valued and respected.
But membership of a group doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. Acceptance isn’t a given. A change in focus or place or personnel or the way things are done can alienate some people and cause them to retreat into themselves. Their identity is in crisis as they don’t know how to function. They find refuge in the shadows, maintaining a low profile. This scenario can be played out in a family, a school, a place of employment, a sporting club, or even a religious body.
Charles Handy, in his book The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future, written at the end of the twentieth century said,
“Loneliness may be the real disease of the next century, as we live alone, work alone and play alone.”