I recently read Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. I thoroughly enjoyed her book and I believe that the concepts she discusses in her book are things we desperately need as a society right now. She primarily addresses the concept of true belonging.
Brené Brown defines true belonging as 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” (p. 157).
True belonging helps us find the people in our lives that we will genuinely click with. When we act to people please or change our behaviors to attract attention, we run the risk of connecting with people that won’t appreciate our genuine selves.
This is like how marketing works. If you offer a service or product, your marketing needs to reflect your authentic self as a businessperson. Otherwise, you may be attracting the wrong market. Rendering a service requires this in particular. This is because the product that your customer is ultimately buying is you. Therefore, clients need to know who you are so they can decide whether or not they want to work with you.
This is different from fitting in which is another construct that Brené Brown discusses. Fitting in requires us to forego our authentic selves in order to blend in with the people around us. This doesn’t honor our unique personhoods.
We all have times where we’ve just wanted to fit in. Brené Brown discusses wanting to be on a dance team in her book and how she did everything she was supposed to in order to fit in with the other girls on the team. Similarly, mine was trying to fit in with my collegiate fencing team and church group, which I never could quite do. By trying to fit in, I gave up and stopped celebrating some of the unique qualities that make me who I am. As a result, I believe that made fitting in even more difficult.
A Painful, Lonely Path: The Positive Power of Rejection
As you may have guessed, focusing on being our authentic selves means we will experience some rejection along the way. I know this is a huge struggle for most of society. As Brené Brown discusses, we are social creatures. That means rejection has an instinctual sting to it. Back in our hunter gatherer roots where we were tribal in addition to being social, being rejected from the tribe could also have meant certain death.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that rejection is so painful for us. However, that makes being our authentic selves all that more important. I often ascribe this to fishing. While I know very little about the sport, I do know that the type of bait you use is incredibly important. If you want to catch a particular kind of fish, you need to use a particular kind of bait that fish likes.
We can all change our behaviors, appearances, etc. But we’ll be putting out the wrong kind of bait. Instead of catching bass, we might be catching trout. When we don’t practice true belonging, we may often be catching people that don’t accept us the way we accept ourselves.
Of course, almost all analogies break down eventually. So I know that sometimes even when we use the right bait, we still catch the wrong fish. That’s okay and is also a normal part of life. This is also why we have to identify, practice, and maintain good boundaries with ourselves and others.
How to Practice True Belonging
I want to acknowledge how difficult of a practice true belonging is. It means we have to face what Brené Brown calls the wilderness: a lonely, untamed place of the unknown. Since I live in Colorado, I can tell you that there are tools that you bring with you any time you go for a hike here in the wilderness, even if it’s a more local hike.
You bring a backpack, fresh water, a utility knife, emergency supplies, food, a change of shirt, extra layers, gloves, rain clothes, a change of socks, a flashlight, a lighter, and sometimes even water purification supplies. If I have all of these things with me, I can feel pretty comfortable in the wilderness even though it is still what I would consider a harsh, lonely, untamed, and unknown environment.
Coping skills are our survival kit for braving the wilderness. This is where skills that I have previously written about such as positive self-talk, deep breathing, healthy personal affirmations, boundaries, cognitive reframing, grounding skills, and so on will help you survive. Many of these are considered distress tolerance skills. Distress tolerance is the ability to feel our emotions and think our thoughts while still being able to tolerate or cope with them.
One of my counseling goals is often to help my clients grow their personal distress tolerance because braving the wilderness to practice true belonging and find our tribe is incredibly stressful, albeit rewarding.
If you are in a time of braving the wilderness or just finding yourself alone, while uncomfortable, it is okay. We do not always need to be constantly surrounded by people as this can often be a busy body distraction from our deeper inner world. It is okay to experience this discomfort especially when equipped with coping skills to help you endure and thrive. True belonging comes with daily practice and is worth facing our internal discomfort to become our most authentic selves.