Belonging and the Holidays
Part of the mystery and delight of the holidays occurs when we come together with the people we love to share a meal, laughter and memories. We gain a mutual sense of connection that feels satisfying and delightful. Advertisers capitalize on this longing to come “home for the holidays” by showing elaborate images or telling heartwarming stories of people sharing special moments together. When our closest relationships within our families or social networks function in healthy ways, we experience moments of joy, anticipate making wonderful memories and find ourselves feeling a sense of belonging that I referenced in part one of this blog series.
I read one heartwarming story on this topic just before this year’s Thanksgiving Day holiday. Several years ago, a woman thought she had texted her grandson about plans for the family Thanksgiving meal, but when the young man responded, it turned out that he was not her grandson. The two exchanged introductions via text messages. Then Jamal Hinton, the young man, wrote back, “You not my grandma.” He jokingly asked, “Can I still get a plate tho?” The grandma very willingly included him with her family that year, and they have shared six years of celebrating Thanksgiving together (4). I love this story because it resonates with our dream of being included and welcomed by others, even by total strangers. We thrive when we experience a healthy sense of belonging.
If our relationships have been strained or broken or if hurtful things have been said or done, and no one in our group knows how to restore our relationships, the holidays can be hard to get through. We may even dread them. Relational pain occurs when our family – or any group that we identify with – rejects us or makes us feel like an outsider. We not only experience the pain of feeling rejected, but we may also feel inadequate, humiliated, unwanted and unappreciated. Psychologists refer to this feeling as attachment pain, and it is considered to be one of the deepest types of emotional pain. Referring to relational brain skills that are crucial to our sense of belonging and joyful community, Chris Coursey writes, “…the absence of a predictable, consistent connection creates some of the worst pain a person knows. We are built for human interaction that is anchored in joy” (2, pg. 71).
Sometimes we experience this type of hurt through others’ words or behaviors. Those who speak this way may be immature or self-centered, have narcissistic tendencies, or struggle with issues like addiction, emotional problems, or mental health challenges. At other times, we are the ones to blame for this breakdown in relationships because we do not know how to develop strong, healthy bonds with our significant others (5). We may overwhelm others with being too needy, being overly sensitive and easily hurt, or being cold and unapproachable.
Another obstacle that keeps us from experiencing a sense of belonging occurs when we become bonded to others in unhealthy ways, which can lead to a relational pattern of codependency or trauma bonding (1). Codependency occurs when we try to control others’ behavior and appease or shame them, or we try to hide or excuse their bad behavior. Trauma bonding occurs when we experience significant and possibly debilitating fear of the other person and their behaviors which may include physical, emotional or sexual harm.
Similarly, the Life Model (one of my favorite ways to help clients) explains that we form relationships based on fear bonds or love bonds. “Fear bonds are formed around avoiding negative feelings and pain. Love bonds are formed around desire, joy and seeking to be with people who are important to us” (3, p. 31). We can have both fear bonds and love bonds within ourselves and with those we love. As we grow and mature in life, we can learn how to convert our fear bonds into love bonds and develop more healthy relationships. The Life Model is not focused on removing important people from your life, such as a parent, adult child or spouse, unless that person is being abusive and is unwilling to change. Rather, this model helps you grow your relational capacity and emotional maturity so that you can respond well and not be overwhelmed by the other person’s behavior (2).
How Can I Experience A Sense of Belonging?
If you realize that your identity group has become unhealthy, or if you don’t belong to a healthy family or social group, there are ways you can move toward more healthy relationships and an increased sense of belonging. Here are some steps to help you get started:
1) Be willing to work on your own growth and maturity. At the Center for Family Transformation, through professional counseling relationships, we would love to walk with you on your healing journey and help you develop relational skills as you move toward a healthy maturity.
2) Learn to recognize what kinds of bonds you have formed with others. If you discover that your relationship has aspects of a fear bond, trauma bond or codependency, work toward transforming these bonds into love bonds. You can also reevaluate the impact these relationships are having and be willing to take steps to protect yourself if needed. Books like The Betrayal Bond (1) and Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You (3) may help you gain clarity and perspective.
3) Take the first steps toward building a healthy bond with others. Be alert to the people who are already in your life who are able to create healthy relationships. Your family relationships may start to change as you learn to create belonging with them and relate to them in more healthy ways. Doing this will aid you in gaining confidence in your ability to recognize what healthy relationships look like. Building healthy bonds is one of the 19 brain skills identified by the Life Model as essential for building good relationships (2).
4) Look for healthy and supportive groups to join. Healthy groups are those that welcome others and are hospitable instead of hurtful. Some examples would be social networks or faith communities that are built around shared activities such as hiking, book clubs, or art appreciation. Other communities center around values like performing community service or caring for those who are marginalized.
For Further Study
For more articles about belonging, check out this three-part blog series on our website about The Beauty of Belonging. The first article is about Belonging to Yourself, the second outlines how to Belonging to Eachother and finally, the third is about Belonging to God.
For more insight on belonging, I will post the third and final article in this series in two weeks entitled How to Create Belonging for Others. This will address the issues of hospitality, leadership and helping others learn how to form healthy and thriving relationships.
- Carnes, P. J. (1997). The betrayal bond: Breaking free of exploitive relationships. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.
- Coursey, C. (2016). Transforming fellowship: 19 brain skills that build joyful community (2 ed.). Holland, MI: THRIVEtoday.
- Friesen, J. G., Wilder, E. J., Bierling, A. M., Koepcke, R., & Poole, M. (2010). Living from the heart Jesus gave you. Pasadena, CA: The Shepherd’s House.
- Page, S. (2021, Nov. 18). Grandma mistakenly invited a stranger to Thanksgiving. Six years later, they still celebrate the holiday together. Washington Post. Washington, D. C. Retrieved Nov. 28, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/11/18/grandma-thanksgiving-text-dench-hinton/
- Wilder, E. J. (2018). The pandora problem: Facing narcissism in leaders & ourselves. Carmel, IN: Deeper Walk International.