16 Jun Do you feel that you fit in?
I have always tried to fit in, and have never managed. Having moved countries nine times, and houses twenty-six times from the age of 1, as well as having gone to eight different schools has not helped. I have invariably felt uncomfortable about “standing out”. One of the toughest times for me was when I moved from Ireland to France at age 7, after my parents’ divorce, and started French school without a word of French, and the only kid in the school who did not speak French. I was treated a bit like an alien and constantly had swarms of French kids around me asking “Do you speak English?” in a strong French accent (the only English words that they knew).
I think that at that time, I internally promised myself to try and fit in, and I learnt French FAST.
However with all the moving around, I ended up never fitting in anywhere and whether I was in Ireland or France, as soon as I opened my mouth, I was asked where I was from. This did bring about a small identity crisis in my twenties when I felt that I “belonged” nowhere.
It has been a journey for me to accept that I am my own unique person, as we all are.
An additional challenge for me has been that at the same time as desperately wanting to fit in (and wanting everyone to like me on top of that), I have also always questioned everything and everyone. I remember teachers in school being slightly irritated with me. I could always play the game and be one of the top students but at the same time I think I came across inquisitive and argumentative. I could not help myself as I have always been very curious and want to try and understand everything.
I was definitely a rebellious teenager, and like many teenage girls questioned my clothing, my diet, my spirituality and world politics. However I never dealt very well with people’s negative reactions to my questioning, I think I let them make me feel a bit hurt, rejected and defensive.
This is one of the paradoxes that I need to accept about myself: I have a strong desire to fit in and be liked, and I tend to question people and beliefs.
I truly appreciated Brené Brown’s take on fitting in and belonging in Gifts of Imperfection. I find that she comes across so compassionate about the inner struggles that we may downplay, but that actually really affect us. Just reading about the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging” was healing for me. I realised that “fitting in” is just an illusion and actually impossible, and that we actually have a strong need for “belonging” which is different. Somehow this makes me feel less insecure, less alone. I feel more empowered when I realise that I choose the “tribe” where I feel that I belong: the people that support me, challenge me and see the best in me (and vice versa!).
One thing that can also make me feel alone and that I do not “fit in”, is that I notice that I often feel competitive towards my peers, colleagues and fellow mothers. I have struggled to understand the reason why, because of course I feel like I wish everyone success and to do well. I love the expression that “comparison is the thief of joy” but I find it very hard to actually apply, and to not feel competitive or insecure. According to the book The Sibling Society by Robert Bly, the increasingly absent presence and influence of our parents (and therefore our elders) on physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological levels, creates a kind of vacuum and an almost “orphan” society with “sibling rivalry”. In a sibling society, we are somewhat disconnected from our ancestors, elders and parents, and therefore from ourselves. We tend to want everyone to look the same, think and feel the same, and we struggle to embrace our differences. We have a “horizontal” way of thinking rather than a “vertical” way which includes honouring previous generations (and therefore ourselves), and preparing for future generations.
By healing my inner child, appreciating my parents as much as I can, honouring my elders, reaching out to mentors, creating the “good mother” and “ good father” within myself, and connecting with universal symbols that support me (such as the Madonna, or the “Wise Woman” for example), I feel that I create a safer, more secure space for myself where I can embrace my strengths and weaknesses with love, confidence and acceptance, as well as enjoy the love and support of the tribe of people around me. The lonely feelings of competitiveness and the fear of not fitting in somewhat dissipate.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this!