Who are you?

Where do belong?

Why can’t you just fit in?

There was a time when these were the burning questions of my life.

There was always something that felt “other.” In any given situation, I was too much of one thing or too little of another. Too quiet. Too sensitive. Too naive. Too excitable. Too serious. Too troubled. Too sheltered. Too rigid. Too Type A. Too soft.

I wasn’t cool or charismatic. I wasn’t mysterious. I was just me, and that never seemed to be quite right.

That sense of belonging where you feel sure of yourself, secure in your relationships, and comfortable in your own skin was not something I felt, and I wanted it. Badly.

So, I searched for it starting from the outside in. It began innocently enough. I straightened my unruly curls, covered my freckles, and saved up for the cool clothes. But no matter what I tried, I’d look at myself and see that it was still just me, only this time in a costume.

So, I tried harder.

I chased after the friends who always forgot to call, no matter how little they offered in return.

I silenced myself to be as good as I could be for the silly boys who broke my heart while telling me how special I was.

The longer this went on, the more convinced I became that it must be something wrong with the way I am. My very essence was flawed.

I suppose this is how we get into our personal campaigns to make ourselves the exact right blend of likable and invisible.

It gets so we live as if bound by contract:

I do solemnly swear to honor and obey every opinion I hear, belong everywhere, please everyone, surprise no one, ask for nothing. I will leave myself as far behind as I must to uphold these sacred vows.

It’s eating us alive.

For about a decade, I dropped weight like it would solve the world’s problems. If I was just five pounds lighter, 10 pounds, 20, 30. If I showed this much more rib or made it to the magical 00. Maybe then everything would be okay.

It also took about a decade of heartache and an ocean of tears to discover that none of it changed that feeling that who I was wasn’t alright. None of it made me fit in better. None of it stopped me from getting hurt.

It only ever made me sick and sad. Alone and afraid. And feeling even more forgotten.

How could I feel any other way after years of trying to make myself disappear?

The story of being a misfit had become woven into the tapestry of my being, and I couldn’t yet see that finding the one thing that would make me belong everywhere was a fool’s errand. I could check every box and mold myself into what was asked of me, but nothing was going to change if I didn’t learn to feel at home within myself exactly as I was already.

We so do this, don’t we? We hang our hopes on this one thing that will make us acceptable, lovable, or worthy, and we’ll tear ourselves apart trying to get it.

It might begin innocently enough, but it can also leave behind the deep wounds that come from discounting our own internal sense of belonging.

One day, instead of rationalizing the betrayal of myself as self-improvement, I just acknowledged how I felt: scared. I was scared of who I had become, scared I wasn’t alright, scared of not being enough, and scared of losing the last remaining thread of myself.

After that, it didn’t feel right to push it away anymore. I think a little light must have found its way in that day because it happened again the next day.

“I’m scared of loving myself.”

And the next.

“I’m scared of letting this go.”

It happened again and again, and with that, I discovered that belonging isn’t an outside-in operation. It begins within you.

Belonging is a way of knowing and honoring yourself as you are, knowing that who you are is fundamentally good and worthy, and openly being that version of you.

If you’ve had a hard time with this, start small.

Hold your hands over your heart and just breathe. There was always something so grounding about this to me, like saying “ohhh, here I am.”

Begin when you’re feeling okay and practice a little every day.

Over time, you’ll be able to do this when you have the urge to tear yourself apart. And with practice, you learn to hold that fear and pain as if they’re children waking from a nightmare. You listen, soothe them, and remind them of what is good and true.

I suppose I tricked you with this post because if there is a secret to fitting in with everyone and being universally loved, I don’t know it. (Sorry.)

But I do know this: I looked and looked for belonging everywhere, but I never found it until I looked inside, right where it had been all along.

So, try it for yourself.

Instead of wrapping yourself in doubts and insecurities, offer yourself kindness and trust.

Instead of picking yourself apart on the path to self-improvement, put yourself back together with your path to self-love.

And instead of trading yourself in for the newer, trendier model, spend a little time every day connecting with what you want, what you dream, and what you know to be true.

Because the real secret is, when you can come home to yourself, you will always be at home. @ralph_leslie (Click to Tweet!)

Leslie Ralph is a psychologist, writer, and artist who hopes to leave the world a little brighter than she found it. Her people are creative spirits, soul-searchers, and big-hearted dreamers that crave love and peace, inside and out. Download her free ritual for receiving for inviting in more love, peace, and healing so you can remember your true gifts and do real, good work for this world. You can follow Leslie on Facebook or Instagram.


Image courtesy of Andrii Nikolaienko.