Growing up, escaping was a frequently used option for me. I escaped a household riddled with addiction, violence, and neglect by going away to college. When I started school, I still had trouble making friends and finding a place I belonged. In my mind, all that would change once I moved to a new city to start my career. It didn’t. The realization that escaping to a new environment did not change who I was or how I felt hit me like a ton of bricks. It did not matter how many escapes I made; the same issues still came up: I was still me, and I still didn’t belong anywhere.
Unfortunately, the constant changes in environment didn’t erase the memories and trauma of my past. Because of the chaos of an unstable upbringing, I carried a lot of learned traits and behaviors that no longer served me when life became stable. I needed help. With a counselor’s guidance, facing the emotions and experiences I had growing up helped me identify why I felt like I didn’t belong. I needed to let go of a lot of anger and resentment built up from my past, so I could start trusting and connecting with others and focus on my future.
Any psych book can tell you that human connection is essential for personal well-being, but finding and fostering those connections can feel impossible when you don’t have a sense of belonging. When you are already feeling disconnected, your initial reaction may be to further isolate or escape. Ignore this instinct; maybe pick up the phone and call at least one person you trust. Or talk to your pet; they don’t offer unsolicited advice. Just resist the urge to detach from your surroundings and other people.
Belonging and connecting with others requires being open about who you are and allowing a level of vulnerability and trust. If trusting others is difficult for you, try talking to a mental health professional about your concerns. Surrounding yourself with people who have had similar experiences and can relate to you can provide a big sense of relief and help you feel less alone. Check out the resources your community offers. There are probably support groups that match the kind of help you are seeking. Or spend time exploring your values and passions to help identify what groups you would help you feel the most at home. When you embrace the unique aspects of your personality, others who share your values and passions will too.
(Also, just a personal tip, keep participation in social media to a minimum. When everyone is posting about their absolute best life, it’s hard to avoid comparison and determine what is real. The only life you really need to focus on is yours.)