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How to Belong When You Don’t Belong

If you had to describe to someone who didn’t know you what it feels like to live in this world as yourself, how would you answer it? Would it bring about feelings of happiness and pride, or sadness and shame? Maybe you’d feel indifferent about it?

There are so many moving parts that make up our identity, and one can assume that throughout our lives these parts of our identity interact and influence one another. The unfair part comes when we are judged and treated less than because of something that we have no control over, but simply because of who we are. You may have been judged based on the color of your skin, by the type of hair that grows out of your head, by the language you speak or your abilities/disabilities, your gender identity, gender expression, religious identity, or even immigration status. And even though it may not have been directly said to you, maybe you’ve felt as though you didn’t belong just by walking into certain rooms. There’s a lot of stigmas that can plague these parts of ourselves, and we end up feeling alone in a world of 7+ billion people.

“Name It to Tame It”

It’s normal to have a strong emotional and even physical reaction when feeling dismissed, isolated, and unheard. We’re often taught to avoid “negative” emotions like anger, sadness, or fear because of the belief that they are signs of weakness and can be uncomfortable to experience. It’s important to recognize that all emotions are human reactions, and rather than working to avoid them we can find power in labeling them and learning from them. “Name it to tame it” was a phrase put together by Dr. Daniel Siegal to describe the importance of identifying emotions to avoid feeling overwhelmed or stuck. Try carving out five minutes a day to check in on yourself and see how you are doing and feeling. Click HERE for a free worksheet you can use to help you better navigate through your emotions.

Talk to Me Nice!

Imagine that your mind was an actual person, separate from yourself. And like your mind, this person followed you every second of every day. Now tell me, what kind of company is this person? Are they uplifting and motivating you during times of difficulty? Or are they being overly critical of you and doubting your every move? What others tell us can be hurtful, but what we repeat to ourselves can hurt us even more. As we continue to repeat a hurtful message in our minds, we are more likely to believe it to be true even when they aren’t based on facts.

The first step in challenging negative self-talk is to separate feelings from facts and recognize that other people’s opinions are just that; other people’s opinions. Start to notice when you feel more positive about yourself, and when you feel drained. What type of people and environment influence these changes? Family and friends are not exempt from your boundaries. Your boundaries are there to protect you and surround you with people who are willing to respect you and earn your trust.

Practicing daily positive affirmations can help serve as a reminder that you matter, and that you are more than the stereotypes and assumptions people make of you. HERE is a worksheet you can use when wanting to practice positive affirmations. You can practice these in front of your mirror, write them down on post it notes (or whatever writing material available) and keep them in an area you pass by frequently (i.e. refrigerator, wall, desk.)

Finding Your Tribe

I’m here to tell you that differences can exist beneficially. When we are a part of something that fosters our sense of belonging it can increase self-esteem and resiliency, decrease feelings of loneliness, and improve our overall mental health. It’s important to acknowledge the unique struggles that come with who we are, while also recognizing that belonging to a community can be a big source of strength. If we only focus on the spaces and messages that tell us we are not enough, it can affect how we move and exist in the world.

It’s OK to put some distance and seek out people that you can relate with and are accepting if the people in your circle aren’t being supportive of you. If the work you’re doing causes you to feel down about who you are, look into jobs or activities that make you feel good and motivate you to celebrate yourself. Click HERE to learn about one of the many teen support groups out there that can offer you a space to connect with others like you and work on strengthening your social support systems. They offer chatrooms, wellness trackers, mood maps, and much more! Wanting to belong is an inherit part of being human. If those around you refuse to accept and uplift you, redirect your energy away from them and towards people who are willing to see the world through your lens.”


Image of New York City Psychotherapist, Suhailey Núñez, who specializes in Racial issues, women's issues, and relationship issues.

Thank you to Suhailey Núñez, LMHC for writing this amazing article! If you would like to get to know Suhailey more, you can read about her and her work at BeWELL Psychotherapy.

The following worksheets were created and provided by Suhailey Núñez, LMHC: