A sense of belonging

Affection, touch, connection, belonging are all important to our physical and emotional survival and wellbeing – as children and as adults.

It makes intuitive sense that we need safety, love and care to grow; and there’s lots of research evidence to back that up.

As infants and children, our life depends on the care and comfort of loving parents or adults – without it, our capacity to grow and develop is limited. As we get older, our needs change and our ability to self care grows. Even so, we still need a sense of connection or belonging.

As adults, we can get our need for love, touch or connection in a number of ways. Some people have a strong link with their family, others invest in their work, some share their life with a partner(s), and others have a much treasured animal. Other adults may get a sense of belonging through team or competitive sport or other physical activity; a creative passion such as drawing or writing; and others may have a religious or spiritual belief and practice that brings a sense of connection.

People growing up with a sense of being ‘different’ (such as being transgender or having a homosexual or bisexual orientation), can sometimes feel separated, removed, or disconnected from others, even from those they love. For some, it can be like no one really knows the real them, so they cannot really trust the love and care of others. This creates a sense of isolation and can also add to low self esteem.

Being isolated – physically or emotionally – is not generally good for our mental health. Transgender support groups provide access to information, they also provide an opportunity to decrease isolation and create a sense of belonging, a community.

Same but different…

Over the years in my clinical work, I have heard transgender people and their significant others wish and long for a sense of connection with others – ‘others like me’. Some have taken the courageous step of making contact with a support group or attending meetings and found welcome, information, comfort and a sense of connection at some level. Others have not found someone just like them or someone they can relate to. This is not surprising given the diversity of transgender people.

At the risk of sounding cliché, each person’s experience of transgender or transsexualism is their own. Having gender identity in common doesn’t automatically create a link between people or a sense of community (just as sharing any other characteristic or quality doesn’t create a sense of belonging).

I usually encourage people to be aware of their expectations when meeting others… and to expect to find similarities AND differences. With the combination of same and different, there is the potential to have stimulating and affirming communication and a sense of belonging.

Thankfully, today, there are a number of options we all have to create connections. Families, communities and a sense of belonging come in all shapes and sizes. However you find or create it, we all need a place to be and a sense of belonging. If you are feeling separate from the world, disconnected or without a sense of place, I encourage you to seek support. If you are feeling comfortable and supported in your place in the world, you might like to extend a hello or offer support to others.

Get involved & get connected.

Sinnott, V (2007) A sense of belonging, Vol 7(3), 8-9

Vikki Sinnott is a psychologist in private practice in Melbourne with a strong interest in gender identity and its expression (among other things) and has worked with gender variant people of all ages, their partners and families for over 15 years. She can be contacted on 0417 365 960 or vikki@vlsinnott.com.au

Images are for illustrative purposes only.