The Need to Belong



I have discovered an imperative truth that is sadly not often discussed and escapes many of our relationships.  It is seldom realized in endless human encounters, and is responsible for many of our failures to connect with others.  I write of a principle that has such a profound impact on us emotionally that we ironically are not very aware of its importance and we are often out of touch with this phenomenon’s impact on our daily lives.  There is a dynamic correlation between the success of our relationships.  The level of intimacy we experience depends upon the level of our connection to the person, namely: our sense of belonging.  The clarity of this in a person’s mind will define them in the end.

The element most craved in human relationships, or at least most appreciated in the relationship is the feeling of Belonging!  If you look towards many family interactions, much of the disconnect felt is happening when one or more of the members are emotionally apart, feeling alienated, detached, and sustaining a feeling of non-belonging that disrupts the emotional attachments to that family.  I’ve heard about this contingency with comments from various interviews with Gang members expressing their motivation to join a gang in that they were alienated from the rest of their associations, and they felt that they “belonged” to the gang they joined; despite however disruptive, violent, and oppressive that gang happened to be.  These examples show just how powerful this dynamic is in human relationships.

Abraham Maslow suggested that the need to belong was a major source of human motivation.  He thought that it was one of 5 human needs in his hierarchy of needs, along with physiological needs, safety, self-esteem, and self-actualization.[3]  These needs are arranged on a hierarchy and must be satisfied in order.  After physiological and safety needs are met an individual can then work on meeting the need to belong and be loved.  According to Maslow, if the first two needs are not met, then an individual cannot completely love someone else.[4]

Other theories have also focused on the need to belong as a fundamental psychological motivation.  According to Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, all human beings need a certain minimum quantity of regular, satisfying social interactions. Inability to meet this need results in loneliness, mental distress, and a strong desire to form new relationships.[2]  Several psychologists have proposed that there are individual differences in people’s motivation to belong.  People with a strong motivation to belong are less satisfied with their relationships and tend to be relatively lonely.[5]  As consumers, they tend to seek the opinions of others about products and services and also attempt to influence others’ opinions.[6]

According to Baumeister and Leary, much of what human beings do is done in the service of belongingness.  They argue that many of the human needs that have been documented, such as the needs for power, intimacy, approval, achievement and affiliation, are all driven by the need to belong.  Human culture is compelled and conditioned by pressure to belong.  The need to belong and form attachments is universal among humans.[2]  Those who believe that the need to belong is the major psychological drive also believe that humans are naturally driven toward establishing and sustaining relationships and belongingness.  For example, interactions with strangers are possible first steps toward non-hostile and more long-term interactions with strangers that can satisfy the need for attachments.[7]  Certain people who are socially deprived can exhibit physical, behavioral, and psychological problems, such as stress or instability.  These people are also more likely to show an increase in aiming to form new attachments.[2]

Often when we do not feel a belonging to a part of the group, we will take our exit.  This can be true for any relationship we happen to be associated with.  The greater the lack of connection, the easier it is to leave, and conversely, the more of an emotional connection, the more passion and feeling of belonging we will experience.  If our interest levels fade, then our emotional connection will eventually be extinguished the longer this diminishing dynamic persists.


Scores of psychological data will show that alienation from a group will have a dramatic impingement upon the party that is estranged.  One can easily turn to a song about such matters of the heart and relate in some way, or one can turn to the cases of families where their children are disassociated from the family, they are therefore trapped within the constrains of how our cohesion vaporizes in relation to the need to belong.  If the child feels apart from the family, so too will they want to dismiss it, leave it, or move on to another family of their making.

Isolation, loneliness and low social status can harm a person’s subjective sense of well-being, as well as his or her intellectual achievement, immune function and health. Research shows that even a single instance of exclusion can undermine well-being, IQ test performance and self-control.  What is the opposite of loneliness? Is it belonging?

Because as humans, we need to belong.  To one another, to our friends and families, to our culture and country, to our world.  Belonging is primal, fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being.

If you have a question about someone in your family that you just don’t understand, ask yourself this question; how do they fit into the equation of belonging in the family?  Do they seem detached, indifferent, or isolated more than you would like?  Are they not interested in any family activities and choose to go their own way?  If anything, make the time to show them that they belong, teach them the meaning of this by your actions and not your words.  Reaching out to those we used to be close to, can be very painful, but if we take action and show them how they fit into our world, I bet we can make a difference to the people we love.  Don’t be caught bottling yourself in.


One thought on “The Need to Belong

  1. This is true about the need to belong. I remember when I use to want more popularity from people around me but that quickly faded when what I was doing, writing, want fun anymore. I was just doing it to please certain people and ideals to make more money or try to find fame. Now I just know my family and people closed to me are all that matters in my life.

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