June 19, 2019 Fadela Hilali

The one thing bullying can teach us about belonging

I am no stranger to bullying

As an overweight, very tall child, I was an obvious target for the resident meanies at school. Sumo, fat cow, whale were just some of the names I was called growing up.

My reaction to name-calling was always one of bravado, or humour, depending on the day. In public, I appeared strong, resilient… I even used to stand up for others who were also at the receiving end of school bullying.

But the moment I got home and closed the door behind me, my facade would crumble and disarray would inevitably follow.

What was wrong with me?

This question would haunt me into adulthood whenever dealing with rejection, or subtle forms of bullying in the workplace.

But its not until a few weeks ago that I had one of my biggest realisation. I was watching a Brené Brown Netflix special where she discusses vulnerability and courage in our society. The aha moment I got from the show came when she spoke about the difference she sees between “belonging” and “fitting in”.

‘Belonging’ vs ‘fitting in’

I am paraphrasing here but belonging can be summarised as being our authentic self and having a strong connection with ourselves. Fitting in, on the other hand, is about trying to mould ourselves into what people expect from us. The latter is a lonely place to be in, once I know oh-so-well.

What does this have to do with bullies? Well, we often get bullied when we’re different, when we don’t fit in.

But we are not helpless, it’s our responsibility to make sure we do whatever it takes to be OK. In order to do that, we need to focus our energy on “belonging to ourselves” first, that’s how we will find our people.

In the words of Brené Brown:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

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