You Don’t Belong: The Reawakening of the Outsider

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In this monthly column, Secrets of Personal Transformation, I write about the sacred process of human transformation. Transformation, as I have mentioned, is a circular process that takes our psyche through three distinct stages: the breakdown, the reflection/discernment, and the rebirth. Transformation differs from mere change, or “personal growth”, in that growth is linearly focused, and as such is primarily a process of addition and constant forward movement, no matter the pull to let ourselves fall apart.

Learning How to be Human

I think I was 6 or 7 years old when I first labeled myself an outsider. I remember how I often felt out of place, awkward—often even within and around my own family. I felt confused and lost about how to behave, so I spent a lot of time observing others, and then mimicked them. I watched what they wore, how they smiled, the tones they used when they talked, and tried to replicate these things. It was as if I were learning how to be human.

Back then, I assumed everyone else had this “human” thing figured out; that I was alone in my feelings of outsiderness. Now, though, I think we all felt this way as children, to varying degrees. Furthermore, I believe this is part of the purpose of childhood: to learn how to be human, how to “fit in”, even if it required changing our personality, what we wear, or create our preferences, in order to become accepted in the certain circles.

Fitting in requires submission to norms and conditions placed upon our sex, our social position, even our status as human beings. We take social cues when we walk into a group of people, for instance, for clues about how to stand, where to stand, whom to talk to. We quickly decide whether we have dressed appropriately. We change our language to match that of those around us, all so that we do not stand out as odd, or eccentric, or out of place. We want to be remembered, but not for how we were different, only in the ways we were the same.

Image by Štefan Štefančík from Unsplash

Many of us do want more than to fit in; we wish to belong. Unlike fitting in, belonging means not having to change who are were to be accepted. While a path to belonging certainly is a more authentic, soul-discovering path than a quest to merely fit in, both paths remain dependent on other people’s acceptance of us. Both goals still have us watching, learning, altering, shifting, and modifying ourselves to meet other’s approval level until, at some point, we ask ourselves how much of ourselves we’ve compromised and adapted to this end.

“I can no longer be sure whether the psyche is in me or whether I’m in the psyche…”
~James Hillman

Belonging, just like fitting in, limits your potential expansion and expression as a soul on this planet. More specifically, the longing for belonging limits this potential. For the more you wish to belong, the more you will, consciously or unconsciously, allow yourself to be changed, altered, tamed.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much of my daily life is about being accepted/liked by others?
  2. How much of my core personality – the part of me that can never fall away – remains present in my daily interactions?
  3. What might I try/say/do if belonging was not a core desire?
  4. Who might I be if I no longer craved anyone’s acceptance except my own?

Going through these questions honestly will reveal how belonging, just like fitting in, is an often-invisible impediment to radical self-transformation. It is only when we relinquish all trace of the desire for belonging that we can finally return to our truest, most whole self.

Eternal Voyagers

When we were young, belonging was an important part of gaining a sense of self. But for those of us who are seeking more – those who are either already in the crucible or considering entering it voluntarily – belonging becomes a hindrance. Our desire for it becomes a blind spot that keeps us circling many of the same issues and questions.

In our journeys of life, we forget that we are soul first, and human second. We are meant to forget our soulful nature, for we can’t play this game of life freely if we do not give ourselves over completely to the human skin and adventure. But there comes a time when we need to remember that, in truth, we are but visitors; eternal voyagers on a longer journey of evolution and expanded consciousness. Our true home is not here. We do not, should not, belong here. Our instincts as outsiders as children were right. This is what we need to remember now.

Untaming Ourselves

Childhood was about learning how to be human. How to fit in, and perhaps reach belonging. It was about becoming tamed. Adulthood was a time for mastering such skills, and then teaching the next generation how to tame their instincts and truest natures. But elderhood – the time of life that sits beyond our 40s, is about unlearning these skills, returning to our wildness, and reclaiming our freedoms as souls.

Transformation requires we relinquish the desire to fit in, that we walk away from belonging as well. We must begin to disregard the looks designed to police us back into proper behavior. We must speak and act as our true selves, not as the person we’ve been playing, or the person others have thought us to be or hoped us to be. Never mind, anymore, learning choreography that matches everyone else’s.

This work is the true purpose of transformation. It begins by entering the crucible: taking everything we think we know and or have rested or depended on – from our identity to our roles to our beliefs – into the fire to be tested. Only what is true gold – our soul, our essential character – will remain.

The crucible is the place for the work of undoing all that the culture and society have done to us, as well as removing all the labels and identities we’ve placed upon ourselves.

It is in the crucible that we meet our shadow.

It is in the crucible that we examine our beliefs, chakra by chakra.

It is in the crucible that we unravel from roles and identities to discover our souls.

And, it is in the crucible that we remember we don’t belong. That we’re not supposed to belong. And that we can claim and value our outsiderness.

 

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