The multiple effects of belonging

By | 2011/06/17

It’d be fair to say that I’ve spent almost all my life with the feeling that I’m standing on the outside, looking in. I’ve never really felt that I belonged in any group. Being an introvert certainly helped to create that impression; there’s a certain level of social awkwardness for me in most situations.

A new friend probably summarised that best when he described going to Underbear. No pockets, no phones, and suddenly you realise how regularly you fill in a quiet or uncertain moment by just aimlessly checking your phone or putting your hands in your pockets. That’s me, for sure. Of course, once that was pointed out to me, I became acutely aware of doing it. It’s like when I attended Toastmasters for a while and in the local chapter was a woman who could speak for an hour without once uttering “um” or any other verbal fluff word. As soon as someone pointed it out to me, it heightened my self observation on that front. So I cringe internally every time I say “um”, or notice I’m saying a little phrase repeatedly. (My most recent one was “at the end of the day”.)

Ahem. I’m rambling.

With that feeling of not belonging, and natural introversion, comes the self defence mechanisms. Smart people spot them in me instantly, damn them. Compliment deflection is a classic example. Someone says something nice? Quick, turn it around and make it into a joke!

The only problem is that once you’ve been doing it … well, forever, it ceases to become a self defence/coping mechanism and starts becoming a bad habit. Sure, it’s not as unsightly as say, picking your nose in public, but it’s probably just as annoying for some people. I know it drives Darren nuts. It also becomes self-defining, which is much worse. So it sort of leads to this bizarro-world situation where there’s what people say to you, a barrier, and a sarcastic deflection, with the good bits never really getting in.

What has this to do with belonging? Lots, actually.

For a few years I’d been sort of dabbling from afar in the bear communities, just from sites like bear411 and bearwww, but living on the relatively isolated Central Coast had never had much opportunity to actually get to engage in the community further. With the decision to move to Melbourne, Darren and I started talking to community members in Victoria more regularly, and made some great friends before moving, but post-move it’s been another change again.

The change is simple but profound – for the first time ever I actually do feel like I belong somewhere. Here’s a group of people like me in core areas I can identify with. I’ve gone to “the pub” (the Laird) more times in the last two weeks than I’d previously been to any pub in the last two years. Why? Comfort. It’s a social situation where the natural awkwardness of the introvert is on the back-foot, simply because most of the reasons for being reserved and a wallflower disappear.

When you feel you belong, you start to feel better about yourself. In doing that, I’m looking past the false, emotional logic which erected and maintained those self defensive barriers and realising just how self-destructive my behaviour has been in the past. Narcissism is ugly and unpleasant, but inverse narcissism is just as ugly. Put simply, that inverse narcissism/defence mechanism has left me fairly ugly inside for a long time.

Hello. I’m Preston, and thanks to this fantastically welcoming community around me, I’m starting to like myself.

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