I’m standing in the doorway to my room. I see that in the kitchen there are some people involved in a lively conversation. They laugh and enjoy each other’s company. I’m aware that at this moment I am not part of the circle of community, I am just an observer. And suddenly I’m struck by a revelation: there is something in this experience that I don’t recognise from similar situations in the past.

I don’t feel alone. Even though I stand outside the company, the experience of isolation and exclusion from so many times before in my life, doesn’t occur. I see that the others are experiencing belonging and at the same time my own need for belonging is met. It’s such a liberating feeling that I just stand still and enjoy the scene in front of me for a long time.

Alone in the crowd

This event took place in the 90s when I lived in the “big family apartment” in the community house Cigarrlådan in Hökarängen south of Stockholm. For many years I had been active in various social movements and belonged to different social and activist groups. I was used to hanging out with a lot of people in different contexts. I had many superficial friends and acquaintances as well as close deep relationships with different people.

Despite this overflow of people and easily accessible social contexts, I often felt alone. In the midst of all people, the experience of loneliness could come to me. I can not really put my finger on the ingredients of the experience. I guess it’s a kind of combination of different needs including a longing for contact and understanding.

One of the most important needs

The need for belonging is probably one of human’s most important needs. This driving force leads us to want to be part of a group with other people. We want to hang out with friends, to have an obvious place, a group to which we can return time and time again. This driving force promoted our individual and collective survival as human beings. Without belonging to social systems providing food and protection from external threats, we would not survive long.

In most parts of the world, we are no longer acutely dependent on a group where we can meet our basic needs. We are still dependent on lots of interacting people providing all sorts of products and services, but we can do well materially, without close contact with other people. However, our basic need for belonging still lives within us. If we lack close relationships where we can experience the need for belonging, we feel different kinds of distress.

I guess most of us have our own experiences of when this need is not being met. I don’t describe voluntary loneliness, as right now when I sit and write this blog post. At the moment, I’m just happy and satisfied that there are no people around me who attract my attention. But when I experience involuntary loneliness, whether it is in actual loneliness or in the midst of other people, it consumes me.

Creating more belonging

I’m thinking about how I can create more belonging in my life. I have some obvious connections: my family, my partner, friends, my workplace and the NVC community. At the same time, I believe that there are more opportunities to have this need met. I think it’s about creating contexts where I, together with others, can both contribute and receive. Circumstances in which we together can get our needs fulfilled with reciprocity.

If I put it in economic terms, maybe it’s about the profit exceeding the cost. I “enrich” myself by being part of certain groups of people. In other groups I might sense that the cost is greater than the profit. And consequently I refrain from taking part in those groups.

When do you experience belonging? If you want more belonging in your life, what can you do to create the conditions for it?

Leave a comment below or, if you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, at the online platform: https://empathiceurope.com/online/courses/the-needs-year/modules/week-21/ 


Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 25 May at 17:00-17:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Agnieszka Rzewuska-Paca. We will talk about the need for belonging.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

If you read this afterwards, you can watch the recording when you become a premium subscriber. Check the details HERE.

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