FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – Belonging is essential to mental health and public safety

There is a mental health crisis in the nation, and it is destroying the fabric of our culture.  To be mentally well and grow in health, happiness, resilience, and self-governance, we need to belong. According to Dr. Abraham Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs psychosocial research, belonging is an essential need. Humans are hardwired to connect. The primary belonging is in a family where attachment and bonding are fostered as needs are being met. When children are nurtured and cared for, trust in their worth, value, place in the world, belonging and brain architecture accelerates. When toxic stress, neglect, abuse, and chaos surrounds a child, belonging and brain architecture suffers which, many times, result in anti-social behaviors and rage. Numbers of studies have concluded that for school shooters and those who commit violent crimes, the common denominator in these troubled individuals is isolation, loneliness, and absent fathers. Drug use, family breakdown, toxic stress, neglect, isolation, depression, adverse child experiences, lack of educational achievement, lack of monitoring, and loneliness appear to be at the root of these extreme anti-social behaviors. 

The opposite of loneliness is belonging. We must know that we matter and belong to our families, friends, classmates, colleagues, communities, churches, synagogues, mosques, teams, culture, and country. Belonging is primal and fundamental to our sense of happiness, mental health, and well-being. Lack of belonging is a psychological lever and trigger that has broad social consequences. Feeling alone in the world is a dangerous place to be mentally, physically, emotionally socially spiritually, financially, and behaviorally. Aloneness and lack of belonging wreaks havoc on all of us.

Belonging is not only the feeling of connectedness to a group or community. It is knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Feeling attached, close, and thoroughly accepted is part of the belonging matrix.  Belonging is also about embracing a set of shared beliefs or ideals. To truly feel a sense of belonging, we must feel unity and a common sense of character with and among members of our group. Being surrounded by others doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. Belonging has to do with identification as a member of a group and the high-quality affirming and supportive interactions which result.  

Since belonging is so important to mental health, happiness, and human flourishing, we must work together and be intentional to meet this primal need starting at birth. As a nation we must embrace family formation and committed love (commonly known as marriage). When couples marry, they announce freely and openly, with celebration in the public square, that they commit to belonging to this person. Bearing children should be coupled with this pronouncement of belonging. Currently 46% of children born in the US are outside of this belonging paradigm. We must support families and children and teach dads how to be involved with their children, modeling healthy pro-social behaviors such as self-regulatory behavior, character, support, and kindness. We must monitor screen time and what sites children and adolescents have access to. We must have meals together and talk with each other. We must create belonging and connection for all to increase public safety.