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Our Need to Belong

Many of us have a strong desire for belonging and intimacy and spend much of our time trying to fulfill this need.  Psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary (Psychological Bulletin, May, 1995) found that human beings are motivated by a need to belong and a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.  Even humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about a need for belonging as part of his major needs that motivates human behavior.  This is shown in the movie “Castaway” with Tom Hanks resorting to his one-sided conversations with Wilson (the volleyball) in order to maintain some level of connection.  Belonging is tied to motivation, health and happiness. Why do some people have a greater need for belonging?  And do couples differ in their need for belonging?

Based on my experience, belonging, connection, friendships, and emotional intimacy varies across genders, personality types, and interpersonal experiences.  Some individuals place greater value on social and emotional needs while others focus more on achievement needs.  Our family of origin may have rewarded us for one over the other or maybe we didn’t get our emotional needs met growing up and therefore seek to fulfill these needs in our adult relationships.  The need to feel closely connected to others and form caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a part of human behavior.  On the contrary, some people (consciously or not) choose to avoid close connections and have limited exposure and/or experience with a sense of belonging.

Couples that I work with in my practice often have conflict over connection.  One partner desires more emotional attachment and intimacy while the other has a different focus and need.  Although as mentioned above, the sense of belonging has great positive value, it can have negative consequences too.  The desire to belong, be loved/accepted, and included can come with a hefty price.  Some try too hard, others sacrifice too much, and some have poor boundaries in an effort to belong.  Next week I will discuss healthy balance in belonging.

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