Empathy for others can help us to develop a less exclusive form of belonging based on a positive, rather than negative, foundation.

Negative Approach to Belonging

Sometimes belonging develops because of having something negative in common – a common enemy, hating the same things, or having the same dislikes.

In families with Insecure Attachment, members can often unite in their exclusion against another family member. This can often occur in cases of divorce, estrangement, or in the wake of a death of a family member. It may also occur in Insecurely Attached families who identify a scapegoat as a means of placing blame.

Belonging in a negative way blocks empathy.

Self-Blaming and Belonging

When we do not belong, we can often turn the eye inward and see it as a personal failing or fault, resulting in self-blame. This may stem from rejection, criticism, or from being attacked. Rejection activates the inner critic and often leads to self-blame.

  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “What can I change about myself to belong?”

Quelling self-blame by developing empathy toward yourself and others is necessary to end the blame cycle.

Dr. Gregory Walton’s Exercise

To alleviate the inner critic and self-blame, Dr. Gregory Walton recommends an exercise.

  • See yourself as an expert in your situation (discrimination, grief, humiliation, etc.).
  • Write down advice for someone going through the same thing.
  • What can your experience teach them?
  • Use specifics and details.

At the root of the exercise is realizing that others actually do have similar experiences – you are not alone. Additionally, you can use the advice you wrote down for others to assist in your own healing, resulting in a realization that we all possess the capacity to heal.

Empathy toward the self in this exercise not only heals trauma for yourself, but also develops empathy toward others with the new understanding that others also suffer. This alone can enhance feelings of belonging.

Empathic Approach to Belonging

Since belonging depends on the development of positive relational interactions over time, developing a sense of empathy can actually improve feelings of belonging.

According to Daniel Goleman, three types of empathy exist:

  • Cognitive empathy
  • Emotional empathy
  • Compassionate empathy

Cognitive empathy is a knowing of how the other person is feeling. It often incorporates perspective-taking or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Cognitive empathy is particularly useful in negotiation and motivating others.

Emotional empathy often means feeling along with another person. It goes beyond stepping into their shoes. It means emotions are often contagious, and you feel as they feel.

Compassionate empathy, also called compassionate concern, means we not only identify with the emotions of the other, but we also are moved to help, support, or assist in some way.

Belonging and Secure Attachment

A true sense of belonging supports Secure Attachment through acceptance and support within a group or family. It also fosters more honest relationships that lead to improved intimacy and connection.

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