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A Place to Belong

Family has a different definition for each person. For some, family is the group of people they were born into. For some, family is the people they choose to surround themselves with. For others, it can be both or neither. Your friends, your parents, your siblings, your peers, your cohorts; each is an integral part of who you are. They create our sense of family and community. They create our group of people to exist within.

But for some of us, we are lacking that sense of belonging, the sense of family/community to surround ourselves.

I am one of those people.

For quite a while, I have felt lonely. I lack that sense of community to be with, the family that I can have fun with, share my passions with, and overall just feel a part of something more. I felt like I needed a group of people to prove my worth, to feel worthy of those connections. But I didn’t have that. All I had was myself.

Growing up, I was surrounded by extroverted personalities, which pulled me into my quiet zone. Watching them have friends and have fun made me feel like an outsider. My personality did not align with what I saw. Their energy and enthusiasm overwhelmed me.

In middle school, I felt even more of an outsider. Everyone had their groups of people; the popular kids, the smart kids. The school archetypes I’d seen in shows and movies existed there.

There were times I felt ashamed. Two guys back in my middle school approached me and wanted to talk to me. I wasn’t as energetic as they wanted me to be. They moved on and found another person who was more active and fun. I had to hold back my tears. It was a lot to handle.

High school was the same, but a little more mature and controlled. I still saw groups of friends smiling and laughing all the time. To change myself, I joined Key Club, a club where you join different communities and events to volunteer your time.

I remember there was this big event called RTC (Regional Training Conference) where different key clubs came together and competed for the best school spirit. My club required after-school sessions to practice our chants.

My high school won an award for best chants and after that, there was an after-party kind of thing. I can still hear the wailing screams and high-pitched voices engrossing the school courtyard. I didn’t know how to be as fun as others. There was a lot of hype, which overwhelmed me. I didn’t know how to process it and ended up confiding in a hallway where the teachers and supervisors were. There were groups of friends who got together and then there was me, leaning on the wall with my phone. A part of me thought I had to get out of my zone; instead, I shamed myself thinking I wasn’t one of them.

I experienced a phase where I completely shut down. I was submerged deep in my degrading thoughts, and it felt like a cry for help. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I talked to two acquaintances of mine about what I was feeling. I needed someone to vent my anger and guilt. One of them said to me “You have to understand Daniel, it’s not what you’re thinking.”

I didn’t know how to process that. What I did and felt back at RTC was true. It was what I was thinking. I initiated change overall. I joined the event, it was still enough right? I talked to people. I was energetic and fun. It was still a good effort, right? After reflecting on RTC, I thought to myself: what was I even doing this whole time? Setting myself up for failure? I succumbed to my thoughts while going back home after school.

Being Alone

I kept hearing advice from my family and acquaintances. I had to be myself and make a change by getting out of my comfort zone.

That didn’t work for me before. It was counter-intuitive. I felt out of options. I adopted this ‘lone wolf’ style because I want to be viewed as a strong-willed person. It was my way of saying that I was still worthy enough during High School.

And yet, it’s become this big burden of mine; a huge struggle. It’s an inner fight between my worth and what I perceive. No matter how much self-love and compassion I give myself, it’s outweighed by the beliefs I have.

It’s still a challenge for me to this day. It’s not that I hate people, I just want to be seen by others as more than just a front. My fear of not being accepted by someone pressures me to think badly because I should’ve learned “better.”

Maybe I wasn’t the best at standing out but people care. I hotwired many beliefs of mine that I don’t deserve people. I never acknowledged that I bring meaning to others. I’ve learned to not blame the world for what happened to me. Others went through similar experiences as mine. There’s beauty beyond the depreciating perception.

All that’s left is to unwire what I had within me: my hatred, my shame, my guilt.

“You don’t deserve anyone.”

I was made fun of because I had no friends. It’s why I believed I wasn’t good enough for others. Instead of shunning myself, I realized that I was not alone in my struggles. I’m not lonely.

“You don’t deserve love from others.”

That’s not true.

“You’re a liar and the reason why no one likes you.”

That’s not true either. 

“So, why does this even matter? It’s all in the past. You’re overthinking it. You’re only making it hard.”

I know I am. And it may have happened in the past but I shouldn’t separate my worth. I know what I mean to people. I’m valued.

“Oh? And how is that not happening for you? Where are your friends? Your caring family?”

It doesn’t matter when I will find them or how soon, I know people care about me. I know I caused this hate for myself, but I want to accept that others are happy with me.

I don’t want to lie to myself any longer. I don’t want to shame myself further. Doing this means that I isolated myself to avoid being ridiculed. That was my way of coping. I’m afraid to know what will happen to me but if it means finding a place to belong, I’m taking that chance. 

Because I know people care about me.

I can’t blame others because of the bad thoughts I had. I taught myself how to find good people without my bias.

1. Don't be rude

It's common sense. If you're rude to people and that's your enjoyment then is that a friendship?

2. Know who to trust

You need to know who you are talking to before considering them a friend.

3. Know your boundaries

If someone doesn't respect you, or understand, don't let them hurt your well-being.

4. Look after yourself

Keep checking in if things don't feel right, even in the smallest things. When something is bothering you, you must address it.

An Open-World

These mess of thoughts have defined me for so long that I forgot the meaning of what ‘family’ means. It was self-sabotage.

The reason why I never belonged was because I didn’t deserve any love. I trapped myself with these thoughts because I thought it was the truth but then I learned that it’s not. I blamed myself to no end because I thought it had to be me that was the problem. And I also know that’s not true. Why? Because it’s not just groups of people that define my worth, it’s what I mean to others. I don’t need a lot of people to prove I’m worthy enough. The positive energy I radiate attracts many good people out in the world.

Things are different now. I opened myself to realize I’m not alone in my struggles. I have read many comments on YouTube that talk about how mental health challenges have taken a toll on them and they have to stay strong. These horrid thoughts will pass. Even when they come back, we know how to differentiate what’s true.

I’m thankful that I’m not alone despite my bad anxiety clouding my thoughts. I’m okay with myself. And others are okay with me. In this vast, open, vibrant, colorful, and cruel world, we all have a place to belong, even if we don’t see it.

About the Author

Daniel Santiago is a blogger in the Love Yourself Foundation. He enjoys writing, playing games, and exercising. His favorite activity is going out for walks and listening to lo-fi and serene music. A professional at being an introvert, he strives to find his place in the world and remind everyone they are not alone.

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