The Desire for Belonging and Significance

As humans, we all have a desire to belong and to be significant.

Do you ever check your Instagram “just one more time” to see if you got “enough” likes on that last post? Do you ever find yourself sad if a friend missed your birthday? Does it get under your skin if someone talks over you in a meeting?

These thoughts and behaviors come from the innate, natural, and totally normal desires to belong and be significant. Yet, in the midst of daily life, we don’t necessarily stop to think about the purpose or goal behind our every action.  

Jane Nelsen, the author and founder of Positive Discipline, uses these two desires as the foundation of her philosophy and educational tools. Nelsen teaches that every behavior a child or teen exhibits is an attempt to belong or be significant. Positive Discipline provides parents, caregivers, and educators with a vast range of tools for supporting children and teenagers in developing productive, live-giving habits. While studying this system and becoming a Parent Educator, I have massively grown in my own self-awareness and have found new tools for self-compassion along the way.

While I love sharing tools for parents to use with their children and teens, I’m actually going to focus on how YOU, as a parent or caregiver, can use this premise of the need to belong and be significant as a foundation for intentional living. In my Intentional Parents of Tweens and Teens Unite membership, I support parents in maintaining self-care, communication, and community. So today, I invite you to carve out time for self-care through this reflective practice.

Processing Your Desires

Grab a journal or a notebook as we begin a series of reflection questions and considerations. Note: You may need to take breaks in between sections. If things get heavy, Stop. Breathe. Feel. and stay patient with yourself. This is a process, and it takes time.

  1. Imagine yourself in the following situations and answer the questions that follow:
    • When you check your Instagram “just one more time,” what are you thinking, feeling, and/or deciding about yourself? (Decisions are essentially beliefs that you are taking on.)
    • When a friend misses your birthday, what beliefs are you holding about yourself? Your friend? The friendship?
    • When someone talks over you in a meeting, what are you wanting or wishing?
  2. Perhaps a few other situations have come to your mind as you considered the scenarios above. Are there times when you have felt a big, shadowy emotion because your need to belong and be significant was not being met? List as many of these experiences in your notebook. You may consider labeling each one “B” if the desire was for belonging or “S” if the desire was for significance.
  3. Next, list what you are thinking, feeling, and/or deciding about yourself in these experiences? You may choose to name this next to each item from Step 2 or you may create a new list of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
  4. Then, consider: What do you most want or wish in these experiences? Again, you may choose to name this next to each item from Step 2 or create a new list.
  5. As we move on, we will look towards the lighter sides of our experiences in belonging and having significance. On a fresh page in your journal, list situations or experiences in which you feel a deep sense of belonging and/or significance. These can be specific scenarios or memories or general ideas.
  6. Next, reflect: What you are thinking, feeling, and/or deciding about yourself in these experiences? You may choose to name this next to each item from Step 5 or create a new list.
  7. Finally, What do you most want or wish in these experiences? Again, you may choose to name this next to each item from Step 5 or you may create a new list.

Using Your Desires as Self-Awareness

All of this information, all of this data, gives you so many tools for observing, noticing, and naming the ways that your basic human desires emerge. There is not one perfect way to use this reflection; instead, it is my hope that this exploration can become a foundation of self-awareness and empowerment for you. These questions can help you tune-in and reflect as you go through diverse, everyday experiences. Here are a few ways you may continue this practice:

  • When you catch yourself spiraling into negative self-talk, remind yourself that you simply want to be significant. Honor this sweet part of yourself. Know that it is okay– and normal!– to want to be important.
  • When you feel isolated or alone, you can return to an experience in which you experienced belonging. Maybe a mantra or a visualization of yourself in this connected space emerges and can help anchor you.
  • When it’s possible, put yourself back into a situation in which you feel belonging and/or significance. Call someone who brings you into connection, go to a place in which you feel confident, etc.
  • Respond with compassion when a child, partner, or friend is facing big emotions and projects them onto you. Know that they, too, simply want to belong and be significant. You can encourage them with affirmations. Additionally, you can ask them some of the reflection questions you’ve explored in this practice.

As you begin this work, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I will be sure to answer them. I’m here to support you as you bring peace and harmony into your family life.

Post Author
Courtney Harris
As a Life Coach for Teens and Parents, Courtney supports tweens, teens, and young adults in finding their voice, growing confidence, and thriving. Through 1:1 and small group coaching sessions, teens and tweens are able to overcome anxiety, disconnect, and isolation as they explore their truest sense of self and develop a deep sense of empowerment. Courtney supports parents in practicing self-care, growing alongside their children, and developing balanced sensitivity towards the process their rapidly-changing child is creating. Through Intentional Parents of Tweens and Teens, an online membership for parents of adolescents, Courtney offers parents the time and space to learn, grow, problem-solve, and relate to one another in a supportive community. Sessions with Courtney lovingly guide families in developing the trust, communication, and connection that's crucial for a life of ease.


1 Comment
  1. posted by
    We All Need to Belong and to Be Significant! – Courtney Harris Coaching
    May 29, 2018

    […] blog was originally published on Hello My Tribe, a community and publication for all mothers, mothers-to-be, and […]

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