Belonging: What Does the Word Evoke for You?

Ciara Gogan

November 02, 2018

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Who gets that uneasy feeling, like they don't belong when they are in a new situation, or when they are outside their tribe? What's your experience? For most of my life, up until about 12 years ago, I've hidden a big part of who I am.

I've always felt like an outsider, and this feeling caused me to put up a wall that I let few people through. I was gay and didn't want people to know, so I didn't let them in, didn't let them get close.

I was judging myself and didn't want others to judge me too. This judgment created a sense of not belonging that follows me still. There are times when I get the unbelonging feeling, and at first, I don't know why.

But then I remember.

The sense of not belonging stems from living so many years while protecting my secret. And I know I'm not alone in this. Many of us, especially in the LBGTQ community, have this coat of armor in place. We may not be aware of it, but it's there.

In junior school, I had an unfortunate nickname that unwittingly revealed my secret, which made me retreat even more, other than from my best friends. I can't even tell you what it was because the pain of it is still so raw (why are kids so mean anyway?).

In high school, I was friends with people in all sorts of cliques. I never quite belonged to any of the groups but had solid friendships in many. This trend followed me to my adult life and is still true today, and is something I am proud of, truth be told.

I am not defined by belonging to one group or another, but that doesn't mean it's not lonely being on the periphery. Even within my own wonderful family, I didn't quite fit in.

Not through any fault of my siblings or parents but I was always "different" and felt like an outsider. This feeling, however, was self-imposed. I didn't feel good enough, so I must not have been. Because I was hiding who I was, I didn't belong anywhere.

Many of us in the LGBTQ community have this sense of not fitting in, of feeling like we don't belong. This feeling often causes us to follow one of two paths . . . hiding or being so "fierce" that we are always performing.

The same net result is we keep people at arm's length and don't let them see the real us. Our closest friends are "like" us, but we're not comfortable outside that inner circle.

Image Source: Unsplash

So what happened 12 years ago to change this for me? I met my wife Debbie, and I felt seen, really seen for the first time in a long time, maybe the first time ever. I belonged finally!

It started the process for me of coming out fully and embracing my whole self, not just the parts that I wanted people to see.

Perhaps that's all any of us wants, to be seen for who we truly are, and to be loved!

To this day, I sometimes get that "us vs. them" feeling when I'm in a large group of people who are not "like me." But when I am with my tribe, I'm relaxed and outgoing. A while ago I was invited to participate in an LGBT event as one of a few coaches doing "speed coaching" for the participants.

It was a networking event, which used to mean I'm uncomfortable, feeling like I don't belong, and shy about approaching others. Not at this event; this was my community and, subconsciously at first, I was more myself . . . funny, at ease, and not wanting to run for the door!

The sense of belonging is important, and it's all well and good to have it when you're in your comfort zone, but let's face it: we don't spend most of our lives there, so what can we do to make things better?

We can change this dynamic, and it starts with self-acceptance. When you love who you are, you care a lot less what others think of you. You have the strength to be authentic and be seen.

Here's what I know for sure: we must first belong to ourselves. What I mean by that is have self-appreciation, to like yourself and who you are . . . all of you. Not the facade that you present to the world. I mean the real you; the good, the bad, and the fabulous!

Image Source: Max Pixel

What I see in my community of LGBT brothers and sisters is that we hide, even if we're out of the closet. We hide our true selves much of the time, either by flaming out or dressing down. If this is who you are, fabulous!

Use your authenticity as a window for others to get to know the real you, not a shield to protect against them. But if it's not who you are, if it is a wall you've created, love yourself enough to start to tear it down.
Many of us put up that wall that says "I dare you to label me, to judge me." And when we do that, they don't disappoint (or so we tell ourselves).

So what do I do these days? Despite still feeling like an outsider sometimes, I proudly show up as myself everywhere I go.

Not always easy, but I'm determined!

I wear the clothes that best express who I am, I hold my head up high. I express my opinions, and write articles like this one, revealing myself bit by bit! I don't pretend to have all of this figured out, but I know that having the confidence to "go as me" has helped me belong, at least in my own heart and soul, and when you belong there, you belong everywhere.



This article was originally published on

People often remember Ciara for her shock of red hair. What she wants you to remember is how she helps professionals like you understand and appreciate their superpowers: their unique strengths and gifts. She wants to teach them to see their value and what they bring to the world and to revel in it.

Ciara's passion is helping her clients attain the life they want, on their terms. She helps them to find their voice, deal with the "mean girl" in their head, and gain meaningful insight into themselves. Her clients learn how to prioritize in their work and home lives, how to be recognized as strategic members of their teams, and how to take their rightful place in the world!

Ciara attained her master professional life coach certification at a well-regarded coach training school,
Impact Coaching Academy, learning the skills that have helped thousands of people just like you. She is also a Huffington Post Contributor, writes for Thrive Global, is a petitioners coach, and has been a feature on Women You Should Know. All of this, over 20 years of analytical experience in technology, can help you to make real, positive change in your life.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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