Belonging

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I understood the importance of Belonging for us coaches. I feel it is one of the main distinctions compared to other modalities.

Definitions

Belonging is often referred to as feeling part of something outside of ourselves. As a holistic relationship coach, I would add that we need to equally feel part of our own selves in order to develop a sense of belonging. I believe meaningful human connection arises from having a sense of autonomy and group membership concurrently.

The ICF in their Diversity & Inclusion Guide for Coaching Providers describe belonging as:

The feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group or place. In order for people to feel like they belong, the environment needs to be set up to be a diverse and inclusive place.

Teacher and author Sebene Selassie shares four things she knows about belonging:

  1. Belonging is. We cannot do or undo belonging. We belong simply because we are alive.
  2. Belonging is in the present moment. It does not exist tomorrow or in another location. It is right here, right now – if you choose to be open to it.
  3. Belonging is revealed through awareness. When we cultivate the capacity to know what is happening in any given moment (minus our opinion of it), then we can connect to belonging.
  4. Belonging is embodied. Even our most supernatural spiritual experiences are accessed through our senses. We don’t find belonging by only thinking about it in our heads. We can only experience belonging in our bodies.

Embodied Awareness

Selassie goes on to describe that Embodied Awareness leads us to belonging, and describes this as:

  1. Embodied = understanding the mind/body are not separate
  2. Awareness = relating to our physical, emotional, and mental experiences

She adds, “In many Asian languages, mind and heart go together. They are not considered to be separate. But not for us: mind is mind, heart is heart, and body is devalued. Which is why we need embodied awareness.”

Coaches can use meditation practices with their clients to align mind/body/spirit. Radiant Coaches Academy (RCA) runs trainings, retreats and certifications that utilise a range of mindfulness practices including the Yoga + Meditation Certification | Radiant Coaches Academy RCA also focuses on creating a beautiful learning environment where students grow a strong sense of belonging and inclusion.

Community and Relationships

Psychologist Nicole LePera talks about belonging in terms of community and relationships. She conceptualises this by discussing interdependence, which is “a state of interconnectedness to others and the world around us.” LePera says true interdependence allows all members of a group or system to connect with one another while also being connected to themselves at the same time.

From my experiences of coaching couples, I think of interdependence as the process of vulnerable connection without attachment. When partners understand their own expectations, wants and needs, and can express them without manipulation and with flexibility (i.e., not being tied to a specific outcome) then their relationships can flourish.

Belonging and Coaching

How does Belonging tie in with coaching? I describe coaching as creating a safe container where our clients experience intentional time with Self. When we feel more deeply connected to ourselves we can connect authentically with a higher power (or a divine source, universe, God, nature). This connection could look like religion and beliefs, honouring our ancestors, spending time getting “lost” in nature, art, or music.

LePera defines this deeper connection with a higher power as showing up in small moments of awe, “Our ancestors bonded over such experiences, coming together communally to witness the uncertainty of the unknown.” Cast your mind back to an awe-inspiring moment, such as watching a sunset, the birth of a child, listening to a choir, the smell of a rose garden, tasting a new food.

Coaching brings an expensiveness into our clients’ lives; we help them uncover possibilities and cultivate hope. Time and again I watch my clients grow their self-belief and achieve amazing things. One client found the partner she had always dreamed of. Another changed their work into a format they had never believed possible. And yet another client repaired a relationship with a family member.

If you are a business coach then belonging can be central to your work. Organisations strive to elicit a sense of belonging from their employees. Managers are trained to link organisational belonging with commitment to common goals. These could be team goals, department goals, organisational goals. Therefore, it is important for businesses to explore what belonging looks and feels like so that staff and managers feel a sense of agency and commitment.

We know that how we feel about ourselves will impact all of our relationships. If we work on developing interdependence then we are impacting everyone that we connect with, and the ripple effect could be global.

Nested Systems

Try this exercise where we look at the nested systems that make up our sense of belonging. Draw four concentric circles and label them in the following way:

  1. Centre circle: Self
  2. Next circle: Family
  3. Next circle: Society
  4. Outer circle: Environment

The headings are kept deliberately broad, and you can alter them or add in your own content. For example, family could include friends, hobbies, interests. Society could mean your job, government, moralistic rules. Environment may refer to nature, the universe, higher power.

Pick a particular topic e.g., romantic relationships, inclusion, trust. Examine the interplay between this topic and how and why it shows up in your life according to each of the four areas. What external influences serve you, and what influences would you like to let go of? Where would you like to make changes? And where will you start?

You could do this exercise with your partner, perhaps pick a topic such as Commitment. Or managers may want to do this exercise with their staff and choose a word like Success. Alternatively, managers may want to use words like Comparison and Competition, both of which can be fuel for separation, domination, and not belonging. By unpacking these concepts, they can be reformed in healthier ways.

Body Work

When we are not connected to our bodies we can disconnect from belonging. Sometimes we are thinking about our bodies (e.g., physical ailments and limitations) rather than sensing our bodies (i.e., imagining into what it can do, how it has served us in our lives thus far).

What does “Connecting with my body” mean to you? What practices bring you into a wider sense of belonging? As Audre Lorde says, “You are the one that you are looking for.”

Resources

BOOK: You Belong: a call for connection, by Sebene Selassie

INSTAGRAM: Nicole LePera @the.holistic.psychologist

ARTICLE: A Sense of Belonging: What It Is and How to Feel It (verywellmind.com)

ICF: ICF-Coach-Training_DEIJB-Resource-Guide.pdf (coachingfederation.org)

Ali Hendry, Education Director (Europe)
Radiant Coaches Academy
https://alihendry.co.uk/coaching-page/

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