Insights: The Need to Belong

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Waking up to the news that there had been a 7.5 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand made my stomach churn.

I spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in New Zealand and two years living in Christchurch. 

I started to think more about my life back then. Walking to school in bare feet, flying a kite on the beach, hanging out at the local café. Wonderful memories. I carry the New Zealand culture in my soul. And even though I am emphatically grateful to live in Newport Beach, I will always hold my heritage as where I belong.

This past week I got together with a friend who just happened to move here from New Zealand. Over the weekend we got to catch up. It was wonderful to share the stories and to talk about what makes New Zealand, New Zealand: the sausage rolls, the mince pies, the Kiwi birds (or the kiwi fruits), going to an all-girls school, learning to speak Maori, all bring be back to my culture. 

Of course, I could share these memories with anyone, but sharing it with someone who understands and shares those experiences makes you feel connected, that you belong.

Having a degree in Cultural Anthropology and a doctorate in Psychology, I understand the importance of belonging, of sharing.

It is instinctual for us to have this sense of belonging. We as a culture talk so much about individualism, yet we would not survive without a sense of belonging. 

We can get this sense of belonging in our family, our community, groups, our country and even our world. 

We need to feel we have an identity that is larger than ourselves. When people feel alone, it is not necessarily because they do not spend time with people, it is because they do not have a sense of belonging.

This past weekend I also had the opportunity to go to the inaugural gala for the True Sioux Hope Foundation held at the Balboa Bay Resort. 

Founder Twila True is a well-known entrepreneur in Newport Beach and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from South Dakota. That is her heritage. The funds raised from the event go to the lifesaving and critical aid programs for the people living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, reportedly one of the poorest in the nation.

Listening to the stories told by guest speakers from the Oglala Sioux tribe and the emotional connection that these people have within this tribe was incredibly moving.  Even though she has created a wonderful life for herself here in Newport Beach, Twila’s sense of belonging comes from her heritage, which was extremely evident during her speech.

Sioux people have many challenges: having to leave their tribe to pursue work, torn between belonging and surviving. Not an easy decision, and if we were in that same position, I am sure it would be difficult for us also. 

When we lose the familiarity of where we belong, we start to doubt ourselves, our sense of purpose.

Brené Brown, an American scholar and author, wrote that “a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” 

Do not underestimate our need to connect to our roots.

With the holidays here, it is always a wonderful time to celebrate where we have come from and know we belong to something larger: our family, and our culture. Never forget how important that is.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected]

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