In the early days after Dali came to live with us, my husband was sitting on the floor playing and cuddling with her. I was on the couch, looking on, and longing to be with them. I had a felt sense that I would be welcomed if I joined them. I hadn’t had much of a sense of belonging in my life and Dali brought that when she joined our family.
Years later, before we welcomed Oskar home, a neighbor said to me, “Dali has an air about her that says that she belongs to a family.” My heart filled with joy. Dali had given me the gift of belonging and I had been able to return the favor.
Dali treasures her sense of belonging. One evening, we had to take Oskar to the emergency animal hospital. We were going to leave Dali at home, but she ran out the door. I knew she wasn’t going to run away. She didn’t want to be left behind. And as almost always, Dali got her way and we went as a family to take care of Oskar.
Dali has other things she does to try to keep us together as a family. When we’re getting out of the car or going to the car, Dali will herd me and my husband to make sure we stay together. If my husband is going to walk Dali and Oskar, Dali will come sit next to me, and look at me mournfully, as a way to get me to go on the walk, as well. When I do decide to join the outing, Dali literally jumps up and down for joy.
The desire to belong is a fundamental motivation. When we have a sense of belonging, we are more confident, better able to handle difficult challenges, and we can manage our emotions in a way that feel less like a roller coaster and more like a rolling brook.
The desire to belong is found in other animals, as well, and strong bonds benefit other animals in similar ways as humans. For example, studies have shown that cows are more resilient and less frightened by new situations when they are with their friends. They also learn more quickly when they are with other cows than when they are alone.
In The Inner World of Farm Animals, I read about a female cow who gave birth to a stillborn calf. Although weak from medical complications from the delivery, she traveled a good distance though many fields to find her own mother. The next day, they were found together, the mother comforting and grooming her distraught daughter.
Belonging is a powerful force. Belonging sustains us. Belonging gives us the strength to be ourselves. Belonging provides a source of acceptance and comfort. Belonging need not be restricted by boundaries of race, gender or species.
(professional website: http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)