Team sports, religious groups and book clubs: everyone wants to belong to something. Connecting with others, having purpose and feeling supported are crucial components of social wellness. This sense of community is often a positive thing and is linked to better physical, emotional and mental health. However the need to belong can sometimes lead down a dangerous and destructive path.
As the world is on alert with increased concern and disturbing information about Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), I find my mind drifts from shock to confusion reading stories on CNN and Huffington Post about a young Scottish student leaving home to become the wife of a jihadist. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would trade their life of comfort, opportunity and family for a life of fighting, danger and violence, and yet many do.
Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. Along with women leaving their safe homes to fight in Syria, young women have been joining brutal gangs and menacing cults throughout history.
According to a study done by the Centre for Mental Health in the UK, the need to belong to a group or purpose is a significant reason why many females join gangs. Psychology Today reported that cult recruiters target those who already feel isolated and powerless, appealing to their desire to belong, even if the pursuit is brutal, dangerous and destructive.
This behavior does not lie solely in forms of extremism and violence, but can be seen within the establishment of unhealthy relationships and friendships at school and work. The need to belong is so enticing to human nature that it can blind us from the harm we may be doing to our self. Women who struggle with wanting to belong often have lower self-esteem, poor boundaries, and struggle with anxiety and depression that make it increasingly difficult to leave.
Although the need to feel part of something important is part of human nature and can be tremendously helpful to our holistic health, the desire to belong can potentially take a turn for the worst. Vulnerable women who already feel as if they are incomplete, whether it be from social anxiety, a death of a loved one or other factors, are likely looking for a group to fill this void and this exposes them to unhealthy cliques and extreme groups.
In order to meet this emotional need of belongingness that all women of all cultures have, it is imperative women feel supported, have a sense of community and a positive passion that builds their confidence and self-worth.