information for transformational people

Belong 246Belonging

From a talk by Lisa Cherry

Lisa Cherry is an author, researcher and trainer, specialising in assisting schools, services and systems to create change that supports those working with the legacy of trauma. She recently spoke at a Trauma Recovery Conference about her research into 'belonging' with people with 'lived experience'. Here is an extract of her talk:

Let's think about 'belonging'. Relationships that foster a sense of belonging, creating relationships that make a difference. So what does the word 'belonging' mean to you?

What did my lived experience research participants say? They mainly said; safety, acceptance, relationships, resonance.

What about not belonging? My research participants mainly said: rejection, racism, labelling and shame.

We actually all belong in not belonging.

This is what one of the study participants wrote from lived experience, "The concept of belonging cannot be authentic. Have you asked yourself who makes the rules of where you belong? What is the criteria to belong? I do not belong where you think. From an early age, you made your mind up, you made your policies, you made your procedures to make me stuck, you predicted my outcomes - I would belong to a prison, I would belong to the justice system, I would belong in a pharmacy picking up a script, I would belong to the streets, I would belong to a teenage pregnancy group, I would belong to the benefit system, I would belong to the colour of the people you so desperately want to go away.

"I would never belong where you belong. I would never belong to the group that finishes school. I would never belong to a university or achieve anything. Isn't that what your stats say? Your predicted outcomes. I am the subject of a system so blinded. I belong to nature. I see my strength and resilience there. I belong to challenging you. I belong to breaking narratives. I belong to dreaming. The truth is I am not bound or held down by a sense of belonging. Rather, I create my own sense of belonging."

I'm so grateful I have permission to read that out. Because I just think it's so powerful. And it really speaks to system harm.
The need to belong is a fundamental and human motivation. And that means we will find somewhere to belong to regardless of whether it's healthy, regardless of whether it's safe. Regardless of anything, we'll find somewhere to belong to. And actually, the strategies for belonging that people employed were often the kind of strategies that are stigmatised in our culture, which I thought was really interesting. So the things available to help us find a sense of belonging are often the things that are stigmatised culturally.

The domains of belonging are our our homes, our school and our community.

  • Belonging in home would be; unconditional love, a place where you are known and know others a sense of history, personal space, shared understanding and shared values and safety.
  • Belonging in school would be; membership notions of territory, connectedness, engagement, bonding. Creating a sense of belonging.
  • Belonging in community would be; membership influence, fulfilment of needs, and emotional connection.

The key themes that I found were; power, stigma, trauma, relationships, movement, rejection of stigma, searching for belonging, and finding belonging.

If you realise that you're being stigmatised, then there is a process of rejection. That rejection can be because you're being stigmatised through statistical data -  the administrative data that's collected on children in care. That continued focus on administrative data keeps us away from people.

I realised I couldn't talk about stigma without talking about power and without talking about trauma. The three things are deeply interrelated. We've got abuse, neglect, system harm, homelessness, state intervention, exclusion, poverty, living in care, racism, medical harm, etc. Behind it is power, professional power. So that's thinking about legislation, sanctions, school moves, home moves, economic power, poverty and childhood poverty for people coming out of care. Then how you access the employment when you have been excluded from school, for example.

So thinking about poverty as a continuum of economic power, coercive power, state intervention, I identified three different types of stigma:
  • Professional stigma - through the language of educators, social workers, police, courts.
  • Social stigma - living in care, school exclusion, racism, prison, poverty
  • Self stigma - I've had these experiences, what do I think I'm worth? What can I show up for?

We are living in a culture that stigmatises.

For an example, read Kenny's story here.

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From a talk by Lisa Cherry, 19/04/2023

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