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Finding Your People—and Why They Might Surprise You

Our tendency to look for our “tribe” in groups and communities that we immediately feel an affinity toward—people who reflect back who we think we already are—stunts us as individuals, and isn’t a true antidote to loneliness, says depth psychologist Anne Davin, Ph.D.

Via individual psychotherapy and coaching sessions, Davin works with people to make shifts and transformations in their lives, or otherwise reach a higher potential and level of personal fulfillment. (Davin—who splits her time between Marin County, CA and Bend, Oregon—also offers a series of group online courses and retreats.) She’s found that many people are trapped by myths about what being a part of a group is supposed to look, feel, and be like. These myths can have the opposite effect of what community should do for us, Davin says: We end up alienating ourselves from the people who can actually help us to grow and find fulfillment.

Here, Davin takes us through the myths that hold us back and outlines a path that can push us forward into connections that will ultimately serve us all better.

How to Break Through Loneliness & Find Your Tribe

Loneliness is the plague of the 21st century. Despite having more tools for connection than we’ve ever had, we are more isolated than we have ever been. How do you feel less alone in a Western culture of rugged individualism, competition, and comparison, where most of us have more online interactions than human interactions?

First, let’s look at a few myths about “finding your tribe” and the purpose of community that often unintentionally alienate us from others.

Myth #1

There will be a certain “magical” quality that I feel when I encounter a member of my tribe.

Limiting your tribe to people you “recognize instantly,” or feel unexplainably “deeply familiar” with, is a very Western idea and one that can be incredibly destructive on an individual and societal level. The consequence: You push to the side essential parts of your own humanity that are less familiar to you, which show up in the “alien other”—aka, the person you don’t feel instant affinity with. The soul requires diversity and wanes without it. Consider including in your tribe those you resonate with, as well as those who challenge you to see the world in a new way.

When you place your attention on others around you as a vulnerable observer, witnessing who is in front of you, rather than who you imagine is in front of you, you are pulled out of your loneliness and isolation into a present, intimate moment with another person, even if that person is a stranger to you. As a vulnerable observer, you can find new depth in your social landscape, and the possibility of remaking who you are at your core through observation and sharing yourself with others.

The magic occurs when you allow yourself to be transformed by your encounter with another who isn’t “just like” you.

Myth #2

Once I find my tribe, I will have it forever.

Even thousands of years ago, not all tribes survived and stuck together. Internal power struggles, natural disasters, famine, inter-tribal conflict, and so on, all influenced whether a tribe actually made it. Don’t be disillusioned if your “tribe” goes by the wayside—many have. Do what the ancients did: Go find another one or start one yourself.

Tribes are like gardens. They require care and feeding, and they are subject to constant change. Some people move to another city, some become involved in a romantic relationship and switch tribes, people pass away with age. New members of the tribe will be born or join the community from elsewhere. Modern-day tribes must be fluid, flexible, and have open boundaries. What remains constant is the “village heart” that tethers everyone together with a feeling of belonging that transcends time and change.

Myth #3

When I find my tribe, people will “get” me and I won’t feel hurt or alone anymore.

A healthy and mature adult can tolerate the tension of opposites (differences of opinions, healthy conflict) and is self-regulating (they take responsibility for their emotional reactions and feelings and don’t blame others). When conflict arises, the mature adult gets back to love as soon as possible. In the old days, tribal members typically couldn’t just leave the tribe because someone made them angry. They had to deal with it.

Tribes teach you how to love and live in community. They shouldn’t protect you from yourself or people you don’t like. In fact, the opposite is true: They should reveal you to yourself through your interactions with others.

How do modern people build tribes? You must adopt the right attitude and take action.

Adopting the Right Attitude

We tend to lean towards the deadly “D’s”—disapproval, devastation, and disenfranchisement. To cultivate a sense of community, you must move beyond these habits of the mind and engage the sensibilities of your authentic nature. It’s much easier said than done, but practicing these attitudes strengthens them over time.

Disapproval is when you disapprove of yourself and others. You know: “I’m too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too whatever”—or someone else is all those things. It’s a horrible mind trap that leaves you feeling empty, disappointed, angry, and alone; and it’s a powerful rejection and degradation of yourself and of other people. It’s one of the worst habits we have in our culture, and causes profound separation and loneliness.

  • The attitude to cultivate and practice is one of approval. Start with yourself and then start to practice approving of others exactly the way they are.

Devastation is the belief and experience that “I’ve been hurt so badly, I can’t get up.” The loss you have suffered, it is unfair—“why me? why now?”—and leaves you feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. “Life does not make sense, how could this be?”

  • The attitude to cultivate and practice is one of getting into agreement. More Earth-focused cultures teach that the human spirit lives and dies like the seasons of nature. Life is impermeable and unpredictable. When you are not tethered to a greater sense of your authentic nature and the soul in all life, you will feel like a victim instead of a participant in the great mystery. Get into agreement that you are not in control, let whatever losses you have suffered pass through you like a spiritual winter, and then look for signs of your spring.

Disenfranchisement is when you feel like an outsider: “I don’t belong here, there, or anywhere.” This position is a complete and utter rejection of the possibility of tribe that is right in front of you. You are often the one making the decision that you don’t belong and are not wanted, and those are the eyes that you see the world through.

  • The attitude to cultivate and practice instead is acceptance and receiving. Instead of rejecting, you accept. Make the decision that life is bringing to you what is most essential to your being. Take the position that the people, places, and things around you are lining up as your companions in this journey called life. Your belonging starts with your willingness to open and receive the love that is available to you this very second.

Tribe-Building Actions

To get started, choose one or more of these tribe-building actions to take today:

Say “yes” to invitations. Recognize that each invitation is an opening, seeking to include you in the divine design of life. For this reason, the likelihood that you will encounter soul connections by showing up every time life invites you out into community is high. Say “yes” especially when you really want to say “no.”

Help others with the same frequency that you care for yourself. Operate from the perspective: What can I give? The getting is in the giving. Hold the door for a stranger, ask to give directions to someone who is lost, and look for ways to serve today. Most importantly, give what you most wish to receive. It can help to write this down in a journal first, then think of ways you can offer it to others.

Go direct into community by choosing one that is already organized around something that turns you on. Recognize that groups that have already self-organized are “homes” waiting for you. Make yourself an insider by acting as if you belong. Assume your place is waiting for you. Choose a group today, and reach out to organize a plan to participate as a member.

Ask yourself, what is my greatest emotional wound? Then organize yourself today to go serve it. If this doesn’t immediately spring to mind, spend some time journaling about it. What is the thing that stands most between you and a sense of connection to others? Is it the neglect you suffered as a child? Is it stress from an unhealthy intimate relationship? Go and volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters, the women’s shelter, etc. Use the thing that severed your connection to trusting life and people to re-establish one.

Walkabout. Look at who and what has been pushed to the edges of your world, and go on an adventure into those borders. To go on a modern walkabout, first ask: Who is invisible in my world? Are there children in your life? The elderly? What about people who aren’t your color, race, age, gender, or political persuasion? Try this: List five adjectives that describe you. Now list their antonyms…is that person in your life?

Make plans today to step outside your comfort zone, and head out into the unknown, not as a tourist (observing for the purposes of entertainment), but as a vulnerable observer; allow yourself to be “remade” by the encounter.

Anne Davin, Ph.D. is a depth psychologist, writer, teacher, and executive coach. Her work focuses on the role of psyche, culture, and the marginalized voice of the feminine.

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