Lock and Dam #1: The Illusion of Not Belonging

When we were deciding to move to Portugal, I connected with an old friend and we went roller-blading near my old stomping ground in Minneapolis – Lock and Dam #1 on the Mississippi River.

She brought up the topic of the ups and downs of relocating, even though she had no idea that I was actively exploring the possibility. (We’ve always had a weird telepathic type of connection). Unlike me, she had a stable group of friends throughout high school and college and really reaped the benefits of that. It gave her a grounded confidence that I find very comforting. I told her I wanted that kind of stability for my daughters – especially since I moved so many times as a kid.

Mirroring my worst fear, she said, “Yeah. The most messed up people I know didn’t have that sense of belonging.” My Philadelphia voice rang out conspicuously above the standard Midwest volume. “Uh, hello, I’m in that category!”

Many of us have felt like we don’t belong. When my husband and I first began to discuss the need for a move (not overseas, just in general), my first response was, “Ok, but I don’t want the children to have to change schools. I want them to have what I didn’t have.” His reply was, “Well, I grew up in the same middle school/high school, and that wasn’t great either.” We both experienced a sense of “not belonging” on some level, regardless of whether we knew the group for years, or we were the new kid. All these years I’ve been trying to protect my kids from “moving trauma,” from being the outsider, and yet, that really had nothing to do with anything except for my perception of it.

Seemingly to debunk all of my old beliefs about belonging, we ended up not only moving…but moving to a whole new culture in a country where we don’t even speak the language. In my last article, I shared about the challenges of our first night in Portugal. When my daughter said, “We’ll never fit in,” I have to admit, I was a bit triggered…but nothing like I would have been in the past. Thankfully, I’ve used my tools to shift one of my core limiting beliefs of “I don’t belong.” If I hadn’t, I would think I would have been a complete wreck.

Using Emotional Freedom Technique, I was able to clear my limiting beliefs about not belonging and re-imprint the higher truth that I belong because I exist, just as a liver cell belongs with every other cell because they are both part of one body. When I can really get that I am part of one body of humanity, and in fact, of all of creation, the unnatural state of not belonging disappears. I once listened to Shifra Hendrie interview Lynne McTaggart, who was talking about her book “The Bond.” She discussed what Gregg Braden also talks about in his book “Deep Truth”: we are living by outdated stories of ourselves and our world. Newtonian science has told us that we are separate and Darwinian science has told us that we must compete to survive. Piled in heaps on top of that is all of the programming we are bombarded with to keep us in these stories of separation and its byproduct, not belonging. 

I’ve often wondered why human beings bond so much around territory, roots and historical context. Not having grown up with territorial roots, I never had the experience of being deeply connected to a community simply because I lived on a piece of land for the same number of years as those around me, sharing a familiar past. I learned to connect based on something very different. For me, it’s almost instant. I connect with others with very little context or story.

Before we moved to Portugal, I wondered what it would be like to be a global citizen - to belong anywhere, simply based on the truth that we are all connected.

I'm going get a little nerdy here with a Star Trek reference: Have you seen the episode where someone on the ship dies, and there’s a funeral service taking place? Beings from another race are visiting the ship, observing the human display of grief and are perplexed by the human behavior. One being says to the other, “Yes, humans are very odd. They grieve very deeply for those they are closest too, yet feel little emotion when other members of their race die.” 

It’s as though we’ve forgotten that we are all part of one human family. Do we need our stories, our territory in order to feel that we belong? Can we include and embrace one another based on our common humanity?

When I moved to Portugal, I began a personal experiment:

Can I connect with each person that I meet, moment-to-moment, with no attachment to stories from the past or of the future? Can I open my heart that much? Can I live in love with all of creation, all of humanity, wherever I am?

A year and a half later, I am in fact discovering deep connection with others, beyond the identity of nationality, home-town roots, and even language. There are days when I still feel like the odd-ball… almost bumping into old ladies as I attempt to pass pedestrian traffic on the right instead of the left, and pushing on the door when it clearly says, “pull” (which in Portuguese is spelled puxe – pronounced “push.” Not at all confusing).

Even with all of our wonderful quirks and uniqueness, feeling separate or like we don’t belong is an outdated notion. It’s time to bust that dam wide open.



Bernadette helps clients find their piece of the puzzle in living a purposeful, connected life.

Sessions via Skype, Phone or In-Person. bernadettewesley.com  


NOURISH YOUR SOUL: PORTUGAL RETREAT