“Your junk journal is a place just for you,” I tell my Junk Journaling for Resilience (JJ4R) students, “and every part of you belongs here.”
This emphasis on building a place of self-belonging is vitally important when we engage in artistic practices as healing practices. In a sense, cultivating self-belonging is one of the key things that makes this JJ4R practice resilience-building. After all, warm, curious, accepting attention is the sunlight that helps living beings grow sturdy, flexible, and strong. Even those parts of ourselves that bother us most, and those behaviors that seem least helpful to our overall well-being, must first be seen, welcomed, accepted—even cherished!—before they can become nutritive compost for a more life-leaning way forward.
Many of us, however, do not have an inner template of self-belonging readily at hand. Our go-to way of relating to ourselves (our blueprint or template for self-relating) is developed early in life based on the way that our primary care providers related to us as little children. For a combination of reasons that are both unique to our individual family circumstances, and also due to cultural, societal and historical influences, many of us did not have parents who knew how to be a place of deep welcome for us. Many of us were taught that we could belong only under certain conditions, when we performed in certain ways, and not others. This is called performance-based belonging.
Performance-based belonging makes sense in some work settings where the stakes are very high and mistakes cost lives. However, if performance-based belonging is all a person knows, especially starting in childhood, then what develops is a socially constructed “self” that is developed in response to external expectations. This overly outward-oriented self—while a brilliant thing to have developed as little children when our very survival depended on our ability to perform according to external measures of acceptability—this performance-based self is a little bit brittle, a bit defensive, and it tends to approach life with an attitude of “efforting” because it has to keep tap dancing every day for ongoing approval. Performance-based belonging, and the “self” that it cultivates, seems quite “normal” in American culture, but it’s power and capacity will always be somewhat limited (and not ultimately satisfying) because it is disconnected from our deeper inner wellspring of generativity and creativity.
Luckily, this little-s self is not all we are. And the human brain is remarkably plastic and changeable. Because of this, we can intentionally rewire ourselves by practicing relating to ourselves in new ways. By relating to ourselves in new, more accepting, curious and self-loving ways, over time we can create a whole new relational template of whole-self belonging. In this field of belonging, our inner nature can risk being known; we become reconnected to that inner center of generativity, authenticity, meaning, purpose and true power.
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