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What it Means to be Different: Being "Othered"

We identify as the same or as the other. This process in identity formation is evolving and dynamic with our sense of self being created and recreated through our barrage of social exchanges. From an early age we are aware of our need to belong to a larger group, to fit into our family, to feel a part of our peer group. When we feel on the periphery of our social group or community we begin to identify as invisible or unworthy. In fact being ignored is damaging enough, yet if we are publicly shamed, put down or bullied we create a less than sense of self.


The most basic sense of self is often built around being a part of a larger whole. Who are we if we have no yardstick of measurement or no context. The latter occurs through feeling acknowledged or validated by others. One does not come out of the womb feeling this "stamp of inner approval". Attachment bond theory highlights how the earliest sense of self is through the mirror image of our primary care -givers. For example when the young infant looks into the eyes of their primary care-giver they have an awareness, a perception "this person is looking at me with adoration, they think I am amazing", alternatively "what is wrong with me, they are looking at me with a critical stare".


Social constructionist theory continues to explain how this symbiotic back and forth plays out as we move through life and increase our myriad of social exchanges. Do we feel a sense of "fitting into" our family unit or is our perception that we are the "black sheep"? Do we feel a sense of belonging to our peer group at school or do we experience ourselves as being an outsider?


Social validation is formed around a perception of belonging to something bigger than ourselves; in turn social acknowledgment lends itself to feelings of self validation in later life; that in turn is linked to emotional regulation, levels of overall mastery in our lived experience as well as overall feelings of greater satisfaction in the quality of life. We are not passive recipients in this process and are able to create and recreate our identity; through heightening our awareness of our inner experiences, and also becoming more active in choosing safe environments as we journey through life.




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