Not Belonging to a Group Can Make People Lonely, Even When They Have a Loving Partner

by Dave P.

In Western culture–at least most of it–we’ve tended to place most of our emphasis on separation, individual growth, “self-actualization,” and personal development. The self has become the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe, and we’ve made a religion out of it. Secure attachment models have shaken us out of our arrogant belief in “man” as an island and opened our minds to the brute fact that not only is it impossible to survive on our own, but we probably weren’t even meant to. But, despite my knowing this–and for all my training in cross-cultural psychology–I’d forgotten that not all cultures view separation from family and home as the hallmark of adult maturity.

For some people, just having an adoring partner, as important as it is, will never take the place of belonging to a larger group. That’s because their whole notion of what constitutes a “self” may be subtly, but importantly, different. And because of that, what the self needs, in order to feel secure, may be very different as well. Psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kityama have argued that in more communal (or “interdependent”) cultures, where the self emerges in a larger extended family, or culture or group, a person’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, and identity are based more on their connection to others than they are in a more “individualist” culture.

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