The flip side of belonging

Most of us can see that we sometimes modify our behaviour to adapt to the group. We are malleable creatures and our survival depends on just how good we are at it. 

So we can recognise that we get influenced by what others do and say. 

But let me tell you this : we don’t recognise it to the extent that we truly are.

One of the most fascinating things I learned in social Psychology was the different experiments done on group dynamics. If I was to illustrate just how influenceable we are, I could simply take this one single to illustrate : they take a group of people, everyone except one is already in on the experiment and that one person thinks everyone is there for the same reason they are. They are presented with an image of 9 dots and are being asked to say (one by one) the number of dots they see. Without expectation, everyone in the group will claim there are 10 dots. And when it comes to the one person we are actually observing, even though they see very clearly that there are only 9 dots, they systematically answer the same number as everyone else. 


Another experiment that was done : people are leaving a shopping mall and there is someone coming in as they are going out. The person is carrying something big and would potentially need help to open the door to get in. Who helps them and who doesn’t?

Well, they made the experiment start a little earlier. Some would find a one dollar note on the ground just minutes before they came to the door to leave the mall. Those who found the note were automatically more inclined to be helpful. 


What have we been shown through these two experiments? Firstly: we are far more inclined to want to belong to the group even if we know that the group is wrong and secondly, if we feel grateful we are more likely to show generosity to others. 


There’s a reason I chose to share these two experiments amongst all the ones I’ve studied. And that is how easily we can spiral downwards when in the wrong place and the wrong time.

IE : when we are surrounded by people who might not have the same agenda as we have but at a time when we are not even aware of our agenda. So when we feel a little lost in life. 

This usually manifests in a deep feeling of “out of place” but without being able to put the finger on it. Just unease. We call this anxiety as well.

Anxiety occurs when things are not tangible. There is uncertainty in the anxiety. 

For instance this happens when we might know deep down what our values are but we are not consciously aware of them and we live in a context where other values are promoted. 

It’s actually pretty common in childhood because we adopt the agreed worldview of our parents even if we might have our own idea but we don’t allow for it to emerge. This is of course because we want to be a part of the group and sometimes it shows up in teenage years through the very habitual and healthy rebellion that happens. Sometimes it shows up later and sometimes it never shows up. 

If it doesn’t but its lingering we tend to find strategies to deal with that anxiety by numbing it. But by numbing the anxiety we also numb everything else we can feel. There’s not multiple choices of “feel only the good feelings but not the bad ones”. And instead we might come into a crisis in the middle of our life. 

As we oscillate between feeling the anxiety and numbing it, the mental action we take is often called “cognitive dissonance”. That is a process in our mind of finding a reason to obey so that we don’t have to use so much energy in the frustration of not being able to choose by ourselves. Basically, when there is a conflict of interest between two beliefs in our brain. 

To take childhood as an example again, we were under the authority of our caretakers and therefore we had to obey even if we didn’t want to. We had to make it right in our heads as well so that we would not resent them or spend too much energy in the frustration. And the cognitive dissonance in that time is very often why later in life we remember only that our childhood was great and full of sunshine. Even though there had to have been rainy and unpleasant days too. 


Fast forward into adult life : we have often adopted the same view from childhood in the situation we have as adults. The kind of people we are surrounded by, the things we focus on, the type of conflicts we struggle with and a general feeling of wellbeing. All very much linked to what we have stored from “back when”. 

As long as we go along with it, we don’t see the resistance so much because we live within the lines of the structure we have accepted. It is only when we begin to draw outside the lines that the scaffolding starts to shake. And this is of course what happens when we want to break free from certain conditions in our life.

What I see from my place of Ayurvedic lifestyle are people who have been living in habits that are not good for them for a very long time. You would think that it’s then easy to just change them. But if the whole structure they call “their life” is based on who they think they are, what kind of people are in their lives and what their different activities are, you begin to see a mesh of habits. And many of those are not their own. 

But because we have these mechanisms of wanting to belong, it becomes a survival issue to change habits if the people in our life don’t want the same thing. We will feel inclined to fall back on what they do and since we are not experiencing the wellbeing of living in our True Nature with integrity, we find it hard to step outside of the box. Instead we tend to become extremely self centred, around our “issues”. Our world becomes very small and we feel really small too. It is a vicious cycle. Add the cognitive dissonance to that and we see all these people who are unhappy in their lives, feeling really powerless to their situation while they justify staying in it instead of making changes. 

This is WHY the very first step in the right direction is to take one simple action. Reading this article, signing up for the free guide to an Ayurvedic lifestyle, signing up for the group program. Once you have taken just that one step, you are already breaking two of the CONDITIONS in your brain : admitting you want something different with your life AND being strong enough to not just repeat the number of dots that everyone else is saying but daring to say “9”. 

Learn more about the program here or simply email me charlotte[at]yogicha.com


Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞



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