Ponderings on Belonging

Sue Barriball, NZCGE





I have been pondering the concept of belonging for several weeks as we at NZCGE have been preparing for Gifted Awareness Week. Deep in my psyche, the experiences of not belonging have surfaced, particularly those from childhood. The time the teacher accused me of copying my assignment from a book because “no 10 year old could produce work like this.” The time a classmate snuck up behind me and put a live cricket on the page I was reading during morning break, knowing I was terrified of insects. Or the time I was moved to tears watching a movie at the theatre and my friends laughed at me. Worse still, being shunned by the same girls for doing well at school (do teenagers still send their friends ‘to Coventry’?). The multiple times of being shunned in team selections in PE. As an adult, the dread of small talk at parties ... Each of these times, I knew.


And yet, painful though those memories are, I can also recall things which created a sense of belonging: an English teacher who shared my love of Dickens and allowed me to focus my novel studies on his writing; a teacher at primary school who went out of her way to give me learning materials which were respectful of my abilities and interests and let me skip the stuff I already knew and could do; reaching high school and discovering there was one team I could not only be part of but was a welcomed member of – the debating team; the handful of times in my life I have found what Miraca Gross describes as ‘sure shelter’ friends – each when I was well into adulthood; the joy of finding someone to have an interesting and life-enriching conversation with at a party; and, with the advent of the internet, finding communities of like-minds online. Each of these times, I knew.


So what did I know? What links all of these memories is the concept of belonging. Memories of times I knew I did not belong; memories of times when it was clear I had found a place of belonging. Those times of belonging share three things – I felt accepted, I felt included, and I felt connected.  


I felt accepted, I felt included, and I felt connected 


As a parent of gifted children, I have felt my children’s pain when they have experienced rejection, perhaps all the more poignantly because of my own childhood experiences. As a teacher, I have strived to ensure that my students feel a sense of belonging first and foremost, otherwise, how can they possibly learn. In both roles, the single thing which has made the biggest difference to my sense of belonging was learning about being gifted.   I went to school in an era where the ‘g’ word was never used.  I felt different but had no idea why. Everyone else seemed to fit just fine, so the problem must lie within me, right? I was over-sensitive; I was an over-thinker; my interests were hardly normal for kids, let alone kids my age; I was too picky; my problems would all be solved if I played sports (or so I was lead to believe); I cared too much about things; I was deeply lonely despite having ‘friends’ ... In short, if no-one around me was like this as seemed to be the case, then there must be something wrong with me, I must be broken.  


there must be something wrong with me, I must be broken.


I guess I could say my children saved me.   In learning how to help them, I learned about myself and finally accepted and understood myself. My quest lead me into specializing in gifted education and that in turn lead to me ‘finding my tribe’, a place where I truly belong. And that, to quote, Robert Frost, has made all the difference. 


‘finding my tribe’, a place where I truly belong...that has made all the difference



Resources I have found useful on my own journey and which may help others:

  • Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. (Eds) (2009). Living with Intensity. Arizona: Great Potential Press Inc.
  • Streznewski, M. K. (1999) Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Tolan, S. (2007). Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child.


Next on my reading list:

  • Fiedler, E. D. (2015). Bright Adults: Uniqueness and Belonging Across the Lifespan. Arizona: Great Potential Press Inc.



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Image credits: Joy by Rach is licensed under CC BY 2.0; Pondering by Bunches and Bits {Karina} is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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