To be rooted
is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need
of the human soul.
~ Simone Weil
The need to be rooted and to belong, is perhaps the most primordial need we have. In many cultures, (extended) family is the most essential part of life; indispensable and unimaginable to exist or live in its absence. In early times, this was necessary for physical survival; this is still the case in many parts of the developing world.
In the developed world where physical survival is no longer dependent on belonging, the need still exists, although it's not always consciously acknowledged. And its absence leads to all kinds of emotional and psychological problems such as alienation, a sense of meaninglessness, depression, despair, anxiety, addictions to name just a few. A feeling of not belonging or being rooted, or an inability to connect is one of the major reasons people seek therapy.
Many people no longer live near their families for a variety of reasons; yet wherever people go, they form ( and need to form) groups of like-minded people. This takes many forms: it may be a group of friends, a school or career identity, or a lifestyle, cultural or gender identity. It may be based on political or regional affiliation, shared taste in music or the arts or the same sport or sport teams.
Even in this technological, digital era we still have a deep need for family or tribe; it has simply adapted to technology. Being on the grid isn't always isolative or strictly about research, reading or work; it also includes a lot of contact with others through email, text, IM, video chat, social media, online games and chatrooms, to name a few.
What is clear is that consciously or unconsciously, people consistently seek out a sense of belonging or rootedness. It is an essential need, as necessary to the soul as air is to the body.This sense of belonging gives us comfort and a sense of meaning and connection that is essential to a life well lived.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley