The Psychology of Patriotism Part II: The Dark Side of Belongingness Needs

by Kassandra Lamb ~ I promised to follow up on my post for Independence Day with more on the dark side of belongingness needs and patriotism. I pointed out in my earlier post that the kids who are alienated, who don’t get these needs met in a healthy way—they are the ones who can end up being the gang members, the school shooters, the terrorists.

the dark side of belongingness needs
(photo by Noah Silliman on

And I mentioned that I was one of those kids who felt alienated rather than affiliated. People who know me now find that hard to believe. I’m a very confident person who has long since mastered the lesson of not caring what others think—the key to being confident and, ironically, popular.

Most people are inclined to like me now, but that was not always the case.

I can’t really tell you why I was not popular as a child. I did not have the best of home environments, and I was certainly insecure. But that’s the case for all too many kids. I think perhaps I just wasn’t as good at hiding my insecurities as others.

In the early years of school, I wasn’t totally rejected, but I didn’t have many friends either. And my teachers didn’t always help. I went back and forth between being the kid the teacher picked on to being the teacher’s pet. Neither position made me popular with other kids.

And then the county I lived in redrew the school district lines. I was suddenly thrust into a whole new school environment, and somehow none of my few friends ended up in the new district. At this point, I became a total misfit. My only two friends were two other rather weird girls whom everyone picked on.

We really didn’t have much in common, other than being misfits, and I can’t say I really liked either of them. But I can still picture their faces.

And then it was time to graduate from elementary school. This time, we were forewarned. The principal held a meeting to tell us about more redistricting. Some of our classmates—including my two sorta friends—would be going to one junior high school, and others—myself included—would be going to another.

the dark side of belongingness needs
This was pretty much me in junior high school (photo by Simrad Sood on

Junior high/middle school is, in my opinion, the purgatory of the earth plane.

It is the most self-conscious period of one’s life. Add to that a change of schools and I was doomed. I had no friends for the next 3 years.

This is when kids become most vulnerable. They may succumb to the dark side of belongingness needs and seek affiliation with the other alienated kids, some of whom have become downright antisocial (as in against society, not shy). Or like me, they just remain alone and isolated (correct term for this is asocial).

Two things saved me initially—librarians and horses.

In my first elementary school, the librarian supported my love of reading. She helped me discover a way to escape the loneliness. But it was the librarian at that second elementary school, which I only attended for a year, who really made the difference.

And ironically, I don’t think she was trying to go above and beyond her job. I would sneak off to the library during lunch, or sometimes after school, and hang out with her. I was, by nature, a talkative and outgoing kid who rarely got a chance to be myself. But that librarian at least pretended to listen.

Horses helped save me from the dark side of belongingness needs.
(photo by Carlos Fernando Bendfeldt on

Horses—I got my first pony when I was thirteen. It’s not so much that my pony loved me…he was ornery as all get out. His name was apt, Fiddlesticks, and he used to buck me off every chance he got.

But horses gave me an outlet, a focus for positive energy, if you will. And my second horse, obtained at age fifteen, was much more lovable. Horses also gave me a loose community of other horse-crazy teens to belong to. We weren’t close friends, but we all loved horses.

Advice about confidence!

My mother finally noticed, as I faced the transition from middle school to high school, that I was not a confident child. She sat me down one day and we had a long talk about confidence. She basically told me to fake it until I made it.

She pointed out that confidence was an attitude. She gave the example of one of her friends. We’ll call her Mrs. H. I knew Mrs. H well; the H’s and my parents were close friends.

My mother pointed out that Mrs. H was not particularly attractive physically. And yet Mr H was quite handsome. How had he been attracted to such a homely person?

My mother also said that, at a party, people tended to gravitate to Mrs. H. Why? Because she carried herself with confidence.

Hmmm. I tried the fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude entering high school and made a few friends in tenth and eleventh grade. Not a lot of friends, but I was no longer picked on. I no longer felt completely ostracized at school.

And in my senior year, I actually had a “circle of friends.” I was quietly ecstatic. I also had my first serious boyfriend that year. We dated through our freshman year of college and became engaged the following summer, but things didn’t work out.

The importance of unconditional love

My senior yearbook picture—couldn’t find any pics with my high school sweetheart.

My high school sweetheart loved me unconditionally. Other differences/conflicts in priorities broke us up. But I will forever be grateful for the lesson he taught me, to never expect anything less than unconditional love.

That lesson served me well through several years of iffy boyfriends. And finally I met my husband. He has loved me unconditionally for 46 years. Talk about a confidence booster!

Last but definitely not least, I went through a fair amount of therapy to deal with the issues from my dysfunctional family that made me insecure in the first place. And somewhere along the way, my emotional filters changed and I began to let in the positive messages from the world, instead of obsessing on the few negative ones. (See this post on changing our filters to achieve better self esteem.)

So here is what we need to do for alienated kids who are experiencing the dark side of belongingness needs:

1. Notice!

The adults in their environment—parents, teachers, pastors—need to pay attention and identify the kids who always seem to be alone, have few or no friends, are picked on by other kids. And those adults need to do more than just say to themselves, “Tsk, tsk. Poor kid.”

2. Do something!

Befriend the child yourself, or at least offer a genuine smile and greeting when you see them. Kids starved for acceptance will lap that up. Listen to them if they need to talk. You don’t necessarily have to fix their problems (unless there is true abuse going on), just listen, as you would with an adult friend.

3. Don’t let the kids “work it out for themselves.”

This concept is archaic, and it never really worked. Kids, elementary-school-aged in particular, don’t have the skills to do this effectively. They will operate according to herd mentality and the bullying and ostracizing will probably get worse.

4. Stop the bullying when you see it!

You may not stop that bully forever, but you can stop that incident. Preferably, report the bully if their behavior is blatant. But even if you’re not willing to do that, at least stand up for the child being bullied at that moment.

As a bullied child, I can tell you that the injuries were magnified by the fact that the adults around me seemed to be deaf and blind about what was going on. That led me to believe that the bullies’ behavior was okay and I really did deserve it.

Some adults don’t intervene because they think doing so will only cause reprisals later. Sometimes it does, but the bullied child might think it’s worth it. Knowing that adults think the bully’s behavior is wrong may give them the inner strength to endure or maybe even stand up for themselves. And more than once, on the rare occasions when an adult did intervene, that particular bully stopped picking on me. Maybe they then viewed me as being under that adult’s protection, but whatever their reason, they moved on to other prey.

5. Teach and model empathy to the other kids.

The younger you start this the better. Single out one of the more popular kids and say something like, “Billy looks awfully lonely over there. How would you feel if you didn’t have anyone to play with? Maybe you should go invite him to join you and your friends.” (For more on this, see this post.)

The adults at my son’s daycare center were brilliant at doing this. My son went there in the summers during his elementary school years. And often the same kids that were ostracized and picked on at school during the year were accepted and blossomed during the summers.

6. Teach the fake-it-til-you-make-it lesson.

This probably needs to wait until the child is at least going into middle school, but some younger children may be savvy enough to understand the psychology of it. Give them concrete examples for how body language can convey either insecurity or confidence. That was part of my mother’s lesson on the subject.

Can you think of anything else that would help bring alienated children back from the dark side of belongingness needs, before it’s too late?

Bottom line: It does indeed take a village to raise a confident, affiliated child. We all need to be part of that village, part of the solution!

Were you one of those ostracized kids, or were you somewhere else on the popularity continuum?

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Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house.

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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