One of the most important things for me, when it comes to being part of a community, is being understood. There’s something wonderful and nurturing about not having to explain parts of who you are. Feeling supported, welcome and like you make sense is good for mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Being on your own with an issue, a need or a feeling is a lonely place to be. Modern urban humans are each surrounded by a great many other urban humans, but that can increase loneliness rather than offering respite. No one sees you in a crowd. You are not understood, and the need to be understood is a life-affecting one.
During my volunteering years, I met a lot of people who had just found Paganism, and talked about it in terms of coming home. Some of this is about the path itself and finding relief in a spirituality that makes emotional sense to them. Some of it is about finding a community.
Being able to talk to people who are capable of understanding you is a wonderful thing. When you have feelings about magic, nature, old gods etc, you can feel disconnected from the regular world. Meeting people who can relate to that is liberating.
Sometimes however, community comes at a price. The desire to belong can put a lot of pressure on a person to fit in with things. We all need community and safe spaces, so what do you do if the price tag on being a member of a community looks problematic? How much do you ignore to protect your access to space you desperately need? What are you willing to enable in order to be able to belong?
Along the way I’ve ended up in some spaces – Pagan and otherwise – that weren’t especially healthy. Not spaces that were dangerous or super-toxic, but certainly places that had issues. I stayed longer than I should sometimes because I so desperately wanted to belong somewhere. No doubt most of us have seen people getting hurt, used, exploited, manipulated and compromised because they needed to be part of something. And sometimes when we’re part of the group causing the problem, all too often we turn away from that abuse and pretend not to see it because we don’t know how we’d survive without this precious community space.
Abuse happens when people put their need to belong ahead of the need to create genuinely safe space. It happens when vulnerable people feel emotionally rewarded by abusers when they let them get away with stuff. It happens when people with low self esteem can’t imagine they deserve better treatment. It’s important to keep an eye on who, and what we sacrifice for the sake of protecting our communities. It can be hard to admit when you’ve got into something that isn’t good. No one wants to believe that the space they love is harmful, but refusal to look at that enables bullies and predators.