Torn between the desire to be different and the need to belong? Face yourself honestly and new doors may open.

For the umpteenth time Tuhina’s friends had turned down her suggestion that they attend a seminar or workshop. Her friends were happier sitting on the steps of the college building, guzzling coke and nattering. Tuhina was timid and hesitated to explore the world by herself. She would have been happy to do it in a group. Unfortunately her group would not play along.

Prem liked to feel part of his group. It gave him a warm sense of belonging when he was hanging out with them. But when one day they leered at a first-year girl and made loud lewd comments, he felt uncomfortable.

Identity crisis

Standing midway between childhood and adulthood, young college goers often face an identity crisis. On the one hand is that dream and aspiration to break free, stand out and dare to do things the way one wants. On the other, is the craving to belong. Being part of a group gives one not only a sense of comfort and security, but also a kind of ‘high’. A burst of energy, a reinforcement of self-assurance, a sense of strength and freedom.

Many students are torn between these two strong urges — the desire to be different and unique and the need to belong.

Joe started college life by sliding down banisters instead of taking the stairs. At first, everyone stared at him. Soon he was known as the freak guy. He loved it. But, once the novelty wore off, his friends found him tiresome. Joe then resorted to a wild hair style and grew a goatee. Everyone was faintly amused but that was all.

Some dress wildly, some cultivate gestures and an attitude, and some others participate in every event. They want to be noticed. To be in the limelight is exciting and exhilarating while it lasts. But the limelight shifts and gives way to shadows, leading to discomfort and despondence.

Others are pack animals. They prefer hunting in groups. If you find a group that shares your interests and aspirations, you are lucky. But when you are unable to keep up with the groupor can no longer identify with the group, you feel an inner crisis brewing.

Then there are the square pegs. They don’t easily fit in. Ajay had wanted to get away from home and experience hostel life. Though he got what he wanted, he could not settle down. He found the new place, its people, language, customs and lifestyle completely strange. He couldn’t make friends . He was miserable.

By and large these inner crises are caused due to the tension between what you want to be and what you really are. Or what you believe yourself to be and what you are. What you think you want and what you actually need. What you think is the best means to get there and what is the best way for you.

Tuhina was seeking support because she was timid, but she was seeking it in the wrong places — because her interests did not find resonance in her group. Prem wanted to be vibrant and adventurous, but his inner voice told him that the group he was part of was not right. Joe was hungry for appreciation and warmth, but instead of reaching out to others, he turned performer. Ajay did not easily blend or adapt. He aspired for something without knowing his own limitations.

It all boils down to knowing yourself.

What are you looking for?

Just why do you want to stand out and be appreciated? Or why do you seek to be part of a group? Or why can’t you find friends? What exactly are you looking for, or hoping to find? What will finding these mean to you? Is there a lack you are trying to fill?

Are you looking in the right places and in the right direction? Are these the right means to your end? Are these the ends that you really want? Is there another way of getting there?

If you had to draw up a wish list for yourself, what would it contain? In what order of priority would you arrange the items on your list? How did you base that scale of importance?

Knowing yourself involves confronting reality, accepting your shortcomings and your background, recognising your strengths, and clarifying your value systems. It means facing yourself honestly. Because you yourself are the subject of the inquiry, you have the right answers in the deepest recesses of your mind.

Because you yourself are the inquirer, you can be honest and frank in your answers. Remember, when new truths burst forth and new insights dawn, new doors will open, and old problems will fade away.

Email: sumathi.sudhakar