Lizards Don’t Love Or Belong

maslowloveLet’s talk about love and belonging fears! This week we’re discussing the third level of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, the level of love and belonging.


We all want to belong. Study after study shows that infants and babies do better in homes where they receive loving nurturing. We understand that we are safer in groups than alone. Our first tribe is our family of origin, and then as teenagers we expand into a tribe of friends. As we age, we continue to expand our communities. We identify with our college, or our sorority, or our professional community. We identify with our neighborhood, our city, our state. Once we are physically safe and secure, we need a community of people around us: this is the third level of the Maslow hierarchy.

What is there to fear about love and belonging?

The lizard brain loves to kick in with fears at this level, and sadly, because the lizard brain perceives everything as a survival issue, it treats potential relationship endings as life-threatening. That’s why it’s so difficult to set boundaries, reject a relationship entirely, or stand up for something unpopular in your tribe. Because your lizard brain is screaming at you!

We know rationally that we can survive and thrive without Toxic Tessie in our life. But our lizard brain doesn’t. The lizard brain sees a break in relationship, and immediately equates it to: Toxic Tessie will evict you from the tribe and you will be eaten by lions!

Let’s look at that rationally.

How many people in your life have the ability to kill you without actually committing murder?

Did you say something besides zero? Then call Mulder, because he wants to believe!

But seriously, is there anyone in your life who holds the power of physical survival over you?*

*If someone does control your physical survival, you are in an abusive and dangerous situation. Call 866-291-0855, domestic violence hotline, for help.

Now, we all want and need love and belonging. But what is the price you are paying for the current acceptance you have?

In healthy interdependent relationships, the price we pay for love and belonging is negligible.

Sure, maybe you have to put up with another person’s annoying quirks, or the church building you use is too cold, or family holiday gatherings involve sleeping on uncomfortable beds. But these are small prices to pay for the value of community.

The problem is when the price we pay for love and belonging is too high.

Who defines how high is too high? Each individual.

I’m not talking about situations of domestic violence. In those situations, a target may believe s/he is receiving love and belonging, but actually all they are getting is often just physical survival needs (shelter, money for food, etc.). In a situation of abuse, the best option is always to cut off the abuser as much as possible.

The kind of “toxic” relationships I’m talking about are not abusive, but they are draining. These are relationships where you have constant conflict or disagreements, where you dislike spending time with the person, where your boundaries aren’t honored, or where you simply aren’t comfortable. In these cases, you can often improve the situation by making a request, or altering your own behavior.

If I learn that someone is gossiping about me, I often just cut off the relationship immediately. I hate gossip, and I will not tolerate it in any of my close relationships. On the other hand, while I am annoyed with people who consistently run late, I won’t end the relationship over the issue, because it just doesn’t bother me that much. The price for putting up with gossip is too high for me, but the price of my time being wasted by a friend isn’t too high.

Fears don’t go away just because our physical survival and safety is assured. But they do become much less life threatening.