When the desire to fit in takes a toxic turn

It is no secret that human beings long for a sense of fitting in. Whether it is on a football team, at school, in society, or within a country, people need to feel a part of something bigger.

According to Arie W. Kruglanski, a social psychologist and distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, there might be more to it than being included.

In a written piece entitled “Why We’re Patriotic,” Adam Piore, a New York-based journalist, tackles the issue of patriotism and explains how easily it can change from a virtue to a vice.

Piore discusses a set of experiments performed in Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and other places where Kruglanski found a correlation between a sense of failing in individual pursuits and the extent of identification with a society, religion or a nation.

Kruglanski believes that a sense of weakness pushes humans to find a group where they feel like they are a part of something, a transcendental purpose.

This theory strikes a scary resemblance to the case with terrorist groups today. When looking at things from a closer perspective, one can see that many terrorists come from harsh backgrounds, ones in which they were discriminated against and isolated.

Because of this, these people lacked individual goals and were left weak and susceptible to brainwashing by terrorist organizations.

These groups provide them with what they see as a sense of purpose that goes beyond their own existence. They do not fear death and are so blinded by their ideology that everything else becomes irrelevant because a sense of ‘immortality’ has been established.

The rise of such terrorist groups cannot be attributed to a specific religion or a region. The reasons behind such groups stem partly from their socio-economic conditions.

The fact that so many people are joining these organizations is a huge red flag to the international community that something must be wrong with the way social systems are set up.

When young men flee their countries to join such groups, it only makes others wonder what is it that their home country lacks that terrorism offers? Kruglanski’s trail of thought describes that the issue is lack of individual goals and a sense of isolation in their homeland.

When people are more successful on their own and understand who they truly are, they will not feel the need to join groups and will not be blinded by ideologies. They will join groups because they want to develop as a person. When people lose sight of who they are, they rely on others to see themselves, and that is when their desire to fit in becomes toxic.

Cover credit: Ibpf.org