Where my black sheep at?
I am guessing since you clicked on this post that you are different from your family. In fact, you might have even been called ‘the black sheep of the family” at one point. Cool, me too. I am the only person in my family history who has ever been divorced.
The phrase “black sheep of the family” is a term used to describe someone who ignores family rules. Shedding family expectations, this person goes their own unique way. Their path may be healthy or unhealthy, but at their core they have chosen to be true to themselves.
If you have a cousin who seems to be the one troublemaker in your family, you can call her the black sheep. In other words, she doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of your family members. The black sheep is the odd one out, whether he’s a disgrace to the family or just doesn’t seem to belong.www.vocabulary.com
Families are our first friends; they are the people who teach us the most basic skills we need for a successful life. They are our tribe, the ones who know us deeply and generally want the best for us. And yet, families can be the source of so much personal pain for many adults.
Keeping Us In Our Place
Families have a long history of passing certain rules and ideas from generation to generation. As we grow up, we learn to behave in a way that is accepted. We learn the rules and we behave by the rules. Every family has at least one “black sheep of the family”, an outcast who broke the rules.
Wanna know a secret? In the therapy world, the black sheep is seen as the one who is willing to be true to themselves. The one who breaks the rules to move toward mental and emotional health. Not every black sheep lands in a healthy space, but they won’t surrender to the family rules anymore.
Does The Past Hold All Your Secrets?
Most of our behaviors and patterns are due to past experiences. Consider your childhood, is there a something you dislike or fear as a result of a past experience? Growing up, I was afraid of the word “bar”- totally weird right? Well, not really.
Somewhere in my childhood I had overheard that words that my dad was at a bar drinking. I knew by the tone of the conversation it was not a good thing, and those feelings stuck with me for years. I didn’t have a grid for what drinking at a bar meant, but I could tell that it was an unwanted behavior.
That type of memory rooted in my emotions stopped me from asking questions about my dad’s drinking behavior. Like our society at that time, our family rules were based on social appearances and the avoidance of shame.
Keeping Up Appearances
We were caught in patterns that were secretive and protective. It is confusing for a child to know something is wrong, but to be reassured that everything is alright. You learn early that keeping the rules is the best way to stay out of trouble.
I am not using this space to criticize or call out my parents. Like so many before them, my folks did the best they could with the tools they had. For many of us, the hardest day of our lives is when we see our parents are flawed humans.
We must choose to forgive them, acknowledging the pain that we were handed. Only then are we able to bring health and hope to the generations after us. Going backward to understand their limitations helps us move forward.
Every Family Has An Inheritance
I got my blue eyes from my mom. I also inherited some of her stoic personality. We all leave home with behaviors that we have learned from our parents. That is normal and to be expected, all families have slices of health and dysfunction. The problem arises when we are required, as grown adults, to stay within the family rules to maintain our emotional connection. If we choose to be different, we risk becoming an outcast.
Because we need a mental health break, here is a short video of Thor and his mischievous black sheep brother Loki.
I Want To Break Free!
Again, most families want to be loving and supportive of each other. But sometimes a family feels threatened when their adult child decides to make different choices. Think of it this way: for years and years the parents passed a burlap bag of secrets to their children. That bag was tied with a rope of expectations.
When you were handed the bag, you were the next one to carry the secrets. The message was: keep this bag safe, and don’t ever open it! The family is counting on each member to pass on the shame, fear, and folklore of previous generations. And then you, the black sheep of the family, opens the bag, letting all the secrets escape.
Let’s be clear, there are some family topics that are private. Each individual has the right to decide if they want to share personal information. No family member has the right to intentionally embarrass or humiliate another member.
Secret Keeping Messages Might Sound Like This
- We are the Smiths, don’t ever forget that.
- Don’t disrespect your elders!
- If anyone knew this, it would kill your father.
- There are just certain things we don’t talk about.
- Shame on you for saying that!
Families Can Be Fused
There is a term in therapy called “fusion.” Fusion means that families/partners are stuck together in an unhealthy fashion. Current generations are expected to behave according to the rules of earlier generations. Sometimes when a family is fused, there can be regular intense emotional outbursts. Fighting between the generations is common and is used to restore the pecking order.
Wait…. Are You The Boss Of Me?
In this type of family, it is common to have your decisions outsourced. Older and more powerful members will step in and attempt to influence your adult choices. Sometimes it is expected that a parent of an adult child will make decisions for that adult. Most likely this is a pattern that our mothers endured from their mothers, going back for generations.
Traditionally it has been harder for a woman to be the black sheep of the family. Women have been conditioned to be kind, loving and agreeable to all people. When a woman begins to step into her own identity and move toward empowerment, look out! Other women in the family might move in to criticize and shame the family black sheep, hoping to make her follow the established family rules.
How To Love Yourself While Leaving Your Family
One word: Boundaries. Boundaries help all of us know where we end and others begin. Families who are in a fused system do not have boundaries. If they have boundaries, they generally serve the most powerful/controlling member of the tribe. This is usually the person(s) who has the most anger about the black sheep’s behavior.
Boundaries in families help us stay emotionally connected but allow us to remain a grown ass adult. We can love our mother and have a boundary that stops her from visiting announced. We can politely disagree with our father and still maintain loving respect for him. The black sheep of the family has the right to set her emotional boundaries.
Boundaries are Triggering
This will trigger other family members; some will be angry, and some will be jealous of your strength. Allow them to have their emotions and ideas about your choices. They have a right to disagree, but they do not have the right to interfere with your adult life.
Black Sheep of the Family Checklist
Here is a list of things the black sheep of the family might choose to do:
- Choose a partner that is outside of family “requirements” (faith, race, job)
- Allow her parents to be angry with her and still be accepting of herself.
- Support other family members as they set their own boundaries.
- Decide to stop attending the weekly family dinner to help create/uphold a boundary.
- Stop participating in family gossip. No matter what the topic.
- End a marriage or relationship that was serving the family instead of the person.
This simple list is a starting point for ending family fusion. It is suffocating when we are required to adhere to family rules. Fear is the reason that families prefer uniformity over uniqueness. Fear of being judged, fear of losing control, fear of their own long buried desires.
Jump The Fence!
Choosing to break free from generations of family conditioning is hard. It is a lengthy process filled with hope and at times, despair. One week you feel hopeful that they will accept the new you. They seem loving and appear to want a balanced relationship. The next week, you get a phone call from your sibling, reporting all the gossip that is swirling around your choices.
It is not easy to break free from family fusion. It will require all the emotional strength and mental energy you have to tear down the old rules that were handed to you. You will make mistakes and might have to apologize for your reactions to their behavior. It will likely take time and new levels of open communication to design a new family relationship.
You Are Grown Ass
Remember, despite all the emotional upheaval that awaits, you are capable of directing your own life. Adult children have the right to make their own choices based on their desires, goals, dreams and preferences. As an adult, you are more than prepared for experience your own victories and navigate the inevitable struggles of life.
Removing yourself from the family fusion is a healthy choice. Fused families operate out of fear. It’s time to leave fear behind and create a new, uniquely exciting life for yourself.
Black Sheep Of The Family Forever!
I hope this post has helped you understand the dynamics of fused families. I try my best to create helpful and simple articles about self-growth. As a life coach, I encounter so many midlife women who have unresolved issues from their childhood. These childhood patterns affect their marriage and their mothering style.
My goal is to support midlife women as we choose a new way of living, full of emotional health and mental clarity.