Are You The Black Sheep Of The Family?
A black sheep is someone who does not fit in with their family or society. Most families put pressure on the black sheep to change their ways. But what if the black sheep is actually right?
I am guessing since you clicked on this post, that you are different than your family. In fact, you might have even been called ‘the black sheep of the family” at one point.
Yup, me too. At times being called a black sheep can be a painful reminder of your family’s disapproval. But the truth is, most black sheep are people who have chosen to live an authentic life.
What Makes People Think They Are The Black Sheep Of The Family?
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 she’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.
Being The Black Sheep Must Mean Something Is Wrong With You
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”, 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 Your Childhood Make You The Black Sheep?
A Little Bit Of My Story
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”-like going to the bar to have a drink- 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, bad behavior.
Children Can Tell When The Family Is Unhappy
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, my family rules were based on social appearances and the avoidance of shame.
Keeping Up Appearances For The Family
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.
Let me assure you, 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.
Sometimes The Black Sheep Is Tired Of Keeping Secrets
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 our parents limitations helps us move forward.
In some cases, being the black sheep can hurt you. If you feel like you’re different than other members of your family, you might feel isolated and alone. That can lead to feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem.
Every Family Has Expectations
As adults, 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.
Can You Be The Black Sheep And Actually Fit In?
Again, most families want to be loving and supportive of each other. Sometimes a family feels threatened when their adult child decides to make different choices. Think of it this way: for generations, the family passed down a burlap bag of secrets to their children. That bag was tied with a rope of expectations, which included to never open or talk about the bag of secrets!
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!
Black Sheep Break The Family Rules
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 Stuck In Their Dysfunction
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 female family members endured, going back for generations.
It’s Harder For A Woman To Be The Black Sheep Of The Family
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 everyone. When a woman begins to step into her own identity and move toward empowerment, look out!
Consequently, 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. Most of the rules are rigid and generally serve the most powerful/controlling member of the system. This is usually the person(s) who has the most anger about the black sheep’s behavior.
Black Sheep Need To Create Family Boundaries
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.
This will trigger other family members; some will be angry, and some might 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. We feel suffocated 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.
Go Ahead Black Sheep, 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. However, the next week, you get a phone call from your sibling, reporting all the family gossip that is swirling around your actions.
You Are An Adult, You Make Your Own Choices
It is not easy to be the black sheep of the family. 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.
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 a result, you are more than prepared to 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.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.