You’ve heard people describe themselves (or others) as the “black sheep of the family.” It’s not usually a compliment.
But the way they describe it sure sounds familiar.
Being the black sheep of the family doesn’t mean you’re never included or that your parents changed the locks when you “finally crossed the line” (though that’s true for some).
The exclusion doesn’t have to be physical or absolute to affect your relationships and mental health.
You don’t have to be “the worst” to be the family outcast.
You just have to stand out in a way they don’t like.
- What is the Black Sheep of the Family?
- Signs You Are The Black Sheep
- 7 Ways to Handle Being the Black Sheep of the Family
- 1. Know your species.
- 2. Identify your “chosen family” and nurture your connections with them.
- 3. Reframe your negative experiences.
- 4. Establish and maintain personal boundaries (with family).
- 5. Change the way you think about your marginalization.
- 6. Be authentic. Don’t water yourself down for anyone.
- 7. Practice daily self-compassion.
- Celebrate being the black sheep of the family.
What is the Black Sheep of the Family?
If you identify as the black sheep, it’s typically because you feel like the outcast of the family. You’re noticeably different from the others in the group — in appearance, general behavior, attitude, job prospects, moral or religious beliefs, or something else.
You just don’t fit. And often, you don’t even try to — or your heart’s just not in it.
This lack of effort only cements your misfit status. Somewhere along the way, your siblings picked up on your “otherness,” and some of them act as though your very existence is an insult to them. Your refusal to “adapt” or to do your utmost to fit in feels like a judgment to them, and they lash out with criticism, both to your face and behind your back.
Often, they’re so desperate for approval that they’re quick to point out where you fall short.
Honestly, that’s on them. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for you to feel excluded from your family — the people who should accept and love you just as you are.
And it kind of feels like they don’t.
Signs You Are The Black Sheep
Maybe you hesitate to describe yourself as the family outcast. But if you see any of the following signs, it’s time to consider what to do about them.
- Other family members exclude you from family functions or family news-sharing.
- Relatives or in-laws complain about you or ridicule you behind your back.
- Others use you as a convenient scapegoat when something goes wrong.
- You’re the family cautionary tale. No one wants to end up like [your name here].
- You keep things to yourself because you don’t expect interest or acceptance.
- Relatives or in-laws are frequently criticizing you for one thing or another.
- You feel as though you don’t really belong in your family or familiar circle.
Sometimes it’s not so much that people don’t include you in anything; it’s just that you feel emotionally excluded — or like your presence is more tolerated than welcome.
That said, what can you do about it? How can you cope with this status you never wanted and don’t deserve? You need to know how to protect your mental health and deal with these family members who will likely remain in your life for a long time.
7 Ways to Handle Being the Black Sheep of the Family
What do you do when you are the black sheep of the family? It depends on your unique circumstances, but the end goal is to know your own value and be at peace with what other people (including family members) think of you.
How they feel about you is their business and their responsibility — not yours. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let’s look at what you can start doing today to make life as a black sheep easier (and more fun).
1. Know your species.
It’s human nature to marginalize those who act or look differently. It’s not one of our most endearing traits as humans, but there it is.
We’re scared of things we don’t understand. Out come the sharp sticks (or sharp tongues).
Unless your brain works differently from the norm, you’ve probably done the same to someone else. And the potential is always there. You’re not better than those who are marginalizing you now, just as they’re no better than you.
2. Identify your “chosen family” and nurture your connections with them.
Chosen family chooses you back. It’s a mutual choice.
Seek support from those who love and accept you as you are (not as they think you should be). Let them know what you’re going through if you’re hurting from a recent interaction with relatives. Empathize with those who are going through similar experiences.
Invest in those connections to strengthen them. Even if the family you grew up with can’t or won’t be there for you, your chosen family will be. Let them. And return the favor.
3. Reframe your negative experiences.
Focus on the positive impact of your experiences with people who marginalize, criticize, or judge you. What have you learned from your exchanges with people who refuse to accept you as you are?
Appreciate the fact that your exclusion as the black sheep has made you more resilient and independent. It’s also made you more compassionate toward other outcasts.
It doesn’t mean you don’t have relationship challenges of your own, but you can relate to others who’ve been maligned or kept on the fringes.
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4. Establish and maintain personal boundaries (with family).
You can keep channels of communication open to those who respect your boundaries. But you have the right to block access to those who don’t.
Sometimes, the best (or only) way to stop a steady stream of petty insults and hair-trigger judgments is to close the channel they’re using, as well as others they might use.
If they can’t get to you, they can’t get to you. How they spend their time and energy when they’re not judging you is their business. You’re the one responsible for your mental health. Others are responsible for their own.
5. Change the way you think about your marginalization.
Exclusion isn’t always a bad thing. When it comes to toxic relatives, being left out is a blessing, even when it hurts.
The less you care about what others think of you or whether they include you or not, the less bothered you’ll be when they keep you on the outside. And the less you’re bothered by that, the happier you’re likely to be.
You find you don’t need their approval or acceptance to feel whole or content. And even though it can still be painful to realize your own family might never accept or love you as you are, you can still choose to be grateful for what those relationships have taught you.
6. Be authentic. Don’t water yourself down for anyone.
Get to know who you are and share more of that person with others. You’re not alone, and you can help other black sheep feel less alone, too.
That alone can help you process the rejection and move forward despite it.
Chosen family wants to know you and celebrate who you are. Those who love you don’t want you to hide your true self. They’re not worried about your weirdness rubbing off on them or making them look bad.
They encourage you to recognize your power and to use it for good.
7. Practice daily self-compassion.
Make daily self-care a priority. Create and practice a daily routine that gives you what you need — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — and that helps you become the person you were born to be. You don’t have to be anyone else.
Let go of the negative self-talk and limiting self-beliefs. Build habits of thinking and acting that lift you up and help you take positive action. Be patient with yourself when you stumble. And celebrate every win.
Show yourself as much compassion as you’d want others to treat you with or as much as you’d like to treat someone else with. Don’t exclude yourself.
Celebrate being the black sheep of the family.
Now that you know how to deal with being the black sheep of the family, what will you do today to make the best (or most) of your outlier status?
What will you do to remind yourself of your value and your personal power? And how will you help other black sheep do the same? Think of how you can get your story out there to inspire those dealing with the same pain.
Your voice is more powerful than you think. Use it to make the world better.