Are you the black sheep of your family?
If so, that might be a blessing in disguise. It also allows you to experiment, to choose the road less traveled.
Learn how you can turn being the black sheep into an advantage and what challenges you will have to face.
What Does It Mean To Be the Black Sheep of the Family?
When you are the black sheep of the family, other members of your family treat you as an outcast.
In some form, you are not living up to the expectations of the people around you. As a result, they look down on you.
Let’s say your parents had high hopes for you becoming a doctor. But instead of being the perfect son or daughter, you chose to become an adult movie star. Now, even though you are successful at what you do, you are met with contempt.
In terms of family roles, children are more commonly stigmatized than parents.
When your parents met, it was clear who they were. They were fully developed adults.
But with children, everything is up to the imagination. They could become anything. This potential invites their parents to project their own unfulfilled dreams onto them.
Family size also plays into it. A larger family unit with several children is more likely to brand one of them as the black sheep.
That’s because it’s easier to make comparisons. “Look at your brother. He has a great job and just got married. Why can’t you be more like him?”
The expression “black sheep” goes back to wool production. Sheep are usually born with white coloring, but due to a recessive gene, can occasionally show black coloring.
This black wool cannot be dyed, and traditionally sold for less. Naturally, the shepherds preferred the “normal” sheep over the black sheep.
Why Do We Need Black Sheep?
We tend to project our angst onto others. Instead of dealing with it ourselves — which would be hard work — we find a scapegoat.
On a societal level, we are all familiar with this dynamic. Just look at either end of the political spectrum, the constant blaming. “These freeloading immigrants!” “These evil corporations!”
But it also happens on a family level. To distract from its inner conflicts, a family needs an outlet. The black sheep of the family acts as that outlet. The family’s collective anxiety is now redirected to that target.
As the black sheep of the family, it’s tempting to feel sorry for yourself. You are being rejected by the people whose approval you crave the most.
However, there is an upside.
You got chosen as the black sheep because, in some way, you are deviating from the norm. That is something to celebrate.
Most people don’t have that courage. They live their lives on autopilot — go to college, get a job, get married, have kids. Anything to not rock the boat.
Such people eventually come to regret their conformity, usually at the end of their lives. Now it finally dawns on them that they made a mistake. They should have offended their family and chosen their own path.
Fortunately, this is not you. You are rebelling. You might occasionally feel sorry for yourself, but you are not giving in to the pressure.
You are one of the few people who have the potential to become free.
So, embrace your waywardness. Keep walking towards your quirky goals. When it’s all over, unlike most people, you won’t have regrets.
Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from.Jodie Foster
The 3 Black Sheep Dynamics
There are three common dynamics you will encounter as a black sheep.
Within a family, the black sheep label can be passed on.
For example, when we were growing up, my brother was the black sheep. He didn’t study. He didn’t keep his room meticulously tidy. He wasn’t constantly trying to please his elders.
I did all of these things and was rewarded. He was often admonished.
These roles have reversed since then. He has taken over the family business and is very successful at what he does. I am off traveling the world for most of the year, don’t hold a normal job, and refuse to get married.
People change and so does their status within the family unit.
2. The Reformed Black Sheep
Some people have a black sheep phase, but in the end, revert to their parents’ way of life.
A friend of mine in high school went through this. Whatever he could do to provoke his prim parents, he did. He wore outrageous clothes. He talked back to teachers. He smoked pot.
However, towards the end of high school, he completely changed his demeanor. He went from rebel without a cause to model student.
He also started looking down on those who had “not grown up” like he had. Other black sheep were now a target.
That is a common coping mechanism in the reformed black sheep. They want to frame their transformation as a form of personal growth when in truth, it’s a surrender.
3. The Pull of Success
Sometimes, black sheep manage to impose their worldview on their former critics.
You occasionally see this with daring artists. When they were young, their outlandish ideas were rejected by their family.
But they went through with it anyway, beat the odds, and became successful. Now the former family critics are suddenly in line with their children’s vision. “My son / my daughter was always an innovator.”
Of course, this is a form of opportunism. Those family members enjoy basking in their children’s fame. But take that success away, and these same people would still be criticizing.
How To Deal With Being the Black Sheep
Here is how you can learn to handle being the black sheep of the family and even profit from it.
1. Stay Away From Triggers
If you grew up as the black sheep of the family, you probably have a good idea of who likes to rub it in your face, and on what occasions.
Stop exposing yourself to these triggers. If Uncle Danny always gives you a hard time at Christmas dinner over your life choices, don’t attend.
Granted, that won’t go over well. But why do you care? You are the black sheep of the family. You can do whatever you want.
2. Don’t Let Other People Guilt-Trip You
Everybody around you might act like you are a nuisance. But the truth is that you fulfill a crucial function for the family unit — you provide an outlet for tension.
That’s why, ironically, other family members will try to guilt-trip you into doing stuff with them. They need you around.
But you don’t have to play along. Excuse yourself. It is not your job to support other people’s delusions.
3. Speak Up
When you allow others to impose the black sheep label onto you, it’s like being stung. In a sense, they are doing violence to you.
To counteract this, you must learn to speak up.
It won’t change anything about the other person. But it will make you feel better. It removes that sting.
Here is how to make it work.
First, rehearse what you will say. Imagine what the other person might attack you with and then put them in their place. Practice this aloud, in front of a mirror.
Second, make it a habit to call them out. Many people will weave little barbs into a seemingly non-confrontational conversation. Don’t let that slide.
For example, say, “Hey, stop. What you just said — that doesn’t fly with me. If you want to argue, let’s argue.”
Over time, it will teach them that these sneaky tactics don’t work on you.
4. Do Not Hope for Change
When you speak up, do so for yourself. Don’t expect your family to suddenly see sense.
The black sheep dynamics you are subject to have been in place for years or decades. Your family won’t suddenly drop them, no matter how well you explain it to them. You can’t change people.
So, stop trying. Instead, focus on improving the one person you do have control over — yourself.
5. Do Not Try To Impress
Oftentimes, black sheep will leave the family unit to seek success elsewhere. Their thinking goes, “Once I prove myself in the real world, my family will finally come to love me.”
This strategy can occasionally work. But don’t bank on it.
You might return as a winner, but five minutes into the family reunion, you are back to where you started. No fanfare — you are still the black sheep.
Don’t take it personally. It is not about what you have done or have not done. It is about them. They need things to stay as they are.
6. Add a Laugh Track
There will be instances when you are too tired to take a stance. But you can still try to detach yourself from the situation.
A great trick is to pretend you are an actor in a sitcom, surrounded by a bunch of crazies.
Just like Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t expect Kramer to say anything coherent, don’t expect your family to make sense. Smile to yourself, imagine a laugh track, and sit it out.
It’s okay to have these occasional timeouts.
7. Don’t Blame
Don’t give into bitterness.
As painful as it might be to be labeled the black sheep, your family is probably not doing it on purpose. They are not aware of what is going on.
In their way, they are also suffering. For example, your parents might be stuck in a terrible marriage with each other. That’s why they need an outlet, someone to blame.
Most importantly, you become what you think about. By focusing on the negativity around you, you will spoil your quality of life. It’s better to redirect your attention to positive projects.
Painting yourself as the victim won’t get you anywhere. Take action. Invest all your energy into building yourself a great life, outside of your family.
8. Become Autonomous
A lot of black sheep are in some way dependent on their families. That’s a problem. You can be a weirdo, but you must be an independent weirdo.
This should include:
- Financial independence, aka your ability to pay for your life
- Emotional independence, aka your ability to validate yourself
- Intellectual independence, aka your ability to think for yourself
If you want to learn more, check out my article, “How To Be Independent.”
9. Find Other Sources
Ultimately, you need to get over your need to feel accepted by your family. That void will never be filled.
But you can get your emotional needs met by more reliable sources. There are plenty of options out there – a friend, a therapist/coach, a journal, a canvas.
One of the best options is to build a personal brand online. Start a blog, a YouTube channel, or choose one of the social media platforms. Then produce a large amount of content around your beliefs and interests.
Show yourself as you are — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
By doing so, you will attract fellow black sheep. Once they recognize you as a kindred spirit, they will reach out to you.
Just be patient; it takes a while to build critical mass.
10. Talk to People
Another great way to find your people is to learn how to talk to strangers.
I did this for years. Every time I left the house, I would force myself to start a conversation with someone I had never met before. As you can imagine, many of these interactions went awkwardly.
But every once in a blue moon, I would meet a fellow black sheep, someone that I immediately clicked with. Some of my most rewarding friendships and relationships have come from such encounters. It made all the awkward interactions worth it.
Master this, and you will never again be wanting for affection.