It’s extremely common to feel alone at times in our lives. To feel abnormal and different from everyone else. But some feel more different than others, and for longer periods of time. For those that have felt separate their whole lives, even since early childhood within their families, this seclusion can be a deeper issue.
Families are often with us for life, and our ties to them can feel inescapable. If your family is the group, you feel singled out against, being the ‘black sheep’ can be a heavy, never-ending role to play.
What Does the Black Sheep of Your Family Mean?
The black sheep metaphor is used to describe the odd one out in a group. The idea being that the black sheep stand out against the rest in stark, even in opposite contrast.
In a family dynamic, this is often used to describe the family member you can single out as being significantly different from the rest. The gay sister, the right-wing father, the careless vagabond cousin, etc.
They’re the one that perhaps doesn’t share the same ideals, seems to stick out in a family photo, and causes a stir when they turn up to family events.
Even if the black sheep is merely an eccentric aunt, the contrast in personality and lifestyle can be unsettling for the rest of the family, and emotionally taxing for the oddball aunt. Resentments can develop or self-perpetuate over time until ties are broken, and members on either side feel angry, depressed, or guilty.
This, of course, may not be the fault of the black sheep, and there may be no intentional animosity between the family and said sheep. It is still isolating for the black sheep, however, and sometimes even devastating for everyone involved.
Why Does This Happen?
The manifestation of a black sheep in the family could happen for any number of reasons. As mentioned, some might find that due to their identity or lifestyle choices that they can’t relate to the rest of the family.
For others, it may simply be an outcome of circumstance. For instance, the only boy in a family of five. The eldest daughter born to new and dysfunctional parents. The adopted child or child with different parentage to the rest.
Those in situations beyond their control can be more likely to feel others because of them. Often from the get-go.
Your version of life, the things that happen to you, might be distinctly different from your siblings. As we get older the things that happen to us shape our personalities further and further, and so the gulf between us and our siblings or other family members grows greater.
Sometimes there’s just no preventing a black sheep dynamic.
Further Reading: How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Are You the Black Sheep of Your Family?
If you analyze any family in depth, you can probably make a case for any member being the black sheep. After all, we’re all different in one way or another.
So how do you know if you’re the black sheep in your family?
If you feel one or more of the following are true for you, but not for others in your family, you might feel more strongly that you are the black sheep:
Often the defining factor for a black sheep is something in our genetic makeup. Whether that’s different parentage to their other siblings, a different gender, a different age, sexual orientation, or identity. These black sheep might feel that they never had a chance to be anything but.
Sometimes a simple difference of personalities can create a black sheep in a family. As this is more subtle it can be harder to negotiate and understand. If a family member shares similar values, lifestyles, or ideals to the others, but their personality is quite different, their separateness can seem frustratingly unexplainable. You may also be aware of and rub up against these differences more frequently if other aspects of your lives are more in line and ties are closer.
Affected by Different Circumstances
Sometimes life might just throw different circumstances at one particular member of a family. Perhaps a tragic life event, a damaging relationship or a different career path. These things can lead someone to be shaped by experiences the other family members simply haven’t, and therefore can’t relate to. These things can create a divide that grows over time.
Different Ideals and Philosophies
Something that might most easily lead to more arguments and bad blood is a difference of beliefs. These might be borne out of differing circumstances, lifestyles, or anything else. Or they might seemingly be caused by nothing. Either way, when one member believes different things to the others, the way they relate to the world will always be fundamentally different. It can easily cause friction when rubbing up against opposing values of others around them. If those others are people you’re supposed to share parts of your life with, it can be a persistent problem.
Every one of these different factors can result in a different lifestyle, and sometimes none of them. For whatever reason, there might be one family member who lives a completely different lifestyle from the others. Perhaps they choose to live in another part of the world, associate with entirely different people, and do things that they’re related to would never dream of doing. Once again, they will seem the outcast of the family.
Further Reading: How to Deal with Toxic Family Members
So What if You Are the Black Sheep?
Perhaps you have less in common with any of the other family members than they do with each other. But that’s nothing to feel bad about.
It can be tough to be dealt such a hand in life. To be different from the people you grow up with and develop around. But bearing the title of black sheep does not have to be permanent. A Life sentence.
The title of black sheep is only relevant to your family; it doesn’t really mean anything except that you do not align as smoothly with the people you happen to be tied with early on. You don’t need to feel guilty or wrong. You are simply the victim of circumstance.
Circumstances can and do change. And you have the power to change them. You can broker peace and understanding with your family, set more boundaries with them, or choose a new family altogether. One where you’re not the black sheep, where there is no black sheep, or where the role of black sheep generates no negativity. Maybe even an appreciation for the diversity instead.
Though the seclusion and resultant emotional pains can leave its scars, the scars can fade over time. We can receive love and help from others. In the end, the whole experience can help black sheep become stronger and attain a greater sense of self.
So keep on and redefine your life, either with your old family or a new one. You can be whatever color or animal you want to be.