Early in life, I learned a critical truth: our families can either make or break us.
They can inspire, support, and uplift us. Indeed, our families can be a second womb, hearth, or safe space in which we grow and transform. On the other hand, they can demoralize, oppress, and smother us. Depending on where you are on the family spectrum, you’ll be a relatively well-adjusted individual or a person plagued with problems.
Our experience of ‘family’ forms a large part of the foundation of our self-worth, feelings of belonging, and psychological/emotional well-being as adults.
So what happens when you’re the black sheep of the family?
What happens when you are rejected, outcasted, marginalized, and even disowned from your birth family?
In this article, I’ll help you discover (1) if you are a black sheep, (2) how to heal the trauma associated with familial rejection, and (3) the profound opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation inherent in being a reject!
Table of contents
- What is a “Black Sheep”?
- Black Sheep Are Often Scapegoats (aka. “Identified Patients”)
- 9 Signs You’re the Black Sheep of the Family
- 12 Mental and Emotional Wounds Caused By Being a Black Sheep
- Why Being the Black Sheep of the Family is Spiritual Opportunity Par Excellence
- 7 Ways to Heal the Wounds of Being a Black Sheep
What is a “Black Sheep”?
The “black sheep of the family” is a term that refers to a family member who is considered peculiar, strange, unconventional, eccentric, or not aligned with the family’s persona and values. Sometimes “black sheep” has strong negative connotations as it can be used to refer to a person who is considered a “misfit,” criminal, addict, or overall troublemaker.
Black Sheep Are Often Scapegoats (aka. “Identified Patients“)
On top of being considered weird, black sheep are often scapegoated and blamed for the majority of a family’s problems. This tendency to scapegoat is known in psychology as the “Identified Patient.“
The “Identified Patient” or IP, was a term that emerged in the 1950s to describe the actions of sick and dysfunctional families and their tendency to assign one person in the family as a scapegoat to their problems.
Essentially, the Identified Patient is said to be a way that families avoid their own internal pain, disappointments, and struggles, by pointing the finger at another family member as the cause for all the problems they experience.
If you were the Identified Patient in your family, you were most likely chosen as the “trouble maker” or “problem child” due to your status within the family (e.g., young, naive and abusable, or older, headstrong and threatening), or your differing Soul Age and personality, which drew attention to your contrasting likes, tastes, and habits. Naturally, these qualities placed a big bullseye on your head and were used against you throughout your life.
Symptoms that you were chosen as the Identified Patient of your family include the following:
- Your parents were more strict with you than they were with your other siblings
- Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately
- You always carried the feeling that you “didn’t fit in” with your family, and you didn’t develop strong connections with them
- You were mocked, ridiculed, and/or made fun of on a constant basis
- Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as though you were always fundamentally lacking
- Whenever you got stronger, more confident, or happier, your family seemed intent on bringing you down and/or convincing you that you weren’t getting any better
- You developed mental and/or emotional disorders, and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and overburdened
- Your family didn’t show any interest in who you really were as a person
- You were criticized, completely ignored, and/or emotionally manipulated if you rebelled in any way
It’s important to note that families who assign scapegoats or Identified Patients often go to great measures to keep the member of the family they’ve unconsciously chosen that way, otherwise, they are forced to face their own inadequacies.
So if you’re stuck in a pull-tug relationship with your family where they treat you like crap, but cry and mope when you back away, this is why.
9 Signs You’re the Black Sheep of the Family
If you’re still wondering whether you’re the black sheep of the family, let’s zoom in even more. Pay attention to the following signs – how many can you relate to?
- You are blamed for most of your family’s issues (whether directly or indirectly)
- You feel like most of your family members completely misunderstand you
- You’re left out of the loop on your family’s news
- You’re not invited to gatherings, celebrations, etc.
- You don’t have much in common with any of your family members in terms of likes, tastes, and preferences
- You struggle to emotionally or mentally connect with your family members
- You’re made fun of, belittled, shamed, or bullied (either directly or indirectly)
- You often feel like you’re adopted or were raised in the wrong family
- You’re a contrarian or eccentric individualist by nature (i.e., you know who you are and what you stand for)
Have I missed any? Please share them below in the comments if you think so!
12 Mental and Emotional Wounds Caused By Being a Black Sheep
Being cast as the black sheep of the family is not a comfortable role. (However, it is a great doorway of opportunity, which I will explain soon.)
The pain of being rejected, scorned, and even flat-out disowned cuts deep to the core.
As a person who is the black sheep of my birth family, I know how terribly lonely being a black sheep is. All of the following wounds I’ve personally experienced and learned to deal with throughout time.
Here are the main mental and emotional wounds you may develop/experience:
- You feel alone in life
- You struggle to relate to other people
- It’s extremely difficult to trust people in relationships, friendships, work situations, etc.
- Trusting yourself and your instincts is hard, so you often feel lost (and without an inner compass)
- Emotional commitment is scary and triggering
- You carry big and oppressive core beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” and “There’s something wrong with me“
- Deep down, you feel that if someone truly got to know you, they wouldn’t like you anymore
- You feel fundamentally unlovable
- You’re either overly dependent on your friends for emotional validation or you prefer to go solo and bypass friendship altogether (as a loner)
- Social anxiety is a regular issue you battle
- Your life feels like one big existential crisis
- You grapple with depressive and/or addictive tendencies
This list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope I’ve painted a clear picture.
Being the black sheep of the family ain’t no ‘walk in the park.’ It’s traumatizing and destabilizing. But you’re certainly not alone, and this experience isn’t a curse, it’s a pathway.
Why Being the Black Sheep of the Family is Spiritual Opportunity Par Excellence
Certainly, it’s crucial that we come to terms with how traumatizing being the black sheep is – we need to mourn this fact.
But I also want to offer a unique perspective on being the black sheep of the family.
It’s a tremendously important pathway to spiritual transformation.
When we are rejected by our birth family, we are given a gift many others in life aren’t: the doorway to unfettered freedom. While others who are embraced by their families still need to play by certain rules, black sheep have the chance to walk their own paths.
While accepted-family-members might benefit from being validated, they also tend to be trapped in limiting roles that make it difficult for authentic Soul growth and expression to occur.
Black sheep, on the other hand, have a clean slate. The doorway to trailblazing their own destiny is open, they aren’t held back by other’s opinions because the judgment has already been made: they are rejects, oddballs, and outsiders.
Sure, there are cases of perfect families who lovingly uphold the dreams and aspirations of their members. But these instances are the exception, not the rule. The truth is that most families are dysfunctional – they are products of our wider fragmented society. And thus, they tend to have a stifling effect on one’s spiritual path and evolution.
As a black sheep, you are gifted with the chance to do some authentic soul searching, free from the suffocating confines of your family’s expectations and desires. You have already been cast in the role of Distaste and Disappointment. There’s not much else your birth family can do to harm you – the wound has already been inflicted. Now, your job is to break free and find your true meaning in life.
What you have experienced is, in reality, a spiritual initiation!
7 Ways to Heal the Wounds of Being a Black Sheep
There are only three options for black sheep: live authentically and get kicked out of the community, have the courage to move out on your own and rebuild from scratch, or hide your true self and desperately try to fit in (which you never will).– Ben Crawford, 2,000 Miles Together
When I embraced my role as a black sheep, I felt a sense of profound sadness but also exhilaration. Yes, I have been outcast from my birth family – seen as a defiant and condemnable intruder – but oh, what freedom!
However, I don’t want to make light of this situation. It is deeply traumatizing. On some level, it is akin to death. After all, our biological survival is dependant on being accepted by those who raise us.
So to help you embrace the gifts inherent in being the black sheep of the family, I have some advice. Here are seven ways to begin healing the wounds of being the family’s outcast:
1. Create healthy boundaries that preserve your mental health
Sometimes we may still wish to visit our family of origin. Others of us may choose to communicate only through email, text, or phone. And still, for some, it may be necessary to totally cut ties with their birth family.
Depending on how toxic your family is, you can choose between the above three options. Do keep in mind, however, that keeping your distance from people who reject your authentic being is healthy. To constantly be reminded of your ‘deficiencies,’ ‘shortcomings,’ and ‘inadequacy’ is not good for your mental, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing. Such people only tend to hold you back in spirals of self-abandonment and self-loathing.
2. Understand that you are not the cause of your family’s dysfunction
Consciously you may know this, but deep down there’s probably still some doubt in you. Sure, you may have made some pretty serious mistakes in your life, but so does everyone. Just because you are imperfect does not mean you are the source of the dysfunction in your family.
If you were the Identified Patient (or still are), you must realize that the cause of suffering in your family of origin is their own repressed anger, insecurity, fear, and personal trauma which they project onto you and haven’t taken responsibility for.
3. Create your own authentic soul family
After being accustomed to a certain role and way of being for our whole lives, it is strange and daunting to consider moving onto other roles. But please know that you can have a family of your own and step into a new role that is relational (i.e., connected with others), not isolated. You can move on with your life, find your own friends, make your own soul family, and redefine who you are as a person. The only thing stopping you is clinging to the past, and not opening yourself up to being more. Practicing the art of letting go will help you tremendously.
4. Contemplate your birth family’s pain
Why on earth would we want to do this? Well, the answer is that contemplation often leads to understanding, and understanding breeds compassion (which results in emotional freedom!).
Once you are at a stable point in life, turn your mind onto your birth family. Exploring the “why?” of what happened can help you make peace with your past and close that chapter.
Reflect on what causes a person or group of people to reject or demonize a person in the first place? Sure, they may be narcissistic or stupid – but that’s a surface judgment. What’s below the narcissism or stupidity? Usually, the answer is fear and pain.
When a person or group of people need to subconsciously elect someone else to personify their own pain and distress – someone to point the finger at and pin their problems on – these are very unhappy people indeed. They haven’t yet learned how to consciously handle their feelings of guilt, insignificance, embarrassment, or disappointment with themselves and their lives.
By not accepting their inner strife they are continuing to build a cocoon of hurt and resistance which prolongs their pain. So essentially, these are people who are deeply and consistently miserable human beings.
While we usually can’t awaken our families from their destructive habits, we can develop compassion and forgiveness for them, understanding why we were treated the way we were. It was actually nothing personal. This is extremely freeing.
5. Learn to love yourself and embrace your wounded inner child
We all possess an inner child, the part of us that sees the world through the eyes of innocence, wonder, and spontaneous joy. Our inner child, however, also cops the greatest amount of wounding growing up – and it’s for this reason that we need to learn to listen to and nurture it.
Signs that you have a wounded inner child include addictive tendencies, sudden unexplainable fears, anxiety and depression, and the unshakable feeling of being worthless, “not good enough,” and empty inside. Read more about the wounded inner child.
If you find that no amount of self-improvement helps, chances are that you aren’t going deep enough. Your inner child must be sought out, embraced, and nurtured through the practice of consistent self-love.
6. Treat this as a rare opportunity to do some soul searching
As mentioned previously, being the black sheep of the family is both a curse and a gift. Now that you are largely free of the fetters of your family of origin, you can walk your own path and be a lone wolf. You can turn inwards, listen to the whispers of your heart, and plunge the depths of your soul.
Those who are embraced by their family of origin often struggle to get to the place where they can turn inwards. They are beset with the pressures of having to live up to expectations, having to project a consistently acceptable self-image, amongst other soul-constricting burdens.
Thankfully, you don’t have to deal with this any longer. Once you embrace being a black sheep and no longer fight against it, you are initiated onto your own unique spiritual journey. What could be more precious than that?
7. Connect with your heart and listen to your intuition
Finally, to heal the wounds of being the black sheep of the family, you need to reconnect with your heart. I know this may be scary. I remember how terrifying it has been for me to do this. But I’ve learned that slowly tuning into my inner Center helps me to make wise decisions and live a wholly authentic life – the kind that many people dream about.
When being outcast by our family, it’s common to close the heart and totally shut off from life – this is a wise self-protection mechanism. But eventually, you need to learn to open back up. To feel your pain. To do your grief work. To practice letting go. To blossom into your truest Self.
Many people overly rely on their family members for guidance. However, because you won’t have that, you’ll need to rely on the wisdom of your own intuition. While this is harder to do, it is a wiser path. No one can live your life but you. No one can do the inner work of intentional spiritual alchemy but you.
Here are a few guides and resources I recommend checking out to help you with this work:
- How to Trust Your Intuition to Make Big Decisions (intuition help)
- The Ultimate Guide to Heart Chakra Healing For Complete Beginners (heart-healing)
- How to Find Yourself When You’re Lost in Life (9 Steps) (path-finding guidance)
Also, feel free to poke around the rest of this website – there is so much mental, emotional, and spiritual guidance freely available here!
In the words of outcast winemaker and author Andre Hueston Mack,
We’ve all been in positions where we felt out of place or not accepted for whatever reason. For me, that’s been my life. I’ve always been that person that stood out. And what makes you an outcast is what makes you unique, and you should harness that. Being a black sheep gives you creative license to do sh*t differently.
Being a black sheep, while painful and lonely, can be a tremendous opportunity and path to personal freedom and transformation. I hope this article has inspired and given you hope!
If you’re the black sheep of the family, let me know how that feels for you. What lessons or pearls of wisdom can you share with the rest of us?