Early in life I learned a very important truth: our families can either make, or break us.
They can inspire us to be the people we are today, and depending on our role within our family, we can either feel a deep sense of acceptance, or a deep feeling of rejection pervading our lives right now.
The role we played as children and young adults in our families contributed immensely to our present self of self-worth, feelings of social approval, and our psychological and emotional well-being at large.
If you’re like me, you may have got stuck in a role that undermined your sense of being a fundamentally “good” and “acceptable” person deep down, something that still affects you to this very day. You may find yourself the “Identified Patient” or Black Sheep of your family, and this may cause you a lot of shame and depression in your life.
What is an “Identified Patient”?
The “Identified Patient” or IP, was a term that emerged in the 1950’s 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 complex is said to be a way 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 things placed a big bulls eye 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.
Living Life as a Black Sheep
Eventually, you may have cut away from this destructive family dynamic of being the Identified Patient, however, it’s rare for there to not be any significant mental or emotional repercussions caused by living out such a role.
As a Black Sheep myself, I’ve struggled a lot with the feelings of guilt and shame of not being there to watch my two younger sisters grow up, and constantly reminded of that fact by my parents. I haven’t personally visited my family for over 2 years, even though they live within a 15km radius of me.
Through my struggles, I’ve learned a number of valuable lessons about how to heal yourself as a Black Sheep. Here they are:
1. You are not the cause of your family’s dysfunction.
Consciously you may know this, but deep down there is 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 chaos is your family’s repressed and avoided anger, disappointment and personal inadequacies.
2. You don’t have to hang onto the Black Sheep label.
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. Identifying as an outcast, rebel or troublemaker can serve as a security shield after a long period of time, as it’s all we grow to know about ourselves. In essence, it becomes familiar and comfortable. The truth is that you can move on with your life, find your own friends, make your own 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.
3. Understand the core problem.
Once you have forgiven yourself and allowed yourself to be the imperfect person you are, slowly you can move on to forgiving your family. 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, of insignificance, of 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. While we may not always be able to wake our families up from their destructive habits, we can develop compassion and forgiveness for them, understanding why we were treated the way we were. It was nothing personal.
My journey as an Identified Patient and Black Sheep of my family has been a tumultuous one full of denial, anger and acceptance. If you have experienced similar to what I have, or worse, I can only hope that this article helps you to begin, or continue, the process of healing.
If you’re a Black Sheep or IP, please share your feelings, experiences and insights below. Sharing such things helps us to grow and learn as people.