Elizabeth Dorrance Hall says “There are more layers in what’s going on in families, but it’s human nature to marginalize others who act differently and express a different identity.”
Understanding the black sheep
“The phrase ‘The Black Sheep of the Family’ isn’t a term listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s not like there’s one single, defined, universally-agreed-upon definition of this term (and certainly not clinically) but it’s nonetheless a phrase that has largely infused our collective cultural lexicon over the years,” explains psychotherapist Annie Wright.
According to the Family Systems Theory developed by Murray Bowen, MD, every family is a system and unit. The black sheep or the ‘identified patient’ “is part of a family’s collective, unconscious psychological projection process where they essentially defer and outsource the pain, tension, and anxiety felt within the dysfunctional family system onto one person…” says Annie. The black sheep “holds” this energy from the family in a physical, psychological and emotional way. However, this eventually comes out though various behaviors and symptoms which the family members use to blame the identified patient further.
Annie adds “In this way, the identified patient is the so-called family scapegoat, the proverbial ‘Black Sheep’ serving as a “protective function” for the family’s larger dysfunctional patterning.”
Apart from this, a black sheep in the family may also resemble ‘the abandoned child’ archetype or ‘the orphan’ archetype. These archetypes describe an individual who has a hard time fitting into their family, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. So if you can relate with the identified patient or abandoned child or the orphan archetype, you can realize that the common theme is related to being rejected, misplaced and misunderstood, believes psychotherapist Annie Wright.
Are you a black sheep in the family?
Still not sure if you are the black sheep in the family? Then here are a few signs that will help you identify if you are a marginalized family member:
1. They talk behind you
You feel that your family members talk behind your back and think of you as the black sheep in the family. In fact, some well meaning relatives, cousins, neighbors or friends have told you about how negatively your family talks about you when you’re not present.
2. You don’t fit in
You feel disconnected from your family as you have nothing in common with them. Your personality, attitude, outlook, thoughts, interests, passions are very different and appear “weird” to your parents and siblings. Hence, your family starts treating you differently, which is obviously unhealthy. This can even lead to repeated acts of humiliation and bullying.
3. You keep things to yourself
You tend to ignore things about yourself. You don’t feel the need to inform your family members about your failures or accomplishments as you think it’s not important to them. You don’t even bring your partner to meet your family or inform them that you’re dating someone.
4. You seek approval
You constantly feel the pressure to prove yourself to the members of your family. However, you know you will never succeed in getting their approval despite how badly you want it.
5. You’re the scapegoat
A family member is constantly angry and they mostly choose to take their anger out on you for no apparent reason. You don’t know clearly about the family dynamics and no one bothers to tell you anything. Your family life is rather unpleasant and not at all comforting.
6. You have different beliefs
You don’t think it’s important to mention that you have different religious and spiritual beliefs. You feel it’s better to keep it low key than make a big deal out of it.