The “Most Wanted Criminals” family member whose picture shows up in the online public posting. The goth child with spiked hair, multiple body piercings, and cringe-worthy body modifications. The gay uncle who brings his new, years-younger boyfriend to the family event and is “all over him” to where you want to tell them to “get a room!” The addict who comes to the family reunion drunk and staggers around spilling his drink on the guests…
Whoever the “Black Sheep” is in your family, maybe they are just misunderstood.
Who gets the label of Black Sheep?
Families will give the label of “Black Sheep” to the individual who doesn’t follow the pack. They don’t fit the norm of the family group. This can be in the areas of how they dress and look, or in who they choose as a life partner. Maybe they just have a different set of values and beliefs about religion and politics. Whatever it is that makes them different, they are an outsider; they are the “Black Sheep” of the family.
Where does the Black Sheep label come from?
According to wikipedia.org, the term Black Sheep is used to describe an odd or disreputable member within a family. This comes from the fact that in flocks of white sheep (the animal, not human kind), a recessive gene will show up with the birth of a black sheep. This black sheep stands out in the flock much like the goth child with spiked hair and piercings would stand out in a preppy, upwardly mobile family unit. Hence, the Black Sheep in the family.
As expected, the straight and narrow family members will judge the unusual personality negatively, and possibly characterize them as a deviant. Especially if it tarnishes their social reputation in their community!
What sets the Black Sheep apart?
Barring a serious addiction or personality maladjustment, that is harmful to themselves or others, the black sheep in the family may simply be marching to the beat of an off-tune drummer. They neither plan to, nor want to, step in line with the other family members.
Maybe they enjoy being the “Black Sheep” who “gets your goat”, meaning, they love to irritate and shock you with their off-beat antics? Maybe they get a thrill out of shaking up the stodgy family members who are quick to judge others?
Maybe they just have a different take on values? They may choose to openly profess their promiscuity, instead of keeping it on the down low. Or, they don’t believe in organized church and religion. Maybe they are the religious rebel that makes sure the family knows they are an atheist?
Little of what the Black Sheep says, does, believes, or looks like will fit in with the family code of ethics. They seem to strike out on all fronts and stand apart from the family flock, just as the black sheep sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the flock of white sheep in the meadow.
Why do the Black Sheep deserve to be respected?
Often, the member of the family who is deemed to be the Black Sheep is the most honest about who they are and what they stand for. They’re not afraid to risk the judgment of others. They will gladly suffer the family scorn before they will compromise their beliefs. They are living their personal truth openly and willfully and for that they deserve to be respected.
The Black Sheep are often creative, original thinkers who not only don’t follow the family pack, they also will not succumb to peer pressure. In teens and young adults, this can work in their favor, or it can work against them as their rebel nature aligns them with other packs of Black Sheep, the outcasts who take risks and feed off their bad-boy or bad-girl image to the detriment of all in the group.
Then there are the Black Sheep that fill the role of the family scapegoat. It’s easier for the family to focus on the problems the Black Sheep creates, than it is for the other family members to face the reality of their own dysfunction. All the blame and shame will be projected onto the Black Sheep in the family. Should the Black Sheep eventually distance themselves from the toxic label their family has assigned them, the family will often pick a new family member to be the scapegoat. This perpetuates their need to not look honestly at their internal dysfunction.
How can the Black Sheep protect themselves?
If you’re the Black Sheep in your family, there are 4 things you can do to cope, as taken from the article “Family Outcast? How To Tell If You Are the Black Sheep of the Family”:
1. Demand respect.
2. Don’t justify yourself or your choices.
3. Realize their intent. Their judgment may be intended for your own good.
4. Tolerate other family members’ choices. Tolerance goes both ways.
Listen this weekend to “The Joan Jerkovich Show” to hear more about how to cope if you’re the black sheep in your family. Also, I talk with 37 year old Andrew who has been labeled the Black Sheep in his family. Listen to how he has lived with this label and worked to overcome it. Inspiring talk radio!