After reading the headline you are probably thinking one of two things.
Bob (substitute name of family member here) is the black sheep of the family.
Or crap, that would be me.
I fall into the second category.
Here is a list of attributes that give me this distinction.
- I am not married (enough by itself to make you different in some families)
- Don’t have children and don’t want any
- Don’t own a car
- Working from home on my own business (which means I don’t have a ‘job’)
- I am a vegetarian (this one is fairly recent and causing quite a stir).
These are the highlights, though I could have written quite a long list. I realise this is hardly a radical lifestyle. My family however are quite conservative.
In an earlier post, I discussed why it’s okay to be different.
Here are my tips on coping if you are the odd one out in your family.
Don’t explain your choices
I have fallen into this trap recently. You find yourself constantly having to explain or justify your lifestyle or choices, even the most basic ones.
To be completely honest, it’s exhausting.
Unless you are hurting members of your family, you shouldn’t have to constantly explain yourself.
Break the explaining habit.
Don’t try to change anyone
As it turns out this acceptance stuff is a two-way street.
While you don’t need to explain your choices, neither should you be condemning everyone else for theirs. Appreciate that other people also have the right to go about their lives as they see fit.
As much as I have embraced being a vegetarian, I am not trying to shove tofu down anyone else’s throat. My family is free to eat whatever they want, just as I should be.
Understand they may be trying to help
A lot of the time family members are just trying to help, they might not necessarily be going about it the right way. Whilst they see it as helping and offering advice; on your side of the fence it feels like criticism.
In this situation, it is important to recognise when family are trying to help you. If you need their help by all means take it and thank them. Appreciate the fact that they offered their time and energy to assist you. Express your gratitude.
If you don’t need their help, politely thank them for offering, decline and move on.
Don’t tolerate being treated badly
If people start to criticise or make snide comments in your direction, politely nip it in the bud.
Doesn’t that sound easy when you say it like that? In reality standing up for yourself can be difficult in certain family situations. Being outnumbered doesn’t make it any easier.
The trick of course is using an assertive manner and not a passive aggressive one. I went the passive aggressive approach recently and I would not recommend it.
Timing is also a key component. Do you say something in the thick of a discussion or later when everything has calmed down? Both have their merit and both can cause issues if not used wisely or handled correctly.
I have found the most useful tool is consistency. Every time someone says something that puts you down or criticises you, politely tell them their behaviour is not acceptable. Obviously you briefly mention what that behaviour is. Make sure you don’t ramble, be brief and to the point. No name calling or being nasty.
You need to do this each and every time they try to put you down. Eventually they will stop or decrease this sort of inappropriate behaviour.
Have a support network (outside of your family)
If you are the black sheep of the family and struggle to fit in, you need to make sure you have a wonderful group of people where you do fit in.
I would be lost without my girlfriends who ‘get me’. As much as family loves us (and we love them), they can sometimes be more on the ‘change’ or ‘fix’ bandwagon, than the ‘live and let live’ one.
Make sure you have a strong group of friends who love you just the way you are.
Love yourself just the way you are
Your biggest supporter should be you.
It can be difficult to hold your ground and stick to what you believe in when you are bombarded by criticism and ridicule from people you love. From strangers criticism can be easily disregarded. From family members it can really hurt.
Constant criticism can have you doubting yourself if you are not careful. Don’t let this happen. It can be very harmful to your self esteem and confidence.
Take a deep breath; remember who you are and what you believe in.
Remember no one is better than anyone else
People with different lifestyles often want to convert you around to their way of thinking. For whatever reason, they think their way of life is better.
A classic example of this is being married with kids. A lot of married people can’t imagine how you could possibly be happy single and without children, so they try to bring you around to their way of thinking, often by trying to discredit your way of life.
Sometimes we need to be crystal clear with people about what it is we want and what makes us happy. Let people know that you are happy with your life.
Embrace being different
I like who I am. Whilst my family might feel more comfortable if my lifestyle was more aligned to theirs, it wouldn’t make me happy. I would be unhappy living their lifestyle, just as they would be unhappy living mine.
Celebrate what makes you different. Your differences make you open to amazing opportunities. Look upon being the black sheep as an advantage not a disability.
You are a unique individual. We all are.
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