How to Survive Being the Black Sheep of the Family

by Thea · 26 comments

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please forward it onto your friends.  I welcome your feedback in the comments section below.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

This post was written by...

– who has written 352 posts on Write Change Grow.

Hi! Welcome to my blog.  I'm a freelance writer and blogger. For more Write Change Grow goodness, sign up for my free newsletter.  You can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

Contact the author

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne-Sophie February 17, 2012 at 11:18 am

I love this post! I am and have always been the black sheep of my family. Like you, I am self-employed (so,yeah, I don’t do anything all day either) and my family had the toughest time accepting my choices.
At the beginning it was hard for me to accept their criticism, but I have surrounded myself with people who love me for exactly the person I am and that has helped me be confident!

Reply

Thea February 20, 2012 at 5:23 am

Hi Anne-Sophie
Thank you so much for commenting. Great to see you here! From one black sheep to another, welcome!!
The criticism can be really hard but you are right surrounding yourself with people who love you for exactly who you are makes all the difference.
The interesting thing is I might do something my family thinks is a bit out there, yet when my brother does a similar thing they find it more acceptable. I think it’s because he is married with children. They see him as settled and therefore more stable. Being single, not so much. Definitely not whining about my brother here, we get on really well and have a good relationship.
Family dynamics, got to love them.
Again thanks so much for your comment. Loved the bit about you not doing anything all day! I can so relate.
Cheers
Thea

Reply

Marcie February 18, 2012 at 5:58 am

I’m not the black sheep of the family, in fact I don’t think we have any black sheep in our immediate circle – but anyway, what you say is true. Even if people aren’t the black sheep they may have little quirks that don’t quite fit the round peg hole. Liking and Loving yourself is the key. Thanks again for the words of wisdom!

Reply

Thea February 20, 2012 at 5:05 am

Hi Marcie
Great to see you here again, always a delight.
Thank you so much for commenting. Glad you enjoyed the post.
Cheers
Thea

Reply

Miss Britt February 19, 2012 at 5:21 am

This is an awesome post.

Reply

Thea February 20, 2012 at 5:01 am

Hi Britt
Lovely to see you here again! So glad you enjoyed it. :)
Cheers
Thea

Reply

Liz February 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Thank you for this.

I’m the black sheep in so, so many ways. I have tattoos. I have a ring through my nose. I listen to heavy metal and loathe country music. I’m working a part-time job that is beneath my education level. I’ve recently started pursuing my career as a writer. I stand out like a pencil in a cup of pens.

I recently stopped explaining myself, and it feels amazing. It was to the point where I was questioning myself and my choices, and I realized that I need to believe in myself and move on from the negativity.

I’ve embraced being the black sheep.

Reply

Thea February 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Hi Liz
Great to see you here again. Thanks for the great comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.
I am so glad to hear you have embraced your black sheep. Good on you! I love the pencil in a cup of pens statement. That is me too. I saw your post about no longer explaining yourself. I loved it. I realised recently I have been doing the same thing with friends and family and decided to stop explaining myself as well. Now when someone asks me Why did you do such and such? Why are you? etc etc I simply answer ‘because I want to’ or “I like it’ or something similar. I don’t go into a long explanation as to why. I have also tried to do the same for other people. I don’t want people explaining their actions to me either. It does feel amazing. It is very liberating not having to explain yourself all of the time.
Thank you so much for allowing me to appear on your blog recently. It was a pleasure to guest post for you. Thank you again for the opportunity.
Look forward to seeing you here again soon. I will definitely pop over and check out your latest posts as well. :)
Cheers
Thea

Reply

Liz February 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm

It really is liberating! I still struggle with it occasionally but I’ve been making a conscious effort to not explain myself unless I want to. No one should feel like they have to explain themselves.

Thank you for guest posting! I want to do another series in the future, and will definitely let you know. I’d love to have you on again!

Reply

Rebecca April 16, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Thank you for your words of wisdom that don’t go back to that old adage of “sticks and stones.” I am the black sheep in my family, but worse than that I became the victim of a family of bullies. And while I can certainly whine with the best of them that my aunts, uncles, and cousins are wrong and out dated with their thinking, I have to accept responsibility that I have not handled the situation correctly.

Instead of assertively ending their critical and sometimes threatening remarks, I engaged in arguments that had no winners. Instead of appreciating what and who I was, I allowed their words to creep into my subconscious and undermine what self esteem I had left. I began to dread these family get together events to the point that I felt sick to my stomach if someone mentioned them.

However, I am better now. Instead of sulking in a corner, I have stood up and said I am me. I’m not going to change for people. I am not going to listen to unsolicited advice and comments. I don’t attend family events because I have realized that I have my friends who are my family. I am a much happier person.

Reply

Thea April 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

Hi Rebecca
Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment.
I am so glad you enjoyed the post and got something useful from it. It can certainly be difficult when you have family members with such different values and as you mentioned outdated thinking (can so relate to you there), even more so when they seem adamant about forcing their value system and beliefs onto you. Family bullies, gosh sorry to hear that, that would be awful particularly the part where you mentioned their nasty words undermined your self-esteem. The threatening part sounds pretty horrid too.

I am happy to hear that you are feeling better about it all now. Good on you for sticking up for yourself and standing your ground. Thank goodness for our friends, they are the wonderful, supportive and caring ‘family’ we choose for ourselves. :)

Thanks again for commenting, it was really lovely to see you here and I hope to chat to you again soon.
Cheers
Thea

Reply

a non July 22, 2012 at 2:59 am

Really nice article. Live and let live. I suffer (Ed) a lot of abuse, was the scapegoat before even being born. Time to get on with it now. I’ve gone through the stages of grief and its time to move on. I like who I am. I am grateful for everything in my life. Its all ordained, planned for my good.

Reply

Thea August 14, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hi
Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am glad to hear that you are doing well now. Good on you!! You sound like you have overcome some tough times but moved through them with grace and dignity. It is a wonderful thing to be able to say you like who you are.
Thank you again for sharing part of your story here. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing you here again soon.
Cheers
Thea

Reply

James December 6, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Thanks man this made me feel better about my brother and mother treating me like the blacksheep of the family …

Reply

jennifer March 31, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Awesome.concise.uplifting

Reply

Thea April 8, 2013 at 2:18 am

Hi Jennifer
Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the black sheep post. I hope to see you here again soon.
Cheers
Thea

Reply

Sunnie May 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Wow, this is so timely! I have been attending counselling due to long term estrangement/abuse from my family. I really do believe us ‘black sheep’ or ‘disowned’ can benefit from mutual support and fellowship. I have come to the conclusion in my own case that ‘I am OK’ which is so important to build on. I have a child to raise and so many good days ahead; what a shame those we love are missing out.
Beware of feeling unworthy or entering toxic relationships of any kind, and build your strengths and esteem. Remember, the shame is not yours.
Sunnie

Reply

Lola Silva August 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I loved this blog! Thank you! My sister and I are the black sheep in our very religious uptight family. Our parents divorced when we were very young. We never were around my dad’s family. We were raised catholic but not strict. My dads family is evangelists. My husband is Jewish as is wonderful and has the best supportive family we have 2 sons. Own a home and are really happy. My sister is engaged to a wonderful man just bought her first home and has 2 children from a previous relationship. But she is very happy. However my dads family excludes us from everything. Weddings, they even through BBQ’s and never invite us. As much as we try to let it roll off our shoulder it hurts. It’s a very large family lots of cousins they get together and blast it on social media. My father is remarried with children now and because they are always around and are the same religion they refuse to acknowledge our kids. Fortunately for me I don’t live in the same town but my sister does and it’s so hard for her. They use mean girl tactics like purposely excluding us. I came to the conclusion that it is a control issue and this is a way of being part of something that they never had before. Because they all lived very sheltered lives. It’s not even just the female cousins the male ones act the same way. Like if your not married they are above you.

Reply

Thea September 25, 2013 at 1:54 am

Hi Lola

Thank you so much for commenting. Before I start let me begin by apologizing for taking so long to write back. I remember reading your post and I thought I wrote back straight away but clearly I made a mistake there. Again sorry for the delay, I really did appreciate your heartfelt comment.

Firstly so glad to hear that both your sister and you are both happy and have loving supportive partners (and their families who support you as well). Sometimes our love and support comes from someone else’s family and that’s just fine too. Love is love after all!!

Sorry to hear that your Dad’s family exclude you though, I know that even though we try to not let things affect us it can still hurt. I can only imagine how things can get more complicated when different religions gets thrown into the mix!

It sounds like you and your sister have a strong bond and are there for each other so that’s fantastic! I say connect your two wonderful families as often as you can and have your own joyous events and family gatherings. The ones you aren’t getting invited to may be a real bore anyway!!

Thanks again for your comment and I am really glad you enjoyed the post.

Cheers
Thea

Reply

Lola Silva August 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Sorry for all the typos!!

Reply

Gaby September 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm

No one accepts me or likes me in the family they abuse me in 2 ways I think about suicide

Reply

Thea September 24, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Hi Gaby

I am so sorry to hear that your family is abusive towards you. No one deserves to be treated like that.

Unfortunately I don’t know your situation as in your age or whether you are still living at home etc. If you are young and still living at home are there any other family members or friends that you can turn to? If you are at school are there any counselors or people you can talk to or go to for help?

Do you have some good friends that you can talk to? Good friends can play an incredibly important role in our lives. When our family lets us down it can be our friends who are our greatest strength and support. In saying that don’t worry if you don’t have any close friends just at the moment, we make friends throughout our lives so you never know who will come into your life.

If you are older and earning your own money can you perhaps move out with some trusted friends? If by chance you don’t live with your family at the moment, I would be staying clear of them (as in avoiding any social functions) and concentrate on getting any help and support that you need.

Again I don’t know the specifics with your family but can you stand up to them more or try to set boundaries with them (by that I mean let them know that abusing you in any way is not acceptable). I realize this does depend on your unique situation and it is certainly not easy but something to perhaps think about?

I understand you having dark thoughts but suicide is NEVER the answer. This may be a terrible time in your life but things change and get better all of the time. In no time your life could completely turn itself around for the better. I understand it may not feel that way at the moment but believe me it can happen. I have had friends who have felt exactly the same way you do and they are now living wonderful happy lives. One of my friends came from an incredibly abusive childhood and she is now an amazing friend and mother. Don’t deprive yourself of all the incredible things you are going to accomplish going forward in your life.

You have to believe in yourself and know that how they are treating you is wrong. Unfortunately I am not a trained counselor so I can’t help you as much as I would like to. I really wish I should help you more. Finding a trained professional or counselor who can help you is important.

No one deserves to be treated badly. You deserve to be treated with respect and love. You need to believe that!!

I will definitely be thinking of you Gaby. I wish you all the best and hope things improve for you. I would love to hear back from you to see how you are going. I hope reading the blog in some ways helps as well. I hope it helps you to see that we all have our hard moments and battles to face but we can work through them and move onto bigger and better things.

All the best and take care.
Remember life is precious and there are so many great things you are yet to do!

Thinking of you
Thea

Reply

tye johnson December 10, 2013 at 5:41 am

Belive it or not the people in your family who are criticising you often are jealous and envious and secretly wish they posses some of your qualities.

Reply

SB December 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve always had a difficult time with this. For whatever reason, my mother’s family has always been ashamed of me. Since birth, as far as I can tell. I’m not sure what I ever did wrong, but whatever it is it’s enough to be dismissive, judgmental, and ugly towards me. I am 32 now with a beautiful, lovely and loving child and a wonderful, supportive husband. I’ve approached my mom about this in many different ways and many different times. She is resistant to hearing it and makes excuses for them. It upsets me, because I feel like she chooses her extended family over her own daughter. I can guarantee that would never happen with my son. She’s slowly getting better, but she very, very, very rarely stands up for me. She has recently acknowledged that I’m right, which is great progress, but she’s not changing her behavior when they’re around. She’s always more short with me when they’re around. My husband has seen it from the very first time he met my mom’s family. I have two older brothers and two younger female cousins. My brothers get passes for being male. My cousins are perfect in the eyes of everyone. They’ve never had a challenge or hardship in their lives. I get told to “get over it” all the time. It doesn’t matter if my boyfriend of 4 years died unexpectedly at 21 years old, that I have OCD and PTSD, or anything else. I know if I even shared the sexual abuse and rape I’ve suffered, I’d be told to “get over it” along with an eye roll and a story about how it’s all in my head. As an example as to the contrast here, my cousin who is in her late 20s finally got a job after finishing school. She works part time and is upset because she doesn’t get a lunch break. They are just up in arms over this. I mean really. They’re ready to protest on her behalf. By law, she’s not entitled to one. When I was 15, 16, 17, and 18 I worked 40 hours a week at a restaurant while I attended high school (complete with a full load of AP and Honors courses). I worked 6 days a week, with Wednesdays off. Saturdays and Sundays (and any school holiday) I worked split shifts. I never had a lunch break and I was sexually abused while I was there. Instead of any sort of sympathy, I was whined at and about for not being present on holidays because of my work schedule. My husband works 6 days a week out in the elements from 7AM until 6PM with no lunch break. No one says a word. This is just a very small example of the imbalance.

I know the problem is that I’m very different from them. VERY. They tell me that I’m just like them, but only the bad stuff. Bossy, loud, chatterbox. I’m a chatterbox. I’m not loud and I’m certainly not bossy. My husband comes to my defense, but he gets shut down because “he’s only saying that so he doesn’t get in trouble”. It’s not true. In MY marriage, we are open and honest 100% of the time. That’s why our bond is so strong and why we are happy. I did everything wrong in life. I didn’t make straight As (b/c I was spending so much time working and dealing with being bullied), I have a few tattoos that aren’t visible unless I choose for them to be, I lived with my husband before we were married, I didn’t immediately go to college and graduate (despite the fact that I was responsible for paying for it unlike my cousins or the fact that only one person in that family has a degree), I don’t like to shop, I don’t go to church (I can’t find one that holds my values though I am a Christian), and I am very different from them on the political spectrum. Actually, I think it pisses them off more that I don’t have a political stance. I use my brain and good judgment rather than proclaiming a side. I find that silly. I’ve been told I wear too much makeup, that I look like a clown with white face paint (I have extremely pale skin – it’s not due to makeup), I wore clothing that was too provocative. And on the clothing thing, one of my cousins and I have large breasts. My cousin has taken to wearing things that show them off to a certain extent. She’s always told she looks beautiful. I was always told to cover up. When I broke up with my ex-fiance, a couple in Mom’s family got upset with me and started to treat me very rudely for it, despite the fact that I broke up with him when he raised his hand to hit me in public.

In my defense, I am an incredibly empathetic person. I don’t know how I became this way unless it was through rebellion. It certainly wasn’t inherited, though I definitely got the pick of the litter when it comes to potential moms on that side of the family. I am charitable, I am an excellent mother, I’m the hardest worker you’ll ever find, I’m great at everything I do and am constantly striving to improve myself, I picked a wonderful spouse who everyone loves except for the fact that he’s attached to me, I have a solid and amazingly happy and healthy marriage, I take care of everyone and anyone, I’m there for my cousins, aunts, and grandparents anytime they need me, I’m my mom’s right-hand woman, I’m back in school going for a very difficult degree. As a child I was never out of line. I never spoke, because I was terrified of getting into trouble (can you blame me?), so I can’t see why I would have ever said anything that would upset anyone. I was always very well-behaved and polite. I didn’t cause any grief or embarrassment for my parents (unlike my brothers). I grew up with an alcoholic, permanently angry father. My brother demolished my self-esteem. Yet, I still have a great relationship with my brother (who was big enough to apologize for his behavior when he became an adult) and I have an OK one with my dad. In fact, my dad is damn lucky to have a relationship with me at all.

Our son is 5 and he’s the apple of everyone’s eye. I don’t know how I was able to produce a child that can be so well loved by these people who hate his mother so much. He is most certainly a wonderful child deserving of all of this love. He is incredibly sweet, lovable, polite, thoughtful, intelligent, well-behaved. I keep wondering how they can hate me so much and be so disappointed in me only to love someone who is a reflection of me. I have to think that it’s his gender. I refuse to see them just so they can see my son. That’s how I’m treated and have been since his birth. To me, to fully love my son you should fully love the person who he loves the most (and who loves him the most). I also don’t ever want to find out they’ve treated him in any way they’ve treated me. I have never stood up for myself, but I will stand up for him. I know their love for him in incomplete. For example, I know that if it turns out he’s gay, they’ll hate him. They’ll call him an f-word. They’ll try to turn him. They’ll exclude him from the family. To me, that is proof that the love is incomplete.

Facebook makes this more apparent. I take notice. My aunts only “like” pictures of my son or my dog. If I post anything of good news, like my major promotion, they ignore it. My uncle will respond to those with something to degrade it, like “Don’t break your arm” meaning “don’t pat yourself on the back too hard”. No “like”, no “congratulations”, no “good job”. Nothing. Not a word. A picture is posted of one of my little cousins and there are at minimum 4 separate comments from my aunt (our childless aunt) about how beautiful, smart, sweet, perfect they are. If they post something, she’ll always respond positively several times. It seems petty, but it confirms what I’ve always believed. For some reason, they refuse to be happy for me or see me as worthy of anything at all other than an emotional backhand to the face. My other aunt and my cousins have even expressed that they’re tired of our aunt constantly overly-praising them. Can you imagine how bad it must be for even their mom to want it to stop?? And they wonder why I have such terrible self-esteem. Why I suffered through clinical depression and attempted suicide. They honestly have wondered! It’s amazing how short-sighted and self-absorbed people can truly be.

I sincerely apologize for writing so much and just spilling it all out. This is just something I’ve needed to say for a very long time and with Christmas coming up so quickly, I know I’m walking into the annual feeding at the lions’ den. My counselor always pushes for me to distance myself from my mom’s family. He’s been right, but you can’t avoid everything, especially a holiday with your parents who don’t deserve to be cut off. He also keeps reminding me I’ll never get them to like me or value me. He’s right on that, too. But, I don’t know if it will ever stop hurting. Maybe it would be easier if they weren’t so vocal about it and just ignored me instead.

I love your ideas for standing up for yourself. I always try to take the “high road” by not responding and letting it turn into an issue or argument. It will be an argument, because that’s how they are. They are bullies, plain and simple. I have taken strides in distancing myself from them, but the guilt trips laid upon me are great. It also removes special time with my own mother. I feel that, with your excellent advise, if I were to just respond with “that’s not appropriate” or “that’s uncalled for” would be enough.

Reply

Jackie January 17, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Hi. I’m a teenage girl who has ALWAYS been the black sheep. I never get any credit for anything. Everyone in my family is so supportive of my cousins and siblings. I can’t stand it. I also get very depressed during my “time of the month”, making me just want to end all the pain…… I just can’t take this anymore. Any tips on how to handle this situation will be very helpful. Thanks.

Reply

Cibi April 3, 2014 at 1:09 am

I’m the black sheep of my family too, and have been since I was at least 12 years old. (Turned 31 last week.) At this point, I’ve embraced it. No point in worrying about things that are beyond my control. You can’t change or control your family. If they’re the cold, judgmental, holier-than-thou type (like my family is), they’ll likely ALWAYS be that way. You just have to learn to accept it and move on – even if “moving on” means moving on without ‘em. It’s been my norm for so long, it rarely affects me anymore. I have become more or less indifferent to it. And why not? Life’s too short.

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: