Maybe it’s because you felt, understood, and responded to things differently than other members of your family/peer group/community. Maybe it’s because you looked or sounded different. Maybe your life choices went against the grain of what was “normal” where you grew up — whether that’s because you spoke up when others didn’t, you moved away from your hometown, or you chose to love, work, and politic differently. So maybe your sense of feeling like the Black Sheep of your family or early communities was subtle and implicit, nothing directly said out loud but rather always a slight sense of the back of your mind and heart.
Or maybe your feeling of being The Black Sheep was more explicit and you were physically and relationally rejected by your family-of-origin, your church, or your early communities for who you are and how you move through the world. Maybe you were disowned, emotionally cutoff, kicked out of your house, or treated visibly differently. Maybe it’s never been a question for you that you were the proverbial Black Sheep.
However and for whatever reasons this may have manifested for you, I think that so many of us can identify with “The Black Sheep” archetype and, while this is predominantly a pejorative term in our collective lexicon, today’s blog post is all about reclaiming the power of that archetype – diving deep into what it may mean to be the so-called “Black Sheep” from both a cultural and psychological lens, exploring the pain of what it can mean to embody this archetype, but also the power, gifts, and opportunities of it, too. Finally, I’ll share a list of examples of common “black sheep” archetypes in modern media and offer up a list of prompts and inquiries for your growth and benefit if you do indeed identify as The Black Sheep. If you struggle with being The Black Sheep of your family, if you would like to know how to feel good no matter how hard your family is and no matter how they behave, please be sure to explore my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries.
What does it even mean to be “The Black Sheep of the Family”?
“Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf. Those with slow seeing say that a nonconformist is a blight on society. But it has been proven over the centuries, that being different means standing at the edge, that one is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.
So let’s be clear: The phrase “The Black Sheep of the Family” isn’t a term listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the cornerstone diagnostic bedrock book for us mental health clinicians). 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.
So where does it come from, what does it mean, and why is it important to your psychological journey?
The phrase originally and objectively was used to describe what happened when a recessive gene resulted in the birth of a sheep with black rather than white coloring. Obviously, these black sheep stood out from the flock, and, apparently, their wool was traditionally considered less valuable. (The not-so-subtle devaluation begins…)
However, around about the 18th century is where some say the pejorative nature of the term as we come to understand it today came about. It became an idiom (a turn of phrase) meant to imply waywardness.
These days, “The Black Sheep” is a term that may be used by others to describe (or for us to self-describe) if we feel like the odd one out in any way from our family-of-origin or our early communities. And still, there are many different definitions for this phrase depending on the branch of science or arts you consult.
From a Family Systems Theory perspective — a theory introduced by Murray Bowen, MD in the mid-20th-century — the family is an emotional unit and a system in which a proverbial “Black Sheep” might be otherwise known as the “identified patient.”
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 who then psychologically and sometimes physically “holds” the emotional energy of the family, manifesting it in symptoms and behaviors that the other members of the group can point to and say, “There’s the problem! It’s her, not us!”
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.
“Anyone can be the black sheep for just about any reason. ”In families, there are one or two opinion leaders who define the values and culture of the family … Those values can be moral or ethical; they can rest on success in business or involvement in sports or the arts. The black sheep is simply the person who deviates from the family rules.” – Jerry Jellison, Ph.D.
From an archetypal psychological perspective, “The Black Sheep” may most closely resemble “the orphan” archetype or “the abandoned child” archetype.
The “orphan” and “abandoned child” archetypes are, in essence, recurring symbols or motifs that describe someone — or some aspect of someone — who doesn’t feel like they fit in with their family or community-of-origin, physically or spiritually.
For example, “The notion of the “black sheep” in a family describes the syndrome of the child who does not seem to fit, and worse yet, on whom, maybe because of it, the family’s shadow is projected.” Showing up across myths, legends, and fairy tales since time immemorial, “the orphan” and “abandoned child” archetypes are incredibly prevalent to the point where I personally think that, at some level, we all embody this archetype in some way.
“From Little Orphan Annie to Cinderella, the Orphan Child in most well-known children’s stories reflects the lives of people who feel from birth as if they are not a part of their family, including the family psyche or tribal spirit.” – Carolyn Myss, Ph.D.
And, in a playful but also archetypal psychological storytelling way, Clarissa Pinkola Esté’s now-classic story of the Mistaken Zygote Syndrome elaborates further on the archetype of the “orphan” or “abandoned child” and can be found here and also in her book, “Women Who Run With The Wolves.”
So whether you most closely resonate with the description of the identified patient, the orphan or abandoned child archetype, the Mistaken Zygote, or all of these descriptions, you’re likely seeing that throughout each descriptor is laced the theme of being misunderstood, rejected at some level, and feeling misplaced or displaced. This is the essence, to me as a psychotherapist, of what “The Black Sheep” archetype is all about.
So if you find yourself nodding, seeing yourself in these descriptions, know that there is both pain and power, shadow and light from living out this archetype, and great gifts to be gained if we do our personal work around it.
The Pain and The Power. The Shadow and the Light. And The Psychological Growth Tasks of the “Black Sheep.”
“The child of destiny has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment or disgrace. He is thrown inward into his own depths or outward to the unknown; either way, what he touches is a darkness unexplored.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Frankly, this section of the article might as well be titled: what’s good and what’s hard about being “the black sheep” and what do we need to do about it if we want to heal. Because, as you can likely imagine, with the built-in thread of rejection and otherness that comes part and parcel with embodying the “black sheep” of your family, comes emotional pain.
While the pain of living out “the black sheep” archetype will look different for all of us, what’s likely universally true is that we all probably found ways to cope with the pain early on. Ways of coping which, at one point, probably served us extremely well just to survive and make it through that experience of being rejected, misunderstood, or feeling “other.” However, like with most psychological defenses, there’s going to come a time when our coping mechanisms, our adaptive ways of being in the world, likely stop working so well.
“The shadow aspect manifests when Orphans never recover from feelings of abandonment, and the scar tissue from family rejection stifles their maturation, often causing them to seek surrogate family structures to experience tribal union. Therapeutic support groups become shadow tribes or families for an Orphan Child who knows deep down that healing these wounds requires moving on to adulthood. For that reason, establishing mature relationships remains a challenge.” – Carolyn Myss, Ph.D.
So the “shadow side” of living out this black sheep archetype can often mean coping in ways that are maladaptive to healthy, functional, thriving lives that we ultimately want to live. For example, some coping mechanisms may manifest as the following:
- Perhaps because you felt so rejected by your family of origin you walled off your heart and developed ways of keeping other people at arm’s length so you’ll never have to feel that rejection again. But now you’re struggling to form a healthy, close romantic relationship despite truly longing for this.
- Or perhaps you learned to take comfort in food, overeating, or restricting, or binging and purging to feel “nourishment” and “control” that you didn’t otherwise feel from your family or community-of-origin and now your physical body (not to mention your health) is suffering because of it.
- Maybe you developed a deep sense of rage and resentment that you were treated so unkindly and unfairly and this has pervaded your life and keeps you in a state of chronic negativity and victimhood even today.
- Perhaps, because your trust was broken early on by people who were supposed to accept and support you, you developed a hyper-inflated sense of independence versus learning how to be interdependent with others. And you’re experiencing challenges with your coworkers, or spouse, neighbors, or girlfriends because of this.
- Conversely, maybe because of an absence of functional, healthy parenting early on, you developed on over-dependency on others to compensate for what you originally didn’t receive and so now you struggle to be appropriately self-reliant and put too much pressure on other relationships in your life to unrealistically fulfill all your needs.
- Maybe you feel disconnected and isolated at all levels from others and from yourself and this sense of loneliness is manifesting for you as a deep sense of sadness and depression.
These are but just a few of the ways this pain, this “shadow side” of being the black sheep may manifest and I’ve included more questions and prompts to help you get clearer about what your own personal shadow aspects of embodying this archetype may be further down in the article.
But, as with everything in life, along with a “shadow side” comes a “light side” which means there is actually a tremendous amount of gift, opportunity, and power that can come with living out the “black sheep” archetype.
“But because orphans are not allowed into the family circle, they have to develop independence early on. The absence of family influences, attitudes, and traditions inspires or compels the Orphan Child to construct an inner reality based on personal judgment and experience.” – Carolyn Myss, Ph.D.
Specifically, I think some of the great gifts from living out this archetype can include:
- Greater physical freedom. When you feel or are rejected by your family or community-of-origin, there may be more freedom for you to strike out, explore this big wide world and find your truer home. The place you want to intentionally set down roots. And without feeling “obligated” to stay within the immediate radius of your family or community-of-origin, you have more freedom and choice to do this.
- Increased lifestyle choice. When you aren’t beholden to your family or church’s or community’s expectations of you, you have a greater opportunity to craft the life you truly want, not just the one you’re “supposed to have.” You can more fully choose how you want to love, politic, work, dress, worship, and nourish and build community.
- The potential for a greater and stronger sense of self. When you’re subtly or overtly rejected, you may be forced to develop more independence than your siblings or peers earlier on. This can dovetail, too, with an increased capacity for a stronger sense of self if you’ve had to defend and assert yourself for a place in your family or community. Those who embody “the black sheep” of the family may often have more psychological “scars” than other, more accepted family members, but they may also have a greater sense of self than others in the family, too.
- A greater sense of empathy and compassion for those who likewise and in their own way identify as “other.” Pain can create empathy, and empathy can create connection. I think that one of the great gifts of being “the black sheep” is the opportunity for increased empathy and compassion for so many others who society often deems as “other.”
- A unique opportunity to find our “Wolf Pack.” When we’re rejected or misunderstood by those we come from, we have the opportunity to own and use our voice and our deep sense of self-awareness to seek out those we more closely identify with and resonate with. These folks become our “wolf pack,” our family-of-choice, our urban family, a group that can love and cherish us in a way that our family or community-of-origins may simply not have the capacity to do.
These are but only a handful of examples of what we stand to gain If we’re willing to do the psychological work required for any of us who identify as The Black Sheep.
“One solution I think works well and mercifully as well: Find those you truly belong to. Blood is not thicker than resonance. One can lend respect and regard to blood, and yet also give love where it is returned. Thriving requires it. As I quoted Charles Simic the poet, later in this piece: He who cannot howl, will not find his pack”. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.
However, in order to fully mine the gold in the mud, to claim the gifts in the pain that can come from living out this archetype, there is, of course, psychological work that may be required for us. Specifically, I think the primary psychological tasks anyone who self-identifies as “The Black Sheep” may include:
- Cultivating self-awareness: Accepting your differences and getting to know yourself apart from others’ expectations.
- Grieving: Mourning your losses, perhaps of your family or place-of-origin, and certainly of the experience of acceptance you likely didn’t have. And please know, this grieving work takes time, and it’s critical.
- Individuating: Facing your fears of isolation and loneliness by moving away from your family (physically or psychologically) and finding your proverbial wolf pack instead.
- Healthy relating: Learning or relearning how to have close, connected, healthy relationships and embracing interdependence versus independence or isolation.
- Becoming self-esteemed: Standing in your deep truth and keeping yourself psychologically and physically safe from those who would unconsciously or consciously harm, berate, shame, blame or otherwise make you feel unsafe in the world. Keeping yourself safe and whole and healthy as an extension of being self-esteemed.
“Most people who call themselves black sheep have actually distanced themselves from their families. ”While they may long to go home for the holidays and enjoy the fatted calf that’s been fixed for their return,” he said, ”they have to realize that the same forces that made them leave in the first place will probably still persist.” – Thomas Lasswell, Ph.D.
So how do we do the psychological work that may be required of us to grow, to heal, and to fully claim the gifts that come along with living out “the black sheep” archetype?
What’s *Your* Unique Work As A “Black Sheep?”
I can’t emphasize this enough, but I think investing in therapy to move towards and craft the life you actually want to live is one of the most effective and pivotal steps you can take.
Therapy gives you the chance to experience exactly what you may not have experienced in your family or communities-of-origin: acceptance, safety, attunement, mirroring, and the transformational experience of being in a healthy, functional relationship (this alone cannot be underestimated as a healing force!).
So whether you work with me or with another therapist in your hometown, or if you choose to do this work on your own in the safe pages of your old-school journal or in a password protected Google doc, dig into these sample questions to help to get to know more about how living out the “black sheep” archetype has played out and impacted your life and what you may need in order to do something different:
With or without the help of a therapist, consider the following:
- When you read through this article, what came up for you? Did you full-on identify with being “a black sheep”? Or did only some parts of it feel true for you?
- In what ways did you experience “being the black sheep” of your family-of-origin? Your community-of-origin? Your childhood peers? Your childhood religious institution?
- How did you cope with being “the black sheep”? What ways of being or thoughts or behaviors did you create to keep yourself safe and sane? Were they effective back then?
- How well are those behaviors/ways of being/coping mechanisms working out for you today? How are they now getting in your way?
- What do you think you need to grieve or mourn in order to process the pain of having been “the black sheep”? What do you need to give up or release?
- What do you see as some of your big healing tasks (psychological or physical or logistical) that you may need to face in order to “find the gold in the mud” of being the black sheep?
- What supports and resources do you need to gather around you in order to do this work? A therapist? A support group? Your wolf pack?
- What do you think life might be like if you could heal the pain that you’ve carried around from identifying as “The Black Sheep”?
Wrapping this up.
I truly hope you enjoyed this article and felt, at least in some way, seen and understood by learning more about “The Black Sheep” archetype.
“The Black Sheep” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in our collective lexicon but few articles/books/movies really do a deep dive on what this truly means and how it may impact us psychologically if we likewise identify with it.
So my hope is that you took away at least one idea from this article about how you can further your own growth and development and claim all the gifts and goodness that embodying “The Black Sheep” archetype can hold. Because honestly, there really is just so much psychological growth opportunity in it!
And if you need to feel some camaraderie/are interested in digging further into what embodying “The Black Sheep” archetype may look like, I’ve included a list of some characters and books at the end of this article that I personally think embody this archetype. I hope you enjoy it!
And now I’d like to wrap up this article with a question for you: Did you see yourself in this article? Which part of this article felt the most helpful for you to hear? What advice or guidance would you give to someone who also feels like they’re the “Black Sheep” of their family? Leave a message in the comments below so our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.
If you would like additional support with this and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
Examples of “The Black Sheep” Archetype In Media and Literature:
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you guys know I love cinematherapy (using film, media, and books as tools in our own personal growth) and over the years I’ve collected a little list of those I think embody “The Black Sheep” archetype in both big and subtle ways from my own reading/viewing. Peruse the list and let me know in the comments what other characters/books/TV shows/movies you think have a proverbial “Black Sheep” in them, too.
- Luke Skywalker from Star Wars
- Frodo Baggins from Lord of The Rings
- Elphaba from Wicked
- Harry Potter
- The Ugly Duckling (here’s a little Disney short of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale classic)
- Simba in The Lion King
- Elsa from Frozen
- Maleficent from the Sleeping Beauty story (check out the 2014 Angelina Jolie version for a complex example of how the “shadow” of “The Black Sheep” can manifest)
- Jon Snow from Game of Thrones
- So. many. characters. in Orange Is the New Black, but particularly Piper in the context of her family
- Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl
- Martha Beck’s autobiographical narrative in Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith*
*This is an affiliate link and any purchases made through this link will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you).
- Jung, C. (August 1, 1981). Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Book 1). Princeton University Press.
What a brilliant Article! Thank you so much for this! It really helped me to understand and move on.
Steff, I’m so glad you liked the article and found some value in it! Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and for stopping by the comment. Warmly, Annie
A note of support here and affirmation. This is a “syndrome” that I observe a lot in working with clients with issues of addiction and dependence.
Keep up the good work and don’t you just love Jung….the importance significance and assistance we can derive from the collective unconscious.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Brett. It is lovely to hear from a fellow Jung-loving colleague. And thank you for being out there doing really good work in the world too!
Bronwyn Mackereth on
Thank you Annie, very grateful for your words on Black Sheep. I related to lots of things in your artical and found myself in tears. Being a breech and the Black Sheep in a family of five children has seriously done some damage, yet they do not see it. Thanks again it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. Warm regards, Bron
First of all, thank you for your honesty and bravery in being willing to see yourself in this article. I can imagine how difficult it must be to feel as though you are the Black Sheep, with no recognition of your struggle from your family members. Please know that you are not alone in feeling this way as the struggle of feeling like an outsider is common for many men and women.
Again, thank you for taking the time to comment and I am touched to hear that the article opened your eyes to a “new way of thinking”. I wish you all the very best as you move forward on your healing journey.
Charlene Fleming-Scott on
I have been the black sheep since my parents divorced when I was twelve. My life is good for the most part. However, like many black sheeps, I keep people at a distance. I don’t trust them. My wolf pack consists of my husband and my son. Good luck to all black sheeps.
Thank you so much for sharing your story here. I promise you: you are not alone in identifying with “The Black Sheep” archetype. Additionally, the urge to wall off your heart and develop ways of keeping other people at arm’s length is a common coping mechanism among many other men and women who feel similarly. I hope that the perspective of gaining a tremendous amount of gift, opportunity, and power from living out the “black sheep” archetype brought you some comfort and support.
Again, Charlene, thank you so much for taking the time to share and I wish you all the best on your healing journey.
I am the black sheep of my family – my father has told me so on many occasions, although I am not sure what on earth I have done to deserve this. I have worked hard to get a good education, job and loving relationships with my husband and children. I have chosen not to have any more contact with my father because he cannot hide his hatred of me, and I cannot bear any more of the hurt.
Thank you so much for sharing how this post resonated with you. I’m sorry you’ve been treated as The Black Sheep by your father without any explanation as to why. I imagine it was really painful for you.
After hearing your story, I want to remind you that you *do* get to have your feelings – all of them – and to always hold your boundaries, trust your own process, and heal according to your own timeline.
I hope you’ll continue to honor your own experience and your own unique healing journey. And thank you so much for stopping by to comment.
Thank you, Annie. I have spent my life (54 years) trying so hard to understand my feelings of rejection. I question my own sanity and have taken on so much guilt for being different, and the stress my family seems to have as a result, that I suffer from major depression and anxiety. I also keep everyone, including my children at arm’s length…and yet I long to belong!! Your article is the first thing I have ever read that gave me a glimpse of hope for healing, and dare I hope even bigger for joy! I identified with almost every single line and archetype. I have bookmarked this page, and will no doubt be back to re-read over and over. I am so grateful for you, and your article, and your seemingly very gentle and empathic spirit!!
Wow – your comment really moved me. I’m touched by your honesty and vulnerability and am glad that this article could bring you even a small sense of hope and healing.
I think that anxiety, depression, and the double bind of wanting closeness but fearing and sabotaging closeness is a set of symptoms very familiar to those of us who have experienced deep and early relational rejection and insecure attachment.
But, what I know personally and professionally is that it’s possible to grow and transform these patterns. Secure relationship can be learned and earned. So please don’t give up hope!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Donna. I’m sending you much warmth.
Hi my name Jose,
I am a black sheep of my family, simply because I question every family rules and do not follow any one that doesn’t work for me. I have tried so much to adjust or fit in my family but I can’t, I feel caged. I really don’t know why I am this way or why I think differently and I didn’t create myself to be like this. I really do not know what to do or who to talk to.
Jose – thank you for sharing a small piece of your experience. Please know that you are not less than because of this. You do not have to change yourself to fit in. I encourage you to explore who you are, why you might identify as the Black Sheep and embrace those qualities that set you apart. And if you need additional support in doing this, please seek that out. I’m rooting for you. Warmly, Annie
Frances Cobbett on
I am overwhelmed at the accuracy of your description of the Black Sheep because it is me or rather was me. After decades of therapy I am learning to actually feel the rage, loss and sheer grief of being an “outsider”.
But I am ready to let it go as I have left my family of origin go. I no longer feel driven to be ‘accepted’ into the sacred circle of the ‘family’ as no matter how hard I tried – it simply was not possible. I , indeed, became the carrier of all the family’s trauma ( and there is /was loads ) and intergenerational trauma . And I performed my role well.I became the ” Black Sheep” – the last unwanted 7th child of a family falling apart or of a family to which I was never ever granted access. But for years and years I tried to find the missing formula that would make me a ‘valued’ member. It has been through decades of therapy and an incredibly resolute nature that I decided to invest in this person called ‘ Frances’ . I began challenging my script and as I further challenged many members of the family of origin rebelled and pushed against there being any change in the dynamic. It has been brutal work but I no longer have contact with the majority, mother included and have placed geographical and emotional barriers . I am not available . I am available for those who love, respect and honour me. I have found my tribe.
Wow. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably with me, Frances. I’m incredibly honored that my writing resonated with you, and you’ve been able to find your tribe. You so deserve that. That is so powerful you’ve been healing from your childhood experiences. Setting a boundary with family can be painfully difficult; I’m so proud of you for doing that.
H H H on
That was me too. Being a black sheep freed you to live your life, not their life.
You do have a tribe, and this sister-spirit sends you love and wishes you peace and joy.
Fantastic article and excellent descriptions and resources. I had never heard of the identified patient and found that very helpful. Thanks for sharing your work and insight 🙂
Thank you, Tristan. I’m so glad this post felt insightful and helpful. I hope my work continues to support you. Warmly, Annie
What a wonderful and insightful article! (I’ve just discovered your website and I’m really enjoying it!) As I read through this so much of it resonates with me. I remember identifying with the character ‘Matilda’ as a child and I would pray every night that I would develop her powers and be able to find a “Ms. Honey” of my own to rescue me from a family I felt alien in. I appreciate the strengths-based perspective you’ve provided – how empowering!
Hi Jacquelyn, welcome to the blog! I also really loved the character “Matilda” and think every child should have a “Ms. Honey” in their lives. I believe that if we have even one good, kind, nurturing adult in our lives as children, it can have a protective effect. I hope that as you grew up, more Ms. Honeys came into your life and you found your people despite having felt alien in your family while young. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with you through these essays. Warmly, Annie
Sara Razak on
I have this gut feeling earlier in my days, that I am the Black Sheep of the family. But blinded by my effort to really fit in, being accepted by people I expected to accept make me believe that I too, can be accepted by them managed put the feelings away, for not so much time. I just cant. It is something I just cant be. As I grow up, I understand what is happening to me and began to identify my personality, which later just further proved that I did not belong. People failed to accept me as I am and the moment that I fell out with one of them, I realized. That I am the Black Sheep of the family, officially. Right now, I am finding ways to not hurt myself anymore and began to actually work on those steps. Your article giving me assurance that it’s okay to be a Black Sheep. It’s fine. I just need to find method to heal and I do not have to feel guilty getting away from the people that I thought can accept me. Thank you so much for this article. Wishing all the Black Sheeps strength to get through days and heal beautifully.
Hi Sara, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your story. I think guilt usually arises from feeling like we’ve done something wrong. But I want to assure you that you are doing absolutely nothing wrong with establishing boundaries with your family. You are simply protecting your energy, and I’m so proud of you for doing the work and identifying your needs. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, and have a wonderful week. Warmly, Annie.
Steph Jones on
Really wonderful article, Annie. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Steph, I’m so pleased you enjoyed this essay. Thank you for leaving a comment and have a wonderful week. Warmly, Annie.
What a great article! I related with everything and I’m going to print it off for future reading. I grew up in a family of 11 and was clearly the carrier of the family dysfunction. My mother picked on me while she doted on my other siblings. I remember my mom telling me that I was the reason my parents were going to get a divorce. (They never did divorce, to my dismay; they would have been better off separated in my opinion.)
Another addition to your list could be Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly in the more recent movies. He clearly acts as a lone wolf, and his behavior in the movies are a bid for attention and validation from those around him. He just wants to belong. I am glad Marvel finally redeemed him in the recent Loki series.
Hi Zelda, I’m so pleased this post resonated with you! That’s a keen observation – Loki would be perfect for this list. And I’m sorry to hear that you experienced that family dynamic, but I’m happy to hear that you identify the power of the “black sheep” archetype. Take such good care of yourself, Zelda. Warmly, Annie.
I love this article: it resonates with validation and hope. I have been the family scapegoat for 65 years, inflicted on by my knife-wielding mother. Intuitively, I always felt something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was happening. Her behavior is inexcusable. She is 97 and nearing the end of her life and I asked her why she hated me. She started the long-slew of reasons with “from the minute you were born, all you wanted was attention!” I tried to make amends, but at 97 she’ll carry that axe to her grave. Funny thing about finding one’s wolf pack: It is not a universal hug. I used to think a group of black sheep was similar to a puzzle ie: all those pieces fit together to create a whole. My tribe is beautiful, complicated and riddled with the need for profound understanding, as those scars run deep. I know this article is older, but so relevant. Thank you! It brought a little peace to my battered soul!
Hi Sheryn, I’m so pleased this post resonated with you! I’m touched by your honesty and vulnerability and am glad that this article could bring you even a small sense of hope and healing. I’m happy you’ve been able to find fellow black sheep, complex though some of those relationships may be. Please take such good care of yourself and thank you again for taking the time to comment. Warmly, Annie
H H H on
I am the black sheep because I blew the whistle on the abuse. I talked about it openly and then committed the unpardonable sin of going to therapy. They decided to deal with me by refusing to discuss or ackniwledge it – I call them Wavers because any mention made hands come up and flutter “No, ‘we’ are ‘t going to talk about that” and “no, that’s in the past, ‘we’ don’t live in the past, ‘we’ talk about today.” When that didn’t work, they circled the wagons around my father and began pushing “forgiveness.” I had cut him from my life, but other relatives began inviting me over for dinner or a holiday, but he’d be present and my host would announce that this was an Intetvention, we are now in a Reconciliation Zone and nobody is leaving until we forgive each other. Not an apology to me; no, we were going to forgive each other!
I ended up going no contact, but the community and church made me the Black Sheep pariah and the fact that I was in therapy used as evidence to wave me off as mentally ill, an unstable lost cause. Did it hurt? Yes…..but I was already resigned to the fact that in that culture I would never be vindicated anyway. What they did was ok. I should have been grateful they took me in and gave me a home. Being the Black Sheep freed me in the end. I escaped that life, began my own and missed out on being the next generation of sheep.
I just wanted to thank you for your insightful words. I have been in such pain for 16 years now. You speak about one struggling as e black sheep in her family of origin, but for me it is so within my husband’s family. I’m wondering if the dynamics are different in this case? In every way, I feel ostracized by my in-laws simply for being the person I am. This has caused me such self-hate in the past, and at times still. I have very different values, different perspectives, different ways of viewing others’ experiences. I’m extremely empathetic and highly sensitive, and I’m so many ways have felt shamed for my way of simply existing.
How do I deal with this pain? How do I keep such people in my life who just hurt, hurt, hurt? I wish I could walk away, and my husband would be with me, but we have children and it’s their family too. I’ve sought therapy for years now for help with this situation, but I just feel like my choices are either to live a lie if complacency or to cut them out of my life, which seems impossible at this point in time.
In any case. I do sincerely thank you for the validation I have found in this article.
Hi there, Thank you for leaving a comment and for your kind words. I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing your story with me and I want you to hear this: You’re absolutely not alone in the way that you feel, and I am so proud of you for seeking support. I’m so sorry you’ve felt ostracized by your in-laws, I know how difficult it is to navigate those types of family dynamics especially when other family members are involved.
If either of my courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – could be of support to you as you work through this pain point, I look forward to working with you there. In the meantime, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it. Warmly, Annie.
Mona Thuillard on
Great and helpfull article. Found it when I decided to spend this Christmas away from the pack and with my black sheep son. I’ve been a black sheep in my own family. This year I “howled”. Thanks. Mona
Thank you for your comment, I’m so pleased that this article resonated with you! I’m proud of you for spending this Christmas in a way that felt right for you and your son. Sending you both my very best.
Humbly submitted as additional example of the black sheep archetype in media and literature: Whoopi Goldberg in “The Color Purple”
Thank you for taking the time to comment and for this excellent example! I wholeheartedly agree, Whoopi’s character, Celie is a wonderful example of the black sheep archetype. I appreciate your insight. Have a great week.
Blake Shroyer on
Hi, I am the black sheep in my family. I am 58 and my manipulating mom has really poured it on against me. She is the ‘boss’ of this subtle phenomenon against me, manipulating other six people in my family. I was adopted out of South Korea in 1970 at the age of 6.
Thanks for sharing your story with us. I’m sorry that this has been your experience within your family, you deserve so much better.
If I can support you through either of my online courses – Hard Families, Good Boundaries, or the forthcoming Relational Trauma Recovery School – as you work toward a positive future for yourself, I’d love to work with you there. In the meantime, please know I’m sending you my very best.
This essay resonated with me so deeply…that I could feel myself healing as I read it.
Thank you for that.
Thank you so much for this incredibly kind comment, I’m so pleased that this resonated with you so deeply! Take good care of yourself, you’re so worth it.
Hi. This article is beautiful. I know I’m the black sheep of the family. My family is a very proper and catholic one here in Puerto Rico. They are “very good people” with a very strong passive aggressive behavior (including my 2 sisters and 2 brothers… and me). I did decided to make distance from them (was a very hard decision) but always keep in contact in holidays and time to time. I “made” my own pack of wolf. My family of 6 child s and husband. They are wonderful people. I made a lot of mistakes as mother but I also learned to “fix” some of them or at least recognized them and ask for forgiveness, we talk a lot. I felt that my pain never going to go away so I began to feel resigned. Then, I felt that I have to released my kids of these chain of behaviors and pain, this family shadow. That was very powerful. I a lot of good things came with this decision. Now, I’m 60 years old. I’m taking care (with the help of the family too) of my both parent (91 and 96 years old) My mother with Alzheimer and my father with a chronic heart disease. I think it has been very good for me help them and to have time to work a lot of issues. I fact, I hate that house and now learning to enjoy it (sometimes) when I stay with them. The thing is that I feel overwhelmed when something happened, specially with my father, and I can feel that I don’t love him. That I still have a lot of anger and resentment… and this awful guilt. The other day, I was in a guided meditation and the guide ask us to remember some occasion in my childhood that I felt been love and accepted, I got in a “crisis” because I don’t remember almost nothing of my childhood. Well, The thing is that after reading your article I’m really thinking of going to therapy. I realized that I was thinking, back in my head, that I don’t deserve these therapies, … wow! so sad. So… I’m going to change this. Thank you so much this article is a game changer for me!
(sorry for my bad English)
Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. I’m so glad that this article resonated with you. I’m proud of you for the incredible growth you’ve gone through – to realize that you are worthy of therapy is huge! I’d love to encourage you to seek the support you so richly deserve, you’re so worth it. In the meantime, I’m sending you my very best.
Love your work, which is why I’d like to mention that I’m not alone in struggling to take in the greater message of this particular content given the unnecessary use of the word “niggle”. Its recent usage in US culture is often derogatory regardless of its etymology. With various inoffensive words to choose from, it would be most helpful to the (younger?) BIPOC readers if you’d edit this phrasing. Such an edit will cause no harm to other readers. Thanks for considering!
Thank you so much for drawing this to my attention so I could think more critically about the word. My understanding is that this is a word derived from Old English without any implication of racism or colonialism but the proximity of this word to other offensive words is a very good point regardless of the etymology. I always appreciate the chance to learn and do better and appreciate your considerate feedback that will help me do so.
Pastor Tameka Love on
This is awesome! That’s all!
Hi Pastor Love,
Thank you for taking the time to leave your lovely comment, I’m so pleased this post resonated with you! Sending you my best.
Aishah Ricks on
I too am a black sheep and have become an inspirational writer because of it.
That is wonderful to hear! I’ve no doubt that your own experience as a black sheep inspires others in their own journeys. Thanks for taking the time to share. Sending you my very best.
thank you for the information
You’re so welcome, I hope this post felt helpful! Sending you my very best.
Thank you for this well written piece. I start my therapy journey this week and came across this piece. Not only well written but spoke deep into my soul. Thank you!!
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I’m so pleased that this post felt helpful! Sending you my very best as you begin your therapy journey.
Emma Crawley on
I enjoyed and resonate with this article. The problem I stumble across time and time again is that I want to share this with my family so they can ‘understand’ that I am the identified patient, the Black Sheep (obviously a need to be heard). I understand that any ‘teaching’ I try to do will fall on deaf ears and will be used against me to again highlight I am the problem. I would love to be able to release this need and just stand in my own power without the need to be understood.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, I’m so pleased this article resonated with you! I truly understand that need for understanding and I’d like to encourage you to seek support so you have a safe space to express yourself and can receive the validation you deserve. Please take good care of yourself and know that I’m sending you my very best.
I wasn’t the black sheep growing up, in fact I didn’t think about black sheep or scapegoats then but I became the black sheep as a grown up, when I had my own child and tried to spend vacation in our family’s house at the shore. My sister had a strong foothold there and was resolved to not share it, so she discredited me and convinced my father that I shouldn’t be allowed there when she was because she allegedly had traumas of childhood because of me. She must have been convincing because I wasn’t allowed to set foot in that house ever since, and the more I protested the more I was shot and discredited. Traumas of childhood inflicted by me on my sister? Frankly there was none of that between us, I loved my younger siblings and always played with them. I know this doesn’t fit the description in your article but still your article resonated very much with my experience of being a black sheep today. My brother being the only boy never had to struggle for a place. My sister may have felt like the black sheep when she was younger. She wasn’t good at school but ended up earning good money, I was good at school but was dreaming to be a housewife/mother not a career woman. My sister raised herself whereas I had no particular professional ambition. She feels completely entitled with her exclusive status in the family house now, presenting the example of ‘success’ whereas I am presented as the opposite. Our brother being the only boy never had a problem having a place wherever he wanted one.
Thanks for taking the time to comment and for your vulnerability in sharing your story. I’m truly sorry for the experience you’ve had with your sister and for the feeling you now have of being the black sheep of the family. Please take good care of yourself and know that I’m sending you my very best.
I enjoyed your article. I began recovery from narcissistic abuse and family relationship difficulties over a year ago. I learned I was the black sheep of the family and how that has affected me in my 69 years. I have done a lot of inner work since then, even going “No Contact” to sort through all of this and begin to heal. Now, I still am the black sheep of the family and it is okay and I am happier. The “No Contact” was for me, my boundary, to keep me “safe”. It was then I began to realize “me” for who I really was. I was empowered to be me. It is not always easy and now I sort of like wearing black now and then!!
I see in the comments that this was written back in 2017. I am commenting in that this still is being used in 2023. I Have struggle my entire life feeling worthless and of lesser value than my younger siblings. I am 59 years old and it has taken half of my life to finally realize that enmeshment can be disguised to look like love leaving you feeling empty and alone with no understanding to why!? After all those years of emotional abuse and feeling like I was a horrible person I finally went no contact. I have to be honest and say this was one of the hardest and most painful things I have ever done! I even had to never and build a new house in a new state to begin a new and healthier life. I thought I made the biggest mistake I could never take back after I did all of it! That was two years ago and now I can see how much my family of origin held me back! I was trapped behind invisible bars not realizing all I had to do is step away! I am now on my way to full recovery with the help of a therapist and a very supportive husband. I’m making new healthier friends and no longer care about what others think of me unless it is good. I have seen the beauty from my painful past. I have so much to offer! I have become a light in my darkness and through my relationship with God I finally saw what he created and how much I am valued and loved by him! It has NOT been an easy road, but I can honestly say that the rewards from my hard work in overcoming it all have made it all more than worthwhile! I just can hardly believe how God took my broken self and restored me to someone even more beautiful than I was before I was broken! Thank you Annie! You are a wonderful example to so many that there are sunny blue sky’s once you get through the storms! My personal advice to anyone who may have read this response is to keep going! Keep fighting through the storm! Push the winds and one day soon those hard forceful winds you are up against will be at your back and will carry you the rest of the way to the finish line! Keep running your race! Finish strong! It is worth it all in the end! Nothing is wasted! Your live is being used in mighty ways even if you can’t see that it is! Trust someone who almost took her own life from the pain! There is HOPE! NEVER GIVE UP!