6 Sad Reasons Why A Family Creates A Black Sheep

I’m the black sheep of my family,”

said the young man who sat before me in my therapy office. I tried to imagine this adorable, sad young man being the “black sheep” of anything. I couldn’t.

Generally considered the outcast of the family, the black sheep is typically assumed to be an oddball. Furthermore, the rest of the family believes that the black sheep brought this upon himself.

It is true that sometimes the black sheep is indeed “odd” by anyone’s standards (sometimes the result of a hidden mental illness). Or she may be a sociopath who violates the family’s boundaries and care, so that the family has to exclude her to rightfully protect themselves.

But surprisingly, very seldom is either of these scenarios actually the case. Many, many black sheep are lovable folks with much to offer their families and the world. In fact, they are often the best and brightest. They may be the most creative of the family, or the one with the most powerful emotions.

In truth, the world is full of black sheep. Think hard. Does your family have one? This question is not as easy to answer as it may seem, for many black sheep are not physically excluded from the family. For most, it’s much more subtle. The exclusion is emotional. 

Three Signs That Your Family Has a Black Sheep: 

  1. One member often, over a long period of time, seems hurt or angry for no apparent reason.
  2. One person is often, and on a long-term basis, talked about negatively behind his back. “He’s so annoying,” “What a weirdo/disappointment/loser/fill in the blank.”
  3. One member is subtly not invited to certain family occasions or left out of the loop on family news. 

So if most black sheep aren’t actually weirdos who brought their exclusion upon themselves, what would cause a family to treat one of their own this way? The real cause does not lie within any individual family member. No. Instead it’s a product of family dynamics.

Here are the sources that I see most often.

The Six Top Family Dynamics Which Result in a Black Sheep:

  1. The child who has the least in common with the parents. This child sticks out because of his personality, temperament or interests. The parents are baffled by him and inadvertently treat him differently, which spreads to the siblings.
  2. The best and the brightest. This child threatens to outperform or outshine one or both of the parents. Either consciously or unconsciously, the parents sabotage her to hold her back. This way, they won’t lose her and they won’t have to feel badly about themselves in comparison to her.
  3. The child most prone to depression or anxiety. The child with intense or dark feelings or thoughts which the parents cannot understand may frighten them. At a loss about how to help, they may just keep him at a distance.
  4. Sibling rivalry. In this family, there is simply not enough attention or love to go around. One or both of the parents is limited in some way; by mental illness, personality disorder, or substance abuse for example. The siblings must jockey for whatever they can get.
  5. A parent who despises himself deep down. This parent can appear to be quite loving of her children, so she can be difficult to spot. But she is unable to tolerate certain aspects of herself, so she projects those traits onto a chosen child, and despises him instead. It is an unconscious coping mechanism that happens outside of the parent’s awareness.
  6. Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): the child who is the most invisible. In this family, all of the children may get the subtle (or not-so-subtle) message that their feelings don’t matter. But one is better at hiding his own needs, feelings, and self than the others. This child literally disappears from the family’s radar screen and is ignored. He becomes persona non grata. He is the one who matters the least.

With any of the six causes above, the excluded or targeted child senses early on that he must be different, bad or inferior. In a case of self-fulfilling prophecy, he learns to play his role in the family. Often, he plays it very well.

What should you do if you recognize your family in these words? It is indeed difficult to turn around entrenched family dynamics like these.  But you can make a difference:

Choose to see your family through a more complex lens.

Ask yourself: Is this right? Is this the person that I want to be? Is this how I want to treat my sibling or child?

Share this article with chosen members of your family.

Look at your black sheep with fresh eyes and notice what you’ve never seen before.

Open your heart and your little section of the family circle.

Let your black sheep know that you reclaim him.

If you are a Black Sheep:

You are right to be baffled and confused. Nothing is as simple as it has always seemed. Know that you have value. And it is not your fault. Watch for a future post: Message to the Black Sheep of the World.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how and why it happens, and how it affects all of the children in the family see Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships 

This article was originally published on Psychcentral.com and has been republished here with the permission of the author and PsychCentral


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Ellese - September 19, 2021 Reply

I’m the black sheep. I’m the gay and depressed one with anxiety, I’m better than my brother at school but he is the one that gets awards for his work while I stand back and watch. I’m the one my mom can relese her problems on because apparently I can “hold and take trauma” I have been told by my family that I’m too quiet but when I try to speak they tell me to shut up. I can’t go anywhere because I’m underage and can’t go anywhere else.
I think with all my heart that there must be SOMETHING wrong with me. I honestly just want them to tell me why they hate me so maybe I could change because all I want is for them to say ‘I love you’ but at this point I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen

April - September 7, 2021 Reply

I’m a black sheep too. In our family it seems the females members are the black sheep.. my mom was, I am, and now my daughter is as well. The younger years life seemed nice and normal but my mom married my step dad who was an alcoholic who couldn’t hold a job when I was in Kindergarten, it was about this time also that all of my moms time and attention went to him. That was the beginning of my mom becoming the black sheep of the family as well. As I grew older, getting into puberty, as a lot of girls tend to do, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, I also began struggling with depression and impulse control issues. I’m sure I wasn’t your perfect example of a teenage girl but the harm was all done to myself. I soon was also a black sheep of our family. I have 2 brothers and neither is perfect as well but family still interacts and acknowledges them. I tried for a few years to fit in with them as I grew up and had a family of my own but my life still wasn’t the perfect life and despite how hard I tried it was still a bumpy road. There I am a single mom with 2 kids and not going places. My self esteem was crap. My stepfather passed suddenly at 37 years old due to alcohol. Sadly because of my family’s dislike for him, they really didnt acknowledge the impact of the loss for my mom and never offered her any help or support. My youngest brother was my step dads son, he was 11 when he died. My mom was devoted in making sure he was happy and had everything from there on out. She did so too. But she also has managed to slowly push me and my other brother out, we have never seen or received the amount of affection or attention from my mom as baby bro did, which continues to this day… it it not abnormal for my mother to not call us for over a year. My blood bro (will call for these purposes) however still has the support of the extended family as they took him in while he was in middle school and I remained with my mom.
For 15 or so years I tried to be normal with my family and participate but you can only ignore the clear dislike of your appearance before you dont even try. That’s where I am today. My daughter is at the stage where I became the black sheep, doing stupid teenage girl stuff. Not surprisingly they have given her the shaft as well. I however unlike my mom strive to keep a relationship with her, even if rocky at times. Some people might say I deserved to be written off by family, I was kind of a pain in the ass at times.. but to that I say .. isnt that the time when family should be supportive, even just mentally. The complex I give myself because I feel so alone in life just adds to my depression. It’s sad not having a single guest over for Christmas or Thanksgiving. To send a Christmas for 10 years straight to never get one back. To invite family over and no one replies. In 20 years besides my mom and grandma, none have been to my house!!
I’m actually convinced theres something wrong with me.. no one really seems to like me. I’m sure if I disappeared only my husband and daughter would notice. For years I didn’t let it bother me but now it makes me wish I could disappear. The rejection while trying hurts the heart and feelings so much more.

    Jamar - September 16, 2021 Reply

    You did such a great job articulating your experience that I feel you will find your way AND go on to help OTHERS! Reading your story has already helped me on my path to healing.

Crystal - September 2, 2021 Reply

I am the black sheep of my family my mother doesn’t like me but like to vent to me Becuz I’m the only on that listen my dad also vent to me but never want me around I have two brothers I care about I try my best to be the best I could I never was in the streets at a young age I went to church even the church people wish bad on my but I’m so determined to make it somewhere and finally be happy I keep pushing god is keeping me here I have tried to commit suicide multiple times cuz of the way they treat me since I learned how to cook my mom stop cook I have to cook all of our meals when my brothers are not at home even when they are I always have to clean up everything I got my first job at 15 and everytime I got my check both parents call to get money from me I always bought them Christmas presents birthday presents and mother and Father’s Day gifts cuz Ik grown ups would like money to be spent on them my dad use anything I buy to paint in or use it as a ash tray my mom never where the stuff I buy her and she pick it out herself when we where going through rough times my mom left us and we had to go stay wit my dad everyday wen I got out of school me and my dad would argue all the way home because he thinks I’m a hoe and says I’m going to get pregnant always accusing my of doing something when they don’t know I’ve been raped more than 3times. Since the age of 10 to 16 i am 16 now and the last person to rape me was my own brother and he saw I started crying and all he said to me was don’t tell nobody I have no support system wat so ever I try to keep a job but I never have transportation never can get to work my dad has a car he don’t never wanna take me the rest of my family don’t care if im dead or gone finally got pregnant at 16 like they said and ended up loosing it Becuz the daddy didn’t wanna raise it or help me and I had got into a wreck while I was pregnant and stress I saw my baby heart well what supposed to be it’s heart and it hurts everytime I think about it my life is a living hell and I have no one by my side I have no friends I have no support no family don’t nobody like me and idk why wen I try to get they approval but I will never be good enough I will always be a black sheep and I can’t change what I don’t kno is wrong so I’m jus going to play my role tired of trying so hard to get knocked back by the ppl I care about I’m only 16 out here trying my fucking best but the lord got me he has been helping me a lot with my problems and I am thankful to have him in my life

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