Being The Black Sheep of The Family is a Blessing — (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love being a square peg in a round-holed world)

If we’re truthful, none of us grow up wanting to be The Black Sheep of the family, did we?

Somewhere deep within us, even if we’re not at all conscious of it, there exists the basic, primitive human need to belong to, and to be accepted by, our tribe.

Maslow put the sense of belonging right smack-dab in the middle of his Hierarchy of Needs, and just about everything ever written about acceptance and belonging suggests that such things are embedded in our DNA from the very earliest of times when we still used to roam around in caves.

But for us Black Sheep, that sense of belonging can feel none existent, and acceptance by our family members often feels more like tolerance:

Rightly or wrongly, we get the distinct impression that our families are tolerating us because they have to, but they’d be more willing to accept, and even approve of us, if only we’d change

And there’s the key thing:

The things that make us The Black Sheep are the very things that make us who we are, and and we couldn’t change them even if we wanted to.

For some of us, that might our views on religion, health, war, and politics.

It might be our ethics and morals, our values, hopes, dreams and aspirations. For others, it might even be our sexuality, the person we choose to marry, or whether or not we have children.

Whatever it maybe, the only way to take these differences out of the equation with our family is to suppress them, to hide them and pretend.

In other words, to live a lie.

Of course, we all know that’s not the answer, don’t we?

Given the choice between the pain of denying who we are and the pain of being ‘on the outside’ of our family unit, the latter certainly seems like the better option doesn’t it?

Better, yes, but not exactly good, or even healthy.

The pain of being The Black Sheep is still pain

And let’s face it:

It still f’n hurts.

So what can we do about it?

In my experience, it comes down to that age-old gem, The Serenity Prayer.

We’ve already agreed that we can’t change the things that make us a black sheep in the first place, and nor should we. Again — this is who we are.

As much as we’d sometimes like to, we can’t change our families either.

I don’t just mean we can’t change which people we’re related to. I mean, we can’t change anything about them.

As Prof. Steve Peters says in his awesome book, The Chimp Paradox:

Very often we ask people to be something that they cannot be or do something that they cannot do….What you can’t do is to impose your expectations and conditions onto someone and then say that they have a problem.

In other words, live and let live.

Besides, wouldn’t it be incredibly hypocritical if we bemoaned that our families won’t accept us as we are but then went out to try and change them?

Of course it would.

Leave them to it. Our families are (probably) perfectly happy being however they are, and we gain a great degree of peace by just accepting that.

When we accept our families just as they are, we receive something in return: The freedom and clarity to focus on that all-important second part of the serenity prayer:

The Things We Can Change

We can change our ideas.

Namely, we can change the idea that being the black sheep of the family is somehow a bad thing, that we’re doing something wrong or bad because we don’t exactly conform.

We can change the idea that we’re letting our families down by pursuing a life that makes us happy rather than the kind of life our families want us to lead.

We can change it simply by letting go of it and replacing it with a better idea; the idea that being the black sheep is a good thing.

You know what they say about your vibe attracting your tribe?

Embrace your black sheepness and live it proudly.

Trust me, in my experience, it makes it much easier to identify other black sheep and band together with them to form your own flock.

In this flock, being the black sheep is the norm, meaning you’re allowed to actually relax and enjoy being who you are, rather than being constantly criticised, ostracised, and made to feel bad about living authentically.

That’s not the only idea we can change.

You know that old adage about fitting square pegs into round holes? Let’s say we’re the square pegs and our family, society, our social group, whatever it is, are the round holes.

We can change this idea that we have to fit our square pegs into their round holes. We can change it into the idea -or belief, or whatever you prefer to call it- that it’s much fun to go find other square pegs and hang out with them in square holes, doing square-peggy things.

OK, maybe there’s a less weird way of saying that, but isn’t it basically the truth?

No, we can not get rid of the need to belong that is embedded so deeply into our DNA, but we can choose where we belong and to whom.

We may have to be part of our families (we love them after all), but that’s not where we have to get our sense of belonging from.

We can get that from other black sheep and other square pegs, whether those are in the form of a romantic partner, social group, support group, 12 step meeting, or indeed, anybody who get us, and accept us just the way we are.

To sum up then:

Being a black sheep can be a blessing when we learn to do three simple things:

  • Accept our families exactly as they are — just as we want them to accept us
  • Stop looking for them to accept us — just because we have a need to belong doesn’t mean we have to belong to/with them.
  • Embrace our black sheepness so that it can act as a beacon to attract other black sheep.
  • Create a new flock with those other black sheep and relax — safe in the knowledge that with this group we truly belong, exactly as we are.


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Chris Skoyles

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Writer documenting my journey towards health, happiness, and wellness, one stepping stone at a time.