In Honor of the Black Sheep
Family gatherings can really highlight the differences among one another. They can also gel and harden old family patterns. Some patterns are good, like fun family traditions. Some patterns are disconnected from reason and can be harmful.
My therapist told me an interesting story about family patterns. One family had a strange tradition of cutting a pot roast in half before putting it in the oven, roasting only half at a time. When a guest asked why they do this, the mother replied, “that’s how my mother and grandmother did it.” She later asked her mother why they did it that way. She said her mother had a small oven. The whole roast was too big to fit in the oven, so she had to cut it in half and roast half at a time. Her daughter watched this and repeated what she had learned. And her daughter repeated the same behavior, even though her oven was large enough to fit the whole roast. This is an example of a family pattern that doesn’t really serve a purpose and is disconnected from reason. My therapist shared that often times people will gravitate toward what is familiar, even if it causes suffering. This is why some people who grow up in abusive families will sometimes choose abusive partners when they become adults, unless they consciously challenge that pattern.
This brings us to the role of the “black sheep” of the family. The black sheep usually gets a bad rap. Many picture a troublemaker, someone who causes suffering for the rest of the family. That may be accurate. But what if that troublemaking and suffering is necessary in order to push the family out of a rut?
The black sheep challenges the status quo. They ask questions, like “why do we cut the roast in half when we have an oven that’s perfectly suited to hold an entire roast?” Those questions challenge deeply rooted behaviors which family members cling to because they are “familiar.” The very presence of the black sheep upsets the apple cart. They are living, breathing evidence that something in the family needs attention.
Let’s say the black sheep of a seemingly perfect family has a drug problem. It might be easy to point to the black sheep and declare that they are the one who needs to change and that everyone else is fine. However, Russell Brand believes:
“Cannabis isn’t a gateway drug.
Alcohol isn’t a gateway drug.
Nicotine isn’t a gateway drug.
Caffeine isn’t a gateway drug.
Trauma is the gateway.”
In this case, the black sheep was the one who was too sensitive to bury down the trauma and pretend everything is fine when it isn’t. The black sheep is pointing to trauma that needs to be healed within the family. What other members of the family might not want to hear is that addiction is a family disease. It affects all the members of the family, not just the addict. And everyone needs treatment for it.
So often, the black sheep of the family feels isolated and lonely. As a black sheep myself, I have felt like something’s wrong with me. I have a nagging feeling that I don’t belong everywhere I go. But then I read this quote from German Psychotherapist Bert Hellinger and I felt filled with purpose:
“The so-called ‘Black Sheep’ of the family are, in fact, seekers of liberation roads for the family tree. Those members of the tree who do not adapt to the rules or traditions of the family system, those who were constantly seeking to revolutionize beliefs, going in contrast to roads marked by family traditions, those criticized, tried and even rejected, those, by general, they are called to release the tree of repetitive stories that frustrate entire generations.
The ‘Black Sheep’, those who do not adapt, those who scream rebel, repair, detoxify and create a new and blooming branch… countless unfulfilled desires, unfulfilled dreams, frustrated talents of our ancestors manifest themselves in their rebellion looking to take place.
The family tree, by inertia, will want to continue to maintain the castrating and toxic course of its trunk, which makes its task difficult and conflicting… that no one makes you doubt, take care of your ‘rarity’ as the most precious flower of Your Tree. You are the dream of your ancestors.”
If you are the black sheep of your family, I see you. I salute you. You are not alone. You belong here with the black sheep of the world. We are the trailblazers, the excavators, the rebels, the dreamers, the ones who love our families enough to forge a new path, no matter how painful it is. There is dignity and honor in that. Cheers to the black sheep everywhere!
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