Are you the 'black sheep' of your family?
Being someone who is naturally emotionally intense or sensitive can bring about difficulties that have nothing to do with the trait itself, but come from being a minority group in society. Having accumulated experiences of being misunderstood and marginalised, you may have have learned to feel bad about who you are. Often, an emotionally intense person not only feels like they are the black sheep in society, but also the ‘problematic ones’ in their own family.
The "identified patient" (IP), is a term commonly used in systemic family therapy to describe the phenomenon of how a family with unhealthy relationship dynamic assigns one person in the family as the scapegoat. Sadly, pointing the finger at another family member as the cause of all evils is a common unconscious strategy used by some family members to evade their own emotional pain and sufferings.
Signs that you were made to play the role of the ‘black sheep’:
- Your parents treated you differently when compared to the way they treat your other siblings.
- You were made the ‘caretaker’ of others form a very young age - being assigned chores and responsibilities that felt burdensome.
- Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately.
- Your parents did not intervene or take notice when you were being bullied by others.
- You always have the feeling that you "didn't fit in" with your family, and you did not develop strong connections with them.
- When you thrive, get stronger and more independent, you sense your family members’ intent on bringing you down or dismissing your achievements.
- You were being bullied by your siblings, or that they ‘jokingly’ mock you for your idiosyncracy.
- Name calling - you were always ‘the weird one’, the ‘wild card’ or ‘the trouble’.
- Your family didn't know who you truly are beyond the superficial, and have shown little interest in doing so.
- You were constantly being criticised for your natural attributes; such as your artistic or sensitive temperament.
When this happens, it does not mean that your family do not love you, or that they intentionally try to harm you. Rather, their need to label you often comes from their own vulnerabilities.
Although they may collectively orchestrate behaviours in order to keep you as the scapegoat, this is in a way their desperate effort to avoid facing up to their own inadequacies.
This is often the case with an innately sensitive and hyper-empathic child.
As the family members ‘discharge’ their emotional accountability or suppressed resentment, the child naturally become the ‘carrier’ of all the angst in the family.
It is difficult to get to really know your own true essence when your growth has been burdened by the label of the black sheep. This is because children naturally find their identity from what is reflected back to them by their parents. If they were made, repeatedly, the ‘guilty one’, or the ‘responsible one’, it can then consolidate into an identity that they later struggle to shift.
As an adult, you may intellectually understand that you are not the cause of problems in your family, but to really shift the internalised shame requires deeper emotional healing.
You must realise that the cause of chaos is your family's repressed anger and disappointment, and it should never have been your responsibility as a child to resolve anything.
Once you are able to let go of it, and reacquaint yourself with people who really see and cherish you for who you are, then you are on your way to living a vibrant and authentic life.
- If your family life from childhood leading up to today was being put on a stage, what kind of ‘fixed role’ have you been assigned by others?
- For example, are you ‘the responsible one’, 'the shining star’, ‘the good one’ and have to be your parent’s confidante? Or are you 'the scapegoat’ or 'the bad apple’?
- How comfortable do you feel in this role/roles? Were they being replicated in your adult relationships?
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About Imi Pui Yin Lo
Imi is an award-winning mental health professional, accredited clinical psychotherapist (UKCP), art therapist (HCPC, BAAT), supervisor and trainer. She specialises in emotional intensity, sensitivity, and borderline personality traits. She is the founder of Eggshell Therapy, based in London, UK.