Why do families create a black sheep?

“I am the black sheep of my family”,

said the young man sitting in front of me in my therapy office. I tried to picture this adorable sad boy as the “black sheep” of everything. I could not.

Estrangement and the Wills Variation Act

As stated earlier, one of the commonalities between a black sheep and the scapegoat is that they are often advised by doctors or counselors to learn how to take distanced from their family, for their own mental well-being.

This is based on the probable reality that the behavior of the family as a group will never change. The ostracized child will continue to be psychologically abused and will be unable to escape or change the role assigned to him.

Examples of the “black sheep” archetype in media and literature:

If you have been following this blog for some time, you know that I love cinematherapy (using films, media and books as tools for our personal growth) and over the years I have gathered a small list of those that I think embody “The Black Sheep” archetype in both big and subtle ways from my reading/viewing. Check out the list and let me know in the comments which other characters/books/TV shows/movies you think also have a proverbial “black sheep”.

  • Luke Skywalker from Star Wars
  • Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings
  • Elphaba from Wicked
  • Harry Potter
  • The Ugly Duckling (here is a small Disney short of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale classic)
  • Simba in The Lion King
  • Elsa from Frozen
  • Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (see Angelina Jolie’s 2014 version for a complex example of how the “shadow” of “The Black Sheep” can manifest)
  • Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow
  • So. many. personages. in Orange Is the New Black, but especially Piper in the context of her family
  • The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
  • The autobiographical account of Martha Beck in Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith*
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What is a black sheep in the family?

Before we delve into how to deal with being the weird one, let’s take a good look at what exactly it means to be the black sheep in one’s flock.

There are two main definitions of a black sheep in the family:

The symptoms for which you have been selected as an Identified Patient in your family include the following:

  • Your parents were stricter with you than with your other siblings
  • Your mistakes have been blown out of proportion and/or disproportionately punished
  • You always had the feeling that you were “out of sync” with your family and you didn’t develop strong ties with them
  • You were mocked, ridiculed and/or teased constantly
  • Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as if you were always fundamentally deficient
  • Every time you got stronger, more confident or happier, your family seemed intent on depressing you and/or convincing you that you weren’t getting better
  • You have developed mental and/or emotional disorders and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and being overburdened
  • Your family showed no interest in who you really were as a person
  • You have been criticized, completely ignored and/or emotionally manipulated if you have rebelled in any way

It is important to note that families who scapegoat or identify patients often go to great lengths to keep the family member they have unconsciously chosen that way, otherwise they are forced to face their own inadequacies.

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