Who is the Black Sheep in Your Family

Okay, so today’s question is, who is the black sheep in your family? And you may think, “Hey Jerry, that’s really kind of a weird question.” But by the end of this video, you guys will understand why it is that I’m asking. Hopefully this will give you guys a perspective a little bit different than you’ve had before.

So again, the question was, who is the black sheep in your family? Is it a son or daughter? Is it a sibling, brother or sister? Is it a parent? Is it you? I’m going to start out with saying, I was the black sheep of my family. I’ll let you know a little bit more about that later.

This becomes a good question. So, I want you to think about it like this. If I was holding a coin in front of you and I said, “What do you see, heads or tails?” You might say, “Hey Jerry, I see heads.” I might say, “Well, I see tails.”

Why is that important? In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, there are a lot of theoretical orientations about how people become who they are and why they act in a certain way. They can say it’s from your past. The way you were raised. Certain experiences you had, attachments, or biological drives. They can say you engage in a specific behavior and it was reinforced so you continue to do certain things. You might hear that your thoughts and your feelings all impact your behavior. That they interact in a specific way.

What is a Family Systems View Point?

I look at it from what’s called a systems view point or family system view point. The understanding behind this is that every member in a family, whether it’s just a couple of people or it’s many people, play a specific role.

I want you to think about this like an organized and choreographed show. Every member has a specific role. Every member does a specific dance and acts in specific way. So, the question could be, why do people get into certain roles?

Sometimes it’s just by default. It’s not like someone shows up today and says, “Hey, this is the role I’m going to play. I’m going to be the black sheep.” It can just kind of unfold that way. There are a number of different roles and names for those roles.

Are You the Hero of the Family System?

You can have the hero. The people that do everything right all the time. They may be a high achiever, academically, financially, or athletically. They may also be very attractive. So they’re kind of the hero of the family.

Are You the Lost Child in the Family System?

You can have someone who’s like the lost child.  That person who just kind of sits there in the background. They are not really noticed. Descriptive terms can be like, “Oh you know, they just kind of get by. They just keep to themselves. They’re introverted.” But I think what we see is stuff that’s not very remarkable. I mean, they just kind of cruise along. It doesn’t mean that they don’t become very successful. There’s just not a lot of attention on them.

Are You the Black Sheep of the Family System?

Then we could have the scapegoat or the black sheep. This is typically the bad kid. The one that’s always getting into trouble.  Maybe the under performer, one that’s constantly criticized, or someone who’s struggling all the time.

Are You the Rescuer of the Family System?

Then there’s the rescuer. The rescuer would be the person that jumps in to intervene. The person that’s going to take care of the person that’s struggling. As the rescuer my role in the family is to make sure that everything is all right. So I just gave you four roles. I think there’s a couple more but let’s just kind of go with that. So, if you slow down and look at it, every family member has a role.

For those of that don’t know me I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso. I’m the Clinical Director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California and I try to put out these videos to provide information in a number of ways. I want to de-stigmatize mental illness and ultimately the focus is no different than physical illness. Let’s get past mental illness and focus on emotional health. The same way we would look at physical health, let’s look at emotional health.

What is My Role in the Family System?

Right now we’re talking about family systems. What role I have within the family and how does that role develop? Your role could develop for a lot of different reasons and people end up with a specific role. The reason why it’s important to know your role.

I was commenting about when I meet with somebody for therapy. I look at it in a number of different ways. I will look at their history, attachments, how they were brought up, and relationships they’ve had. I might look at how their thoughts and feelings impact their behaviors. I might look at reinforcement like what behaviors or things that they have done that has been reinforced over time. But I always look from a family systems view point to try to identify what their role is.

How Did I Become The Black Sheep?

At Nsight we treat people that struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar, drug addiction, alcoholism, or a history of trauma. If I go into one of our groups and asked, “Hey, who is the black sheep in your family?” Almost every single hand will come up. They’re going to say, “I’m the black sheep.” We see this a lot in treatment because usually the person that goes to treatment is the identified patient.  The family says that they’re the problem.

The first thing I look at is, why this person? What’s happened to them? Now, it could be something specific. But, people are very resilient. So why is this the person in treatment? How is their family reinforcing whatever it is that’s going on with them?

I want you to think about this in context. This is not malicious at all so family members don’t intentionally put someone in a bad role. It’s just how things develop sometimes. So, let’s say I was exposed to some trauma growing up. Maybe I started to struggle with depression or I struggled with anxiety. I might have started to withdraw and isolate from others. Then, let’s say, my mom had to come in and rescue me and we started develop this pattern where I continue to struggle and she continues to help me out.

Over time, I’m the one who is constantly struggling. I might have a sibling that thrives and does really well. I could have a sibling that just kind of gets along. But, I become the focus and the problem in the family. So anyways, if we look at this further, why do I get the role I have? Then how is it reinforced by other people’s roles? Finally, how does this play out in the rest of my life?

How do I Change My Role of Being The Black Sheep?

One of the difficult things, when people get into a role, is getting out of it. Because the stronger my role gets, the stronger other people’s roles get. So again, it could just be a one time, two time, or three time thing. The next thing you know, I’m the one with the problem and I’ve got other people taking care of me.

I might have another sibling that’s excelling. They are doing extremely well. They continue to get validation and reinforcement for doing well and they continue to stay in that role. There might another sibling that just kind of gets along and does their own thing. When you look at how dances happen, people get comfortable in the dances.

I’m not saying that they enjoy it, but, it becomes familiar. So, once I get stuck into a role, I’m stuck in that role. Meaning it’s very difficult to get out. Because even if I was the black sheep and I started to improve and do well, other people may treat me like I’m not doing well.

As a black sheep, even if I come to you and I start sharing with you my successes and tell you how I’m improving, the person that rescues me may be quick to point out my faults. “No, you’re not doing that well. Look at this, this and this.” And then my response might be, “Okay, I guess you’re right,” and then I start to regress and I go back to the previous role.

So, to try to simplify it, a lot of it is unconscious, meaning you don’t think about. It’s like breathing, it just happens. You don’t think about your heart beating, it just happens. When we get into these roles, they just start to happen. They become very familiar. I get into this habitual comfort zone. I just start to perform in the same way over and over and over again.

So, let’s look at where we would go with this. If I’m working with an individual, we’re going to identify what their role is.  Then, we’re going to spend a little bit of time looking at why certain things happened. When did this start? At what age? What was going on? What was your mom doing? What was your dad doing? What were your siblings doing, if you had any? How were you treated when certain thing happened?

Once I can identify what each person’s role is, now we can look at how this dance had been choreographed a certain way. Then, how do we get it to shift? How we change the way this goes?

I will comment and I’m going to comment about it in treatment. I share this with people and they find this hard to believe. I tell them about this because it’s something that will be working against them while in treatment and possibly the rest of their lives.

Why Does My Family Continue to Treat Me Like The Black Sheep?

When you have a specific role and you try to change that role, so let’s say I’m black sheep. Maybe I’m struggling with an emotional issue. My family wants me to get help. They push me. They say, “Hey Jerry, go get help.” I go get help start to get healthier. So the family’s going to push you to get better. But when you go home, they do everything they can to get you to start to feel sick again.

You’re going to say, “That is the weirdest thing. It makes no sense.” They work hard to get you better. Then they’re going to work hard to get you sick. I’m going to say yes, that’s what usually happens. Because if I come back well, their role changes, right?

In my example I was using my mom. Let’s say my mom is my rescuer. If I’m doing fine and I’m actually performing extremely well, I’m almost like the hero of the family now. What’s her role? Who is she going to rescue if there’s nobody with a problem?

So, I’m going to use this word again, unconsciously or unknowingly, she’s going to try to push me back into my problems. The hero, let’s say the person that’s super successful, may not want the competition. They may be quick to make criticisms or judgments. “Jerry, here’s your faults,” and so forth.

When people get better, they move from mental illness to emotional health. One of the battles they’re going to fight is, how are they going to reintegrate into their family and maintain the progress that they have? How will other people’s roles shift without it being a lot of conflict?

How Do I Get My Other Family Members to Change Their Role?

There’s really some magic to it. I’m saying magic meaning, it happens. This is not overly hard to do. I may be describing it in a way that makes it sound really difficult. It’s like learning a dance. If I’m dancing with a certain person and all of sudden I change the step, they’re going to stumble and fall and try to push me back into the old step.

Now, if I can continue to dance in the new step, they’re going to start dancing along with me. Now we’re in harmony and things are actually better. When we’re looking at roles within a family, they don’t necessarily have to be dysfunctional. But when you hear of dysfunctional families, typically, this is what we’re talking about. Everybody has a role and this dynamic plays itself out in different interactions.

Let me get to something that is important for you guys to understand. I’m going to get to four things.

  1. It’s going to be very important for you to identify what your role is, okay? I’ve got to know which role I’m playing.
  2. I need to know is how it impacts the way I function. Meaning, things that I do. Wow I see myself. How I view the world and what my abilities are.
  3. I want to identify what is the role I want to play? What role in the family, if I could have any, which one would I take?
  4. How is my new role going to have a positive impact on other people? So remember, I don’t just want to switch roles with somebody and have the same dysfunction perpetuate just on somebody different. What I’m trying to do is create cohesiveness and harmony.

Let’s take this one step further. You can say, “Jerry, I have nothing to do with my family of origin anymore. I’ve moved on. They’re dysfunctional. I don’t want to have anything to do with them.” True. But now start looking at the friends you pick, intimate relationships or close relationships you’re in. What kind of roles do you have or what role did you take?

A lot of the time we’ll see people that get into, relationships where there’s domestic violence. We might think, “How is it that they continue to get into the same relationships over and over? Are they just stupid?” And the answer is absolutely not.

They just go back to what’s familiar. So, they may have a specific role of where they may be criticized or put down.  They don’t feel good about themselves. The other person they tend to prop up and they take abuse for it. Then they come in to rescue me after they abuse me. It becomes this cycle of violence.

In a relationship, let’s say in the family, my role was the rescuer, I was always rescuing. What if I typically pick a dysfunctional partner? Now I’ve moved on to another relationship or a marriage.  I find that I’m constantly having to take care of my significant other.  It can be financially, emotionally, or physically. There seems to be a lot of things that I’m doing for this individual that they can’t do for themselves.

Did it just happen by default? They say family patterns repeat. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Or, is it because I wasn’t aware of what my role is that I automatically found someone whose role matched up with mine? So, I might pick a black sheep if I’m a rescuer or vice versa. If I’m a black sheep I might pick a rescuer. But as a black sheep you could say, “Well, it’s good to have a rescuer.” I’m going to say not so much. Because I’m going to feel good about them in the beginning because they’re there to take care of me. But over time, I start to hate myself and resent myself because this relationship is unbalanced. I’m really looking for a balanced relationship.

So, let’s really look at it and where we can go with this.

  1. I want to know what my role has been.
  2. I want to know the impact that’s had on the way I function.
  3. I want to know what role I want to have and how that’s going to have a positive impact on other people.

Part of therapy might be recognizing; this is what my role was in my family and I need to change that. Not only with my family of origin but also all the relationships that I have. Because this is the behavior that was causing me to feel or think about myself in a certain way and this is how it was causing me to act. Then I determine the role I want. I think that generally I would all like to have a very admirable role. That I would like to be very successful. I would like other people to respect me and appreciate who I am.

I want to have that role but not at the expense of someone else. I don’t want to be competing with a significant other or a family member because there might not be enough room for two successful people.

Then I want to be able to watch my actions as I’m interacting, let’s say with individuals, always recognizing my role. I should also recognize their role. If I find myself in a relationship and this could be with a co-worker, and I’m constantly trying to help them out. Or I’m an employer and I’m constantly trying to help an employee out. Am I doing them a disservice or a service by helping them out? Am I’m making them feel incompetent and unable to do things on their own. Do I constantly come in to rescue them? They end up resenting me and I end up resenting them. This whole thing becomes dysfunctional.

So, I’m going to look at the role I have and how it impacts other people. I’m going to look at all my different relationships, whether it’s with friendships, family, or a significant other. It could be on a sports team.

I will share with you one of the biggest challenges is closer to the holidays. Because the time we see this stuff play out often is when families tend to get back together for holidays. They may be apart all year long and they get back together and things get bad. We all seem to be doing well and then as soon as we hit a holiday, dysfunction just happens all over the place. Like things never changed.

I’ll share with you that even when you go back to your family and you change; like I’ve done a lot of personal work. Individually, I’ve grown a lot. Emotionally, I’m much stronger and stable. The responses or the way they talk to you may be very similar to when you were a kid.

Let’s say I’m in my 50s and I go back home for Thanksgiving. My siblings, even though we get along well, they talk to me and treat me just like they did when we were kids. It might be the little sarcastic jokes or comments. Now, I stop and I notice. Hey wait, there’s a theme going on. Are they starting to kind of push this dynamic back? Are we getting back into this old weird dance? Is it putting me into a position that I don’t want to be in? This is how I felt a long time ago. So notice what your role is. Determine what role you want to have and start watching how this stuff unfolds.

So anyways, I hope this makes sense. If you are a black sheep look at how it plays out with other individuals. See if there are ways you can make adjustments. Ultimately, we’re talking about emotional health. I look at someone who may be struggling and what role they have. There may be a lot of things that have gone into it that have caused them to feel a certain way. Maybe depressed or anxious, and why they may behave in a certain way and struggle. But if I look at it from a systemic point of view, we find out that there’s multiple factors. While there are multiple factors on why someone got to be a certain way, things can be changed.

So, really the intent here is that this is positive. You guys have a new way to look at things. You take this knowledge with you and see where you can go with it.

For those of you that like this video, please share it. Also, give us a like. If you don’t like it, let us know. Feedback is always good. You can send any questions, comments, any topics you want me to cover to info@nsightrecovery.com. I’ll be happy to respond. I appreciate you watching these videos. My goal here is to get rid of the stigma of mental illness and actually work on everyone getting towards emotional health and emotional stability. The end goal is happiness.

Until I see you next time, remember, Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach if individual therapy is not enough.

Dr. Jerry Grosso

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology.  Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

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