You feel like an alien amongst your family. They criticize and ridicule you. They constantly misunderstand your intentions or perspective. You shrink down to a tiny, awkward version of yourself whenever you’re in their presence. You avoid being around them. You don’t fit in.

You’re the black sheep.

By now you may appreciate that you have your own unique worldview and ways of being. You know that your perspective is valid. But it took years to get there. You’ve always felt like an unlovable weirdo. You’ve wondered what’s wrong with you. You want your family to see you and love you for who you are. You want to feel free to be yourself with them. But whenever you try it backfires. So you shut down and close yourself off (and then get blamed for being that way). Despite the fact that you’re aware of your strengths and have confidence, you slip into another less likeable version of yourself at family gatherings. You feel anxious and uncomfortable around them.

What can you do? You may choose to have very little interaction with family. You may have no contact at all. You may spend your life torturing yourself trying to please them. Another option is to build your resilience and amplify your self love.

Find your tribe.

They’re out there—the other weirdos who think like you and understand where you’re coming from. Family isn’t always about blood or DNA. Spend time with people who love and accept you for who you are.

Stay true to yourself.

Don’t try to conform or fit in. Be genuine, even if others don’t get it. The only person you have to impress is yourself and that won’t happen if you’re dimming your shine or behaving like someone else.

Be mindful of the present moment.

It’s so easy to get triggered around family. Stay cued into your experiences in the present by paying attention to your emotions and body sensations. Notice when you begin to feel agitated and bring your attention to the moment by engaging your senses (look around you, listen to what you hear, notice what you smell, touch something, taste something) and/or noticing your breath. This will calm your nervous system and relieve some agitation.

Check on your inner child.

Being around family can make you feel small and insecure. The confident adult suddenly melts into a vulnerable child. That child needs your comfort and attention. Listen to how they feel, remind them that they’re loved.

Find common ground.

If you dig deep enough you’ll find it somewhere. It may seem trite to talk about the weather, but if that’s a safe subject, then do it anyway. Appreciate the overlap no matter how shallow or slight.

Let them change.

They’ll never see you any differently if you don’t give them a chance to be different. Check your mindset and make sure you’re not confining the whole dynamic to an old story.

Love the heck out of yourself.

Someone else’s inability to understand you is not a reflection of your worthiness. Appreciate your individuality. Take pride in your independence. Value all the ways you’re unique and special. Remember that you’re lovable exactly as you are.

Of course, a list of tips doesn’t fully address the complexity of emotion that arises from being invalidated and outcast by the ones who are “supposed” to love you best. Overcoming hurt and transforming your self concept is a process—it takes time. Be patient with yourself. Access support and guidance if you’re struggling. There’s no shame in seeking therapy. It helps!

No matter what, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. There’s a whole herd of other black sheep who know how you feel. And we love you.

With Love & Compassion,

Adina Arden Cooper

I'm a healer, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.

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