Monday, April 09, 2007

Daily Om: The Black Sheep

Today's Daily Om, comments below.
One Of A Kind
The Black Sheep

Many of us have had an experience in which we felt like the lone black sheep in a vast sea of white sheep. For some of us, however, this sense of not belonging runs more deeply and spans a period of many years. It is possible to feel like the black sheep in families and peer groups that are supportive, as well as in those that are not. Even if we receive no overt criticism regarding our values, there will likely be times when it seems that relatives and friends are humoring us or waiting for us to grow out of a phase. Sometimes we may even think we have been adopted because we are so different from our family members. These feelings are not a sign that we have failed in some way to connect with others. Rather, they should be perceived as the natural result of our willingness to articulate our individuality.

Many black sheep respond to the separateness they feel by pulling back from the very people to whom they might otherwise feel closest and embracing a different group with whom they enjoy a greater degree of commonality. But if you feel that your very nature has set you apart from your peers and relatives, consider that you chose long ago to be raised by a specific family and to come together with specific people so that you could have certain experiences that would contribute to your ongoing evolution. You may be much more sensitive than the people around you or more artistic, aware, spiritual, or imaginative. The disparate temperament of your values and those of your family or peers need not be a catalyst for interpersonal conflict. If you can move beyond comparisons and accept these differences, you will come to appreciate the significant role your upbringing and socialization have played in your life's unique journey.

In time, most black sheep learn to embrace their differences and be thankful for those aspects of their individuality that set them apart from others. We cannot expect that our peers and relatives will suddenly choose to embrace our values and offer us the precise form of support we need. But we can acknowledge the importance of these individuals by devoting a portion of our energy to keeping these relationships healthy while continuing to define our own identities apart from them.
I don't buy into the New Age crap about choosing our families before we are born so that we can learn life lessons. That belief, to me, is in the same category of nonsense as The Secret. Aside from that, I think this is a useful post.

There's no need to resort to to hocus pocus about how we ended up in a family where we feel misunderstood and unappreciated. Most people feel that way at some time or another. What it generally comes down to is expectations -- those we hold and those held by the people around us. There are other factors as well, but this is often the thing that causes problems.

No matter how we ended where we did, we can use the situation to learn and grow. All of us had parents who are in some way wounded. Sometimes it can be pretty harmless, for the most part, but still leave us feeling alienated. Sometimes, however, the wounding is severe and results in abuse, neglect, manipulation, or worse. This is not to excuse abuse, because there is no excusing that -- simply to say that there is nearly always a causation for these breeches of trust and compassion.

The important point in the article is that we learn to accept and value the ways that we are different. I have struggled with this at various times in my life.

I grew up in a very traditional family: Military service was expected; Hippies should be deported; Men should be stoic and reserved; Women should be in the kitchen.

I knew as a young child that this was not the kind of world I wanted to live in. I rebelled in a thousand different ways as I sought to find a place for myself. Even when I was able escape that situation, I was still living in a culture in Southern Oregon that was not supportive of people like me. So I tried to fit in as best I could.

As I grew older, I discovered that I didn't really fit into American culture too well, either. This was when I began to seek out friends who also felt like outsiders. It took me a long time to accept that, for whatever reason, my expectations generally did not match those of my culture. And the culture's expectations for who I should be had nothing to do with who I am really am.

The article suggests that we can try to maintain a relationship with our families by "devoting a portion of our energy to keeping these relationships healthy while continuing to define our own identities apart from them." This isn't always the case, however. Sometimes we need to sever all ties, at least for a while, to establish ourselves apart from our families of origin. When we are more centered in our awareness and able to maintain our boundaries, then we can re-establish a connection if that feels right.

I went through this in my family, and I've seen many of my friends have to do the same thing.

Our culture places a tremendous value on family ties. We are made to feel guilty and that we are bad people if we reject this notion. But when we are not a good match with our families -- or worse, when there was abuse -- there may be no other choice, if we are to be happy and healthy, than to distance from them until we are in a place where we can set and maintain boundaries around what is acceptable to us and what is not.

Few people will ever do this. But as we continue to evolve, more and more of us will come to see that our families of origin may not be the most supportive environment for us. We must build our own family -- what some people are calling our spiritual tribe -- so that we can surround ourselves with people who are like us in values and purpose. And along the way, we must learn to accept ourselves for who we are, and not for who others expect us to be.

No comments: