Sometimes being yourself means disappointing your family. Sometimes it is almost necessary to be free. Because we need it to reaffirm ourselves as human beings, as individuals. We deserve to be happy and take our independence into our own hands. Questioning or breaking down your family’s expectations is a healthy step. It renews us inside and out. At the same time, it forces the people we love to make a difficult decision. Either they accept us as we are or they let us go.
It’s not easy. During the first phase of the life cycle, there comes a moment when a child awakens. For it becomes fully aware of the subtle discordance that exists in many families. For example, the child will notice that the parents give firm advice that they do not apply themselves. The child also feels uncomfortable for other reasons. The expectations that the parents place on its shoulders can be so different from what it spontaneously designs, devises and feels.
The pressure of expectations
The expectations of the family are like tiny atoms colliding with each other. They create invisible material that no one is aware of. But it is stifling. They develop strength and beliefs across the generations. They are unspoken and unwritten codes of conduct. But they are expressed verbally and through tone and non-verbal language.
Without realizing it, we are shaped by a set of beliefs and traits that we internalize silently and with some difficulty. But at some point we realize we don’t fit the puzzle. We eventually understand that our ‘functional’ family may not be that functional after all. For there are too many silences and too many bowed heads avoiding to look at each other. Then you decide to make a change. You will find your own way and you risk disappointing your loved ones.
Family ties are complicated
When Lucas was born, his mother was forty-one and his father forty-six. His parents had not chosen to have just one child. It was the result of a long and difficult journey. Before his birth, his mother had had four miscarriages. Then she had another. It wasn’t his fault but he ended up being the lone survivor on whom his family projected all their expectations. Alone he had to bear the weight of a whole collection of hopes, dreams and desires.
But Lucas has never been a good student. Nor was he gentle or calm. Moreover, he was absolutely not obedient. But the worst part was that during all those school failures, he had to live with the ghosts of his invisible siblings. They were never born, but they were always close to his parents. ‘ I am sure that one of them would have become an engineer, just like me’, ‘I am convinced that one of them would have been more stable and responsible…’.
Break those ties
His parents not only constantly idealized what could have been. Lucas also had to deal with another thoughtless message coming from aunts, uncles, and grandparents. ‘ Listen to your mother, stop making music and get a real job. Your parents have been through so much for you. It costs you nothing to make them happy too…’
When he finally reached an age where he could decide for himself, he made a decision. He decided to go abroad and study music at a conservatory. His family would be disappointed, he knew that. He also realized that he would cause pain. But he could no longer be part of this family model that was full of ghosts and impossible expectations. Lucas had to stay true to himself and become the author of his own future.
Being yourself means disappointing your family, but it’s also the way to enlightenment
The University of Utah conducted a very interesting study last year. The study showed which strategies are most helpful for people who see themselves as the black sheep of their nuclear family. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the situation (and not just because of the obvious symbolism in the term) is extremely complex. In fact, it’s so complicated that most emotional problems arise from the clash of values, needs, and beliefs that we have in our own families.
It is essential to our well-being that we know how to respond. How can we deal with this reality in an efficient way? The study came to three conclusions. People dealing with family issues can use them as a guideline.
- We must see ourselves as a ‘resilient black sheep’. Because we are people who are able to overcome adversity and move on. We also do not forget what we have experienced and learned.
- It is important that we seek help, support and guidance outside the family circle. This helps us to see things from a different perspective. Plus, it makes us believe in ourselves and have the courage to make decisions.
- Another key is being assertive with our family. We are allowed to speak our needs, thoughts and wishes aloud. If we do it respectfully and in a mature and convinced way, it doesn’t have to come across as threatening. Disenchantment is a quick but necessary way to get closer to the truth.
Don’t get hung up on the ‘black sheep’ label
At the same time, we do our best not to think of ourselves as ‘isolated’. Some ‘black sheep’ don’t care about that (or at least not outwardly). They don’t seem to care that they are the ‘jammer’ or the ‘challenging’ member of the core family. But sometimes they become enslaved to the label others have given them (and find some support in it, too). In this context, the ‘black sheep’ may, on principle, disagree with every expectation or unwritten rule of the family. They do this even though they don’t actually feel that way.
So we need to reconsider this one-sided way of valuing. Because it’s been stamped into us for so long. We need to understand that sometimes disappointing someone doesn’t have a negative connotation. For it is a necessary act to reaffirm our identity as independent beings with a mind of their own.