Are You Feeling like the Black Sheep Too?

Have you ever felt that you did not belong?  Maybe you feel a little different than those around you?  It’s like an internal battle that creates a feeling of being the “black sheep” or the “outcast.” I have seen this happen in my family and have experienced it in my own life.  

First, my younger sister.  Thanks to relentless allergies and a struggle with depression at a young age, she felt miserable and seemed to take it out on all of us.  Our family could not go anywhere without her having a meltdown or throwing a fit.  Her behavior was used as an excuse anytime our family missed out on fun experiences or memory-making moments.  There was a lot of frustration, anger, and stress with my parents that spread into our family and my sister seemed to be at the center of it.  She was like the “black sheep.”

This role of the “black sheep”, or the “outcast,” is labeled as the identified patient.  The identified patient seems to take the brunt of the family’s problems and/or gets blamed for every negative thing.  By having an identified patient in the family, it is often easier to hide root issues that are not resolved in the family’s system.  It is a bit like playing the blame game.  If there is someone to blame for the discontent, then the deeper struggles can be pushed aside.  In my sister’s case, her behavior gave the perfect space for blame when it was needed in our family.  

Second, my personal struggles.  As my siblings and I grew, I began to struggle with anxiety which was not easily understood.   As I started a family of my own, anxiety and depression reared its ugly head.  I was faced with an emotional battle that I did not know how to handle on my own.  It was hard enough that my husband did not know how to help, but it was worse when I felt I could not rely on my family of origin for comfort or support.  

Everyone said to “get over it” or “let it go.”  As an adult, my parents and siblings would often try to talk me into doing recreational things with them because “it would help me.”  When I would say “no,” ridicule would often follow, or plans would change, and I would feel blamed. Sometimes I felt as if I was being treated as a sick patient, which often left me with a victim mentality or a feeling of being helpless.  In any case, I would find myself feeling worse mentally and emotionally simply because I was misunderstood and I felt I had taken on the role as the “outcast.”

Finding Space for Blame

According to Marriage and Family Therapist and Relational Trauma Recovery Specialist, Annie Wright, an identified patient is one that emerges from a negative family lifestyle.  This can be an abusive, dysfunctional, or chaotic family with adversity in the early childhood of the “patient.”  Anytime that a family is not able to tolerate or handle stressful situations, an identified patient can, and possibly will, emerge.  Instead of working on the root problems within the family, it is often easier to find an imagined source of contention and place the blame on him or her, resulting in the “real problem” being ignored and dysfunction being disguised.  

A Rise in Anxiety

How does this affect us today?  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 3.6%, or 264 million people worldwide struggle with anxiety.  In the United States alone, the prevalence of anxiety in adults is 19.1%, and in teenagers, ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old, about 32%.  

So, imagine this is you.  You are striving each day to make it the best day despite feeling overworked, providing for a family, the loss of a job, health issues, parenting, relationship issues, the never-ending list of household chores, etc.  Every now and then, you experience anxiety because of the heavy load that you carry.  For a teen or a child, the reasons for developing anxiety are different.  The National Education Association explored some of these reasons and found the pressure to fit in, to achieve, and from social media were at the top of the list.  In addition, not feeling safe at school has also become a fear.

Now imagine turning to family or loved ones and feeling neglect rather than support.  How would you handle that situation?  How would you find your “safe space?”  Unfortunately, for some, that “safe space” comes in the form of consistent worry and anxiety and a feeling of looming loneliness while living each day.  

Annie Wright claims that when the family system is not able to tolerate the growing stressors around them, family members take care of themselves by outsourcing or dumping their feelings onto one individual leaving this member of the family feeling worn down and anxious. Often teens and children make themselves the identified patient by keeping their personal stressors tucked inside.  Without adequate support to work through the negative feelings or thoughts, a generalized anxiety disorder or some form of mental illness may begin to develop.

Finding Relief and Support

Anxiety is on the rise for many.  We could all do better to help lift, support, and love one another regardless of our struggles so that we can all maintain a level of safety and peace within ourselves. Dr. Terry Warner taught, “Seeing other people as the problem, is the problem.” Instead of pointing out the “black sheep” or labeling others as an “anxious person,” we should help one another to heal through a higher level of compassion and support.    We have the power to create change by recognizing our need to advocate for one another and erasing the idea of the identified patient.  

The Jefferson Center offers some insight to help families better understand one another.  They suggest staying calm, being an active listener, respecting differing opinions, considering the bigger picture, and creating safe boundaries.  These useful tips can be used in any situation especially with anxiety.  

Ways to help lessen anxiety in yourself or someone you love include meditation, yoga, rest, exercise, journaling, and therapy.  When support from loved ones seems too far distant, finding those that have your best interest at heart is vital.  Anxiety can be a lonely battle, especially if others try to label you as the identified patient, but with the right tools, you can become empowered and grow through the struggle.  


My name is Heather Larsen. I am married and have two kids.  My family is my world!  I am graduating from BYU-Idaho in July 2024 with plans to attend grad school to study mental health and well-being.  I am a family life coach working toward becoming board-certified.  I have truly enjoyed working in the coaching field and walking with people along their journeys.  After enduring my own personal struggle, I have developed love and gratitude for anxiety.  I am committed to learning about, sharing with, advocating for, and supporting those who have a similar struggle.

Three Ways to Handle Frustration in Family Life


“Ellie is 2-years-old and should be speaking in short sentences now. I’m starting to worry that she might have a speech impediment.”

“Parker is 10! He shouldn’t be crying when things don’t go his way. I don’t see other boys his age crying when their upset. What’s the matter with him?”

“Jon has many great qualities, but I’m tired of always being the one to take the lead. We’ve been married 19 years now, and he never seems to change! Now he has lost his job; I don’t think I can take this much longer.”

Each of the previous statements come from actual conversations I have had with individuals (names have been changed) in the recent past. I was struck by a theme that emerged from these conversations: frustration often stems from unmet expectations. This is especially true in family life where both frustration and expectations can abound.

Regardless of the stage of your family, you probably expect great things from your loved ones.

And why shouldn’t you?

All children—and people for that matter—have untapped potential. Yes, this also applies to spouses who may seem to be set in their ways, incapable of changing to meet our expectations. Perhaps most importantly, we need to apply this idea of untapped potential to the goals we have for ourselves.

When unmet expectations arise or persist, it seems almost natural to become frustrated—perhaps even deeply depressed. Keep in mind, that most of us view life through a pretty foggy lens. There is great power and peace that can come from keeping our expectations (and frustration) in proper perspective. I offer three research-based principles:

1. Reflect Regularly and Measure Accurately

In research I have conducted with college-age students, I have found that although most 18- to 25-year-olds can explain their long-term goals, their day-to-day behaviors often have very little connection to their aspirations. Unfortunately, this disconnect between daily actions and goals isn’t just a problem for college students; it can also be a problem for husbands, wives, and parents.

Why is this, you ask?

Part of the answer lies in a lack of consistent reflection and evaluation of how we’re doing at meeting our goals. For example, how often have you reflected on whether bribing or threatening your child when he pitches a fit in the grocery store is consistent with your goal for him to learn self-control?

While reflecting is important, we also must use an accurate yardstick to measure our progress. I believe this is another reason why there can exist a mismatch between our everyday actions and our goals or expectations. Quick behavior-modification strategies—such as rewards and punishments—usually work in the present but rarely in the long run. And most of the long-term goals we have in our families pertain to character, not simply behavior!

One parenting guru summarized it this way:

The good news is that when parents do manage to keep their broader objectives in view—indeed, when they focus on anything more than just getting their kids [or spouse] to obey—they tend to use better [skills in their family relationships] and they get better results.

2. Change How You See First

This principle has transformed me as a husband and father. I believe that every family has at least one—if not multiple—children that are tailor-made to test your every weakness. In other words, your child (weaknesses and all) will maximize growth out of both of you. But seeing this requires changing your sight. When frustration mounts and you can only see someone’s weaknesses, you have become blinded.

Eventually we may create a vicious cycle with our loved ones. Allow me to illustrate:

You’ve spoken to your wife about her social media addiction for the umpteenth time, and tonight she spends more time on her phone than talking to you. This only gives you more fuel to see her as flawed and incapable of changing. You then give her the “silent treatment” to teach her a lesson, which only drives a bigger wedge between the two of you. Your wife, feeling rejected, continues to live down to your expectations by using more social media to self-medicate. Then despair sets in . . . for the both of you.

If we want to overcome our frustration, we must see people beyond their actions. Behavior doesn’t define us, our kids, or our spouse. So stop relying on external indicators to define who they are!

3. You’re Not Done Yet, and Neither are They

A mother recently told me that she worried her son would become a “gamer” even though she and her husband regulated her 12-year-old son’s video game playing time. Her fear is a valid one, and I wish more parents were concerned about that problem. However, fear-based parenting doesn’t help us make rational or helpful decisions. Instead of letting our fears get the best of us, we can instead choose to see the potential in those around us. We can have hope for their future!

All people have unknown potential; however, we don’t reach it in a few weeks or even a few years! We progress, but the end product isn’t here yet. You, your spouse, and your children are not finished products. Everyone learns and develops at a different pace. As desperate as you are to see change in yourself or others, you can’t force or rush change — you can only guide it. A wise man once said stated:

We need to bear in mind that people can change. They can put behind them bad habits. We have the responsibility to look at our [family members] this way. Again, we have the responsibility to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you to think of them in this way.

Don’t give up hope if frustration and despair are mounting because of unmet expectations. Seeing your loved ones clearly takes reflection, patience, teaching, and love.

It is possible! Your family’s peace and happiness depend on it.


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