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.

Don’t Be THAT Parent: Why Criticism is So Dangerous


By “Angry” Dr. Rob

Two Disclaimers

Though I am annoyed and frustrated as I write this article, please don’t discount the content as the article draws on research and the principles are sound.

Likewise, though I was outraged at the extreme behavior of these two parents, please know that I don’t pretend to be a perfect parent myself – far from it.

That said, I am a bit angry!

Screaming “Little League” Mom

Last week I attended my 12-year-old son’s baseball game. Like his father, this child adores the game of baseball and generally has a good time win or lose.

On this particular evening, the starting catcher was out of town. The young man who was catching didn’t have as much experience, so he missed a few balls and made a few errant throws. Honestly, this child’s performance wasn’t much different than most of the other boys on the team.

However, I quickly started to feel awful for this young catcher – but not because of his baseball skills. Rather, after every mistake there would be a harsh and loud criticism from a woman in the crowd (presumably his mother):





Look, I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m going to guess that this child wasn’t trying to perform poorly in front of his family and peers (for full effect, read the prior sentence with dripping sarcasm).

C’mon mom!

Like me you might be thinking, I wonder if her son even enjoys playing baseball anymore.  Honestly, I don’t know how he could (especially when mom is present).  I left that game incredibly frustrated about what that obnoxious parent was doing to her child’s development. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Four Days Later

Fast forward to Saturday and I was then watching my 8-year-old son play in a soccer game. Please note that I said 8-year-old son (not my 28-year-old son playing for the World Cup Championship game).

This time the “obnoxiousness” came from a dad on the other team. I don’t believe I am exaggerating to state that he yelled at every young child on that team. I had never witnessed such an incredibly competitive (and poorly behaved) spectator at a children’s soccer game. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I felt so badly for those children (especially whichever one was his).

You Are Better Than That (Literally)

While these two instances frustrated and saddened me, I gratefully acknowledge that most parents aren’t that destructive to the psyche and self-esteem of children.

Most of you are about as opposite as you can possibly be from the parents I described above. I suspect that if you are the kind of person who reads marriage and parenting articles, you are likely an intentional and engaged parent (not a perfect parent…none of us are, but one who is diligently striving to build your children and give them the best opportunity to succeed in life). Keep it up!

But, even for those of us striving to be mindful and intentional parents, is it possible that we too may be guilty of over-criticizing our children?

The Most Common Parenting Mistake

Dr. Kenneth Parish (Ph.D. and a therapist of 30+ years) noted that the most common parenting problem that he has observed through his work with children and families is that parents are too critical of their children. In his article entitled The Harmfulness of Criticism, Dr. Parish noted that much of our criticism is well-intentioned. “We criticize because we are anxious about our child’s future. We want her to improve, and eventually succeed in a competitive world. We think of our criticism as constructive, or not as criticism at all, but rather as instruction and advice…”

Yep, I’m guilty of thinking that way sometimes. How about you?

3 Reasons Why Criticism Can Be Harmful

First, according to Dr. Parish, “when frequent criticism persists, all other efforts to improve our family relationships are likely to fail.”

Second, for those with teenage children, neuroscientists from Harvard, Cal-Berkeley, and Pittsburgh recently shared research findings that suggested that adolescent brains simply “shut down” when being criticized by a parent.

Third, additional research also noted that children’s self-esteem can plummet when parents are overly critical.

Obviously, none of us want these negative outcomes. So what can we do?

The Antidote to Criticism

At the conclusion of Dr. Parish’s article, he noted the following: “There is no better antidote for frequent criticism and argument, and no better way to help children bounce back from the common frustrations and disappointments of childhood than patient and respectful listening.”

So, there it is!

The challenge for you and for me is to take the time to truly listen and empathize with our children. But, as you strive to patiently listen to your children, don’t forget to also include some patience for yourself too. We may all inadvertently slip back into “critical parent” mode from time to time!

Becoming consistently patient and respectful listeners may not come easily for all of us (especially when we are stressed or busy), but it is absolutely worth the effort!


Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Rob’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Tim), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.