The negative connotation of the term “Black Sheep” dates back to the 18th century. Since dark wools are dye resistant, white sheep were considered more valuable than black sheep. At that time in England, the black color of the sheep was seen as the mark of the devil.
Even though the sociology of the family is founded on diverse cultural factors, some common patterns emerge within families. As a form of marginalization, we often witness that many traditional families have a member who is often labeled as an outcast and scapegoated.
Unspoken Rules and Ostracization
In dysfunctional families, those who hold the leadership role are able to define and execute the unspoken rules for the family — granting them the power to ostracize any member they choose. The excluded member is often labeled and ridiculed with degrading tags, however, sometimes this rejection can occur without any obvious signs.
The Black Sheep Effect
Whereas the term “Black Sheep” is used to describe the disreputable family member, the American Psychological Association defines the Black Sheep Effect as “the tendency to evaluate a disreputable or disliked person more negatively when that person is a member of one’s own group rather than of some other group.”
The “Black Sheep” is usually the one who decides to speak up and fight against the pressures, dysfunctions, and the wrongdoings of the family — such as the refusal of arranged marriages or having different beliefs, views, and values than other members of the family.
With serious detrimental effects on mental health, the abuse may come in many forms including financial abuse. The ritualized punishment and degradation can worsen until the victim finally gives in.
Challenging Encounters at Family Gatherings
Family holiday gatherings, which are supposed to be the much-awaited time of the year, often turn out to be painful events for the ostracized members, where everyone cheerfully hugs each other while ignoring the “black sheep” with the silent treatment. In some cases, ferocious verbal attacks may occur as well.
When working with the survivors of dysfunctional families, I have heard the following phrase countless times;
“I am the only normal person in my dysfunctional family. They should seek therapy. Not me!”
D. Kenan Akyol