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4 Reasons to Celebrate Black Sheep Trauma Survivors

They're the most resilient, courageous, and admirable members of their families.

Key points

  • Trauma survivors are often assigned the role of black sheep to maintain dysfunctional family dynamics.
  • Black sheep who deviate from dysfunctional family dynamics are breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
  • Black sheep are able to resist genetic relational entitlement to support their safety or quality of life.
Source: Hans/Pixabay

“Black sheep” refers to an individual in a family who stands out—and not in a good way. Unfortunately, they are considered less valuable than other family members and are often blamed for their pre-established dysfunctional family dynamics. For example, suppose a family enables an abusive member, but one family member does not. In that case, this person is likely to be perceived as a black sheep and is vulnerable to being blamed for any discomfort their deviation from the established dynamics causes the family. Family therapists often refer to black sheep as the “identified patient” or the “family’s scapegoat,” and family members often refer to them as “mentally ill,” “dramatic,” “overly sensitive,” “worthless,” or “bad.”

Trauma survivors whose offenders are family members are often assigned the role of black sheep to maintain dysfunctional family dynamics. For example, suppose one family member refuses to communicate with an abusive family member, but their family is structured to conceal, support, and enable the abusive person. In that case, the family may consider the trauma survivor the problem in the family, as opposed to the abuser and the family system that enables the abuse (which are the actual problems).

Trauma survivors who are black sheep should be celebrated, as they have many admirable qualities that often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Here are four reasons you should celebrate yourself (if you are a black sheep) or those survivors in your family whom you consider black sheep.

1. Black sheep are heroic cycle breakers

Trauma survivors who do anything to deviate from their established dysfunctional family dynamics are breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma. They refuse to pass down their family trauma to those that they love. For example, a family that enables an abuser may find that a black sheep refuses to do so and even teaches their children not to tolerate abuse from this person, thus breaking the cycle of trauma. It’s not easy to go against an established family dynamic, no matter how abusive it is, as it’s all black sheep have ever known. It takes courage, persistence, and a great deal of personal growth.

2. Black sheep courageously resist genetic relational entitlement

Relational entitlement is the subjective perception that one is owed a relationship with someone who is a genetic relation. A family member who believes that they have a right to have any relationship with you simply because they share your genetic makeup is expressing genetic relational entitlement. Culture, religion, environment, gender, attachment, and many other factors impact one’s sense of genetic entitlement. Trauma survivors whose offender is a family member and are labeled as black sheep must, at times, resist genetic relational entitlement to support their safety or quality of life. They must choose their survival and happiness over the comfort of their family members. Black sheep challenges society’s perception that their relationships with genetic family members are more important than their well-being. Unfortunately, when they choose for themselves over their abusive family, they are often called “selfish.” It takes courage to resist the pressures of society and family, and black sheep tend to be the most courageous members of their family.

3. Black sheep embrace their chosen family

Chosen families consist of people you choose to be members of your primary support system. The term chosen family can refer to genetic relatives or those not genetically related, such as friends, colleagues, neighbors, community members, and even animals. Trauma survivors whose offenders are genetically related and are labeled as black sheep are often more able to embrace their chosen family, as this family better meets their needs. Those who are not black sheep might struggle to expand their support system to include those outside their family system, whereas black sheep often have no choice. The ability to embrace their chosen families is a strength of black sheep, as chosen families can provide abundant love and support.

4. Black sheep are resilient

Resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”[i] Trauma survivors who are black sheep are often the most resilient members of their families. For example, I worked with a family with three middle-aged adult children who lived in the home and were entirely supported by their parents with no intention of gaining employment or living their own lives. Only one child, The black sheep, who was the child that multiple family members abused while their siblings were protected, left home, and is now thriving in their career and relationships. In contrast, their siblings are still stuck in their dysfunctional family dynamics. The resiliency of black sheep is often unmatched by other family members.

Trauma survivors who are black sheep are resilient, courageous, admirable cycle-breakers who deserve respect. If you are a black sheep, celebrate yourself. If you know someone who is a black sheep, take a moment to tell them that you recognize their qualities and value.

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American Psychological Association, “Building your resilience,” January 1, 2012 Retrieved from

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