Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.
It all started out innocently enough, this being different thing.
It started when I was a little kid (forgive the goat-pun).
A kid who loved nursery rhymes. And animals.
Apparently, I was obnoxious and stubbornly independent from a very young age. From birth, actually.
My poor mother had to have a C-section to get me out, after trying valiantly to have me enter this world the old-fashioned ‘normal’ way. So valiantly, that by the time the C-section was a no-brainer, it was well and truly an emergency.
I came out, feisty, annoyed and ready to go. And go I did — I cried and cried and cried.
In fact, legend has it I cried so much, the first time I laughed I scared myself and started crying again.
By age two, I wanted to walk to the corner store by myself. Insisted on it. My mother let me (but called the store owner ahead just to give a heads up).
There are a lot more stories, but suffice it to say I’ve always been a little different.
Innocently, naively, different.
Sadly, as I’ve come to realize throughout my lifetime, different is often interpreted as bad. Especially if it doesn’t fit into some ‘norm’ or ‘expectation’ by our family, group or society at large.
As a teen, I really struggled with the idea of being different. Mostly, I hated it and would have done anything to completely ‘fit in’ (which, as it turns out, is totally normal desire for a teen).
Now as a mom myself, I like to think each of my children are different and unique in many ways. Most moms feel similarly about their own kids.
We’ve all heard the proud parents exclaim “Sally is just the best at doing cartwheels” “Frank can sing all the words to the Sound of Music” and “Becky is ah-mazing at frosting cakes.”
(I have been one of those parents, and I’m not one bit sorry).
Some parents hit the proud-parent-bragging-rights jackpot and have a son who is the Highschool football team quarterback, or the daughter who was accepted early into Harvard on the basis of her thesis about fly-spawn.
But let’s be honest. By the time our kids are teens, most of us are left with this half-hearted supporting role to our childs path in life — guiding them somewhere between ‘be the best YOU you can be’ and ‘just please don’t be like that Johnny down the road who tortures animals.’
And feeling somewhat frustrated by their self-appointed uniform of dark hoodies and oversized sweats.
(Or that could just be me).
The point is, I see the desire to ‘fit in’ in my own teen girls, and now I can completely empathize with my own inner-child teen self.
Wanting to ‘fit in’ was totally normal. Is totally normal.
Nobody wants to be singled out, different, or ostracized.
Nobody sets out wanting to be a Black Sheep.
Black Sheep = Baa-d.
(Sorry. Not sorry.)
Which brings me back to the point of todays story.
Which is I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider.
Which, unsurprisingly, turned up as ‘theme’ with clients in my work as a therapist and later as a coach.
Which led to what seems to be a mini Universal Truth: essentially, we humans just want to ‘fit in’ and be accepted.
Or simply, ‘Be Normal’.
(Whatever that means).
And definitely, definitely not a Black Sheep.
So, how does one become a ‘Black Sheep’, anyway? And what IS a Black Sheep (other than a cute, woolly, rare-ish critter that bleats and baas and gives away its wool)?
According to dictionary.com,
a black sheep is defined as
‘a person who causes shame or embarrassment
because of deviation from the accepted
standards of his or her group.’
Of course, it’s important to know the phrase originates from the rare little black-wooled sheep being outcast because their wool was harder to dye… which made them less desirable.
Black Sheep = Ostracized, Outcast. Baa-d.
I’ve been there. It’s not fun.
But labels are catchy.
Labels — like diagnoses — are tangible, and help us simplify what is otherwise complicated. They seem to ‘explain’ patterns of behavior (even if they don’t explain anything at all).
We love to assume labels, or give them out like they’re candy (or free bags of wool).
Popular labels we are quick to give or adopt include:
- Empath/Highly Sensitive
- Whiner (and not the kind I like to drink by the glass)
- Black Sheep
… to name a few.
Now, just because you feel a resonance with one or more of these does NOT mean you need to purchase the associated crown and wear it everywhere you go — even if it comes with a ‘ Responsibility Discount Card’ (RDC) as a gift with purchase.
Because taking on any ‘label’ means that we give it power.
Now, the RDC is often the main ‘perk’ of these labels, and is the reason we keep wearing the crown, even when it gets heavy and leaves us with a big headache. This is the one that allows us to feel vindicated and validated (while disguising the fact that we are victims of and powerless to our chosen title).
“Oh, I know why I’ve had such a hard time having relationships. I’m a ____________”
“It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship because I’m a __________”
“People always take advantage of people like me: It’s so hard being ________________.”
“________________ are always left out: there’s no point even trying.”
“I’ve been abandoned by people just because I’m _____________”
But there’s a twist.
We tend to GIVE THOSE TITLES AWAY FOR FREE TO THE PEOPLE WE KNOW AND SAY WE LIKE AND EVEN LOVE.
Why would we do that?
Because, silly… if the other person has the title, THEY are responsible for all of your yucky feelings, see?
No matter what, the responsibility lies with someone else. Somewhere else.
Anywhere but here. In this body. With me.
Which is why, as Black Sheep, we’re so eager to hand out those bags of wool. (Get the yuck away from me so I don’t have to deal with it anymore).
Myself, I quite enjoyed wearing my crown for a while. I wore it at different angles, with different hairstyles. Sometimes I wore several at once, until I realized that the weight of carrying them was causing me curvature of the spine.
I also loved giving away free wool. Felt super generous, really.
But what have I really learned about what being a Black Sheep means?
Well, other than it being a lot of B.S. (get it?), having the title of Black Sheep means exactly what you decide it means.
If you’re not sure what your label means for you, ask yourself this:
Is your black wool a (rare) gift that you’ve come to appreciate, or simply negativity you’re eager to give away?
For myself, #tuesdaystale is one of the ways I choose to share my wool (which I now appreciate as rare cashmere — soft + warm, but not for everyone).
I’d so love to know how you’ve chosen to share yours.
In the meantime, stay woolly!
I’m so appreciative of your comments, feedback and desire to share any of my real-life stories. Afterall, we’re all in this crazy thing called life together!
Originally published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on March 9, 2021.