When you feel different

As a counsellor, I often heard how clients felt like outsiders looking at everyone inside enjoying themselves. This can happen even if you’re part of a big family and not necessarily just because you live alone.

There was a lot of sadness in clients’ voices when they talk about this and it often originated from an experience that started in childhood when they felt differently from brothers, sisters and their parents. Because they felt they didn’t belong in their families, it felt as if they don’t belong anywhere.

Families can say things like “he’s always been the black sheep of the family” which makes the young child feel even worse, even though this is sometimes said with a touch of pride because the child is independent, has different interests from the others or is fair haired and slightly built when everyone else is dark haired with a heavier body frame. It can work out to be a ‘script’ and in counselling this is sometimes called ‘a script with a curse’ because the child grows up fitting into this label. If they do something that doesn’t fit in with the family, it’s remarked upon which consolidates the idea that they are indeed a ‘black sheep’ but if they do things that fit in with the family, this isn’t remarked upon.

Sometimes a particular child resembles someone from a parent’s past and it can be someone they resented. The anger and resentment felt can then be directed towards the child. Likewise, if a child is born when the parents’ marriage was going through a rough time, the child can be a living reminder of that bad patch and the child is subconsciously blamed for this. This shows how childhood experiences can affect us throughout our lives with the ‘black sheep’ subconsciously seeking out situations which reinforce them feeling different from others.

The emotional cost can be deep sadness and a feeling of loneliness and is why many people feel happier belonging to a group – it’s partly about the power of being in a ‘tribe’ and having something in common, whether this is a team sport, singing in a choir or being part of a walking group. Even when clients belong to such ‘tribes’, they can still feel like outsiders and this is where counselling can help so much by exploring the grief experienced as a mall child and allowing the client to re-shape that, leading to a more rewarding life in the present and future.

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