Sandra was considered the black sheep of the family. She worked in national parks, farmed, and was a stay-at-home mom while her siblings were lawyers and corporate managers. Family reunions consisted of golf games and spa appointments, which didn’t interest Sandra, so she rarely attended. She and her family preferred to use their precious vacation time together doing outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and rafting.
Over the years Sandra experienced the normal emotional progression of a black sheep. As a child and teen, she struggled with sadness because she “wasn’t like everyone else” in her family. Her siblings and cousins excelled at sports and extracurricular activities, while she spent time alone in the woods. Over time her sadness shifted into depression, but fortunately a neighbor noticed her interest in nature and began to have Sandra over for tea to discuss local birds, plants, and animals which helped Sandra feel seen and appreciated.
In college and her early 20’s Sandra began to discover herself and stopped wanting to have much to do with her family. She didn’t go home for the holidays, became a vegan, and started leading rock climbing expeditions on her breaks from work.
Her 30s brought marriage and babies, and her husband suggested it might be a good time to reconnect with her family.
Initially, Sandra was treated like the prodigal daughter by family members, but soon she realized it was the same old system. If she and her family expressed opinions or ideas different from everyone else, they were hushed, ignored, or ridiculed. Even their attempts to fit in led others to make it clear they “weren’t doing enough.”
Sandra came in for counseling because, just like when she was a child, she began feeling sad and depressed.
With help from her therapist, Sandra began working on the final step in her healing—accepting the reality of the situation and letting go. The family she grew up in had certain values and behavioral patterns which did not blend with or compliment those of Sandra and her own family, they were simply too different.
For Sandra to move forward in her life she needed to let go, stop seeking her extended family’s approval, accept the differences between them, and negotiate a healthy amount of contact. Sandra discovered some cousins that loved camping and began to schedule regular camping trips with them but contact with the rest of her extended family was very minimal (she and her husband attended part of the family reunions every 5 years).
There are many healthy ways to relate to one’s family of origin, and different circumstances require different choices.
The case studies on this website are fictionalized accounts based on real situations and people we’ve been honored to work with at Peak to Peak Counseling over the years.