Our families of origin provide us the framework through which we see the world.  As we’re growing up we accept it in the same way the ancient Greeks accepted the Gods as the motivators behind all things from luck to the seasons to the weather.  Our family are the gods that inhabit our world and at times their actions and motivations are just as mysterious and arbitrary.  In our teens and 20’s we not only strive for liberty and personal freedom and integrity, but also to come to the realization that our family are not gods.  It’s as if we go out on a journey like Odysseus and finally arrive at the realization that no only can you not go home again, but home was never what you thought it was.  The gods are actually human and the flaws that you explained away are actually flaws.  The world stands on its head and now you’re responsible for making sense of it.

Many people go through this experience thinking there is something fundamentally wrong with them.  All families are a functioning (or dysfunctioning) system which wants everyone to fit in and everyone to have a place, even if that place is to be the scape goat.  This is one reason for the middle child syndrome, the black sheep that seems to crop up in every family, the labels that members acquire such as artsy, intelligent, pragmatic, athletic, dumb, lazy, motivated, gifted….At times each member may be one or more of those, but only one person in the family can have that label and so anyone else displaying these traits is derided, forced to conform, ignored until they perform within their labeled sphere and then praised.  So if a person doesn’t fit in with the family, they are made, consciously or unconsciously, to feel that they are odd, they are broken, they are outside, they need to remedy their misbehavior.

ugly ducklingBut what if there is nothing broken?  What if there is nothing wrong with this person and nothing wrong with the family?  What if the person is a swan living in a family of ducks?  There is nothing wrong with ducks, nor are swans more amazing.  Although the story, told to bolster self-esteem, makes the swans the hero, in reality swans are like geese in that they are large, many times aggressive and can sledge hammer those beaks into a leg with stunning force as well as grab ahold of large amounts of skin in a pinch maneuver after which they twist.  So, for fairness sake, let’s remember that beauty is as beauty does and beauty has poops twice as large as it’s smaller cousins so watch where you step on that walk around the lake.

But if you’re a swan growing up in a duck family, or if you’re a duck growing up in a swan family, the problem isn’t that you’re broken, and it’s not necessarily a flaw in the family, although families should be able to nurture a child even if they aren’t from the same exact species.  On the flip side, once you realize that you’re a swan/duck, you can let go of that need to conform and the need to make your family into something they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter how nice they are, how sincere, how much they care, you aren’t going to be like them and trying to be is furthering the negative treatment you’ve suffered with all your life.  Release yourself from the torment.  Let go.  Yes, they need you to behave in a certain way, but at the point you are an adult, their wishes are no longer primary.  The best thing you can do for them as well as yourself, is say no.  Create a boundary that says I’m no longer going to pretend to be something I’m not.  Feathers will get ruffled and there will be honking and hubbub along the way, but you’ll be free to soar on your own two wings.

Go find your new family, the family that is like you.  And if you can’t find them, honk loud and proud so they can find you.