Not Too Odd, But Still The Odd One Out
February 12, 2012 10:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle feeling like the odd one out in the family? How did you handle feeling like the odd one out in the family? If you weren't the odd one out then how did you handle dealing with the family member that was the odd one out?

For some context...

I've always felt like an outcast despite having a large immediate and extended family. I felt this way because what I wanted for myself was completely different than what my family wanted for me. I never really understood how to deal with this except to do what was best for me. When it comes to individualism versus collectivism, I lean much more towards the individualism way of life meanwhile my family (both immediate and extended) lean towards the latter.

My siblings are 30, 27, and 19 and still live with my parents. My extended family on my mom's side live in the same city as my immediate family. They are all very close and have tight knit relationships. But, I don't understand them and I really don't think they understand me. This is how it's been for several years now. I have always felt this way even when I lived with my family. We still love each other, but we don't know how to handle each other's differences especially since I don't fit into their expectations and I feel confined when I think about their expectations.

I cannot change who they are nor would I want to do so, but I also don't want to change myself. Don't get me wrong, there's always room for improvement but I don't want to live a life that's similar to theirs not because it's bad, but because I would end up in a very bad place emotionally if I did that. This is making it increasingly difficult to have relationships with my family because I am the odd one out. I never felt like I fit into my family's puzzle piece. There's a lot of miscommunication from both sides largely because there is so much tension and we have opposing perspectives.

A lot of hurtful words have been said by certain family members. Boundaries weren't respected and so I distanced myself and stopped talking to certain family members because it wasn't good for my mental health (my therapist agrees that this was a smart decision).

And now, my relationships with most family members are either pretty much non-existent or on bad terms. This is because they don't agree with me for not talking to certain family members.

I really don't think anyone is happy with this current situation. I also don't think they are happy with me being so different and much different than what they assumed. But, I just can't change who I am and I can't force myself to do things a certain way in order to make everyone else happy. Plus, I like who I am and I'm far from perfect, but I'm a good person and I feel very good about providing for myself and having the strength to do certain things even though they deviate from others expectations.

...

So my questions are: How do I handle feeling like the odd one out in the family? How did you handle feeling like the odd one out in the family? If you weren't the odd one out then how did you handle dealing with the family member that was the odd one out?
posted by livinglearning to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I followed my/your therapist's advice and I distanced myself. Sure, in their own way your family might be great, but they are not great *to you* and it's not healthy to have boundaries broken and experience disrespect from anyone - family, partners, friends. I know how you feel - the 'child' never gives up seeking out connection with her family.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:53 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I moved away, far away from my family because I have always been the odd one out. Pursue your happiness because you're the one who has to live in your skin. Or, as someone once said (paraphrasing), Those that matter, won't mind and those that mind, don't matter.

Sometimes it does suck because I don't hate my family, we just exist in very different worlds (and I still bear quite a bit of resentment for some of the shit that went down back when I did live with them).
posted by fenriq at 11:50 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to live a life that's similar to theirs not because it's bad, but because I would end up in a very bad place emotionally if I did that.

This is a very important realization, and it's great that you're able to recognize it.

Boundaries weren't respected and so I distanced myself and stopped talking to certain family members because it wasn't good for my mental health (my therapist agrees that this was a smart decision).

Seconding honey-barbara – this too is good advice. One of the bittersweet gifts of being different is that you learn how differences really are just differences, and not a reason for insults, value judgements or other destructive behaviors.

And now, my relationships with most family members are either pretty much non-existent or on bad terms. This is because they don't agree with me for not talking to certain family members.

This is how it's gone for me too.

I've handled it by trying to keep in touch with those who reciprocate with mutual respectfulness, and dropping it with those who cross boundaries repeatedly and without apology. It's not easy, but I am so much happier now than I was when I tried to contort myself into family's vision of what "respectfulness" meant. It meant never disagreeing with them, or having my own life – this is something that therapy has made very clear, as my therapist keeps track of just how many things my family has tried to sabotage, and how all of them were, essentially, me simply being myself. Worse, it sometimes even meant them sabotaging shared activities, simply because they didn't want me to be happy. (My therapist points out that they had very immature behaviors all around, and displayed a lot of jealousy, so those were also factors.)

You've got the foundation for getting there. Respect what fulfills you in life, and hold tight to that gift of appreciating others' differences. Life does get better, even though yes, like other posters, you do always carry around that sorrow at the non-reciprocation from family.
posted by fraula at 11:58 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do I handle feeling like the odd one out in the family?

Give them what they haven't given to you: the gift of being themselves. Let them be themselves. But also, let you be your own self, whether they support you or not. Maybe someday they will.


How did you handle feeling like the odd one out in the family?

When I was younger, I didn't know what was going on. I experienced a lot of criticism and bullying from my parents and all of my siblings (male & female!) about how sensitive and/or different I was.

"Why are you so sensitive!"
"You're a cry baby!"
"Studying ____ won't get you anywhere!"
"You're not as smart as your younger sister!"
"You're dramatic!"

Over the years, I did "become more rational" and was able to hold my own in "debates" -- if conflating universal "facts" with subjective experiences while dismissing my values can be called debates. I also found that I became highly sarcastic and mean. When I was able to "be myself" with friends throughout middle school, high school, and college, I found that I was corny, gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, daydreamy, curious about people, and wanted to serve anyone in need.

I tried really hard to live up to my parents and siblings' expectations. How did that turn out? I got a job, and did the good-daughter thing by living at home and gave my parents all my money. I tried to study what they thought was best and dropped a lot of classes I couldn't do well in. When I achieved something, they bragged about me. When I failed at something, it was all my fault.

After 20 years of ...this... I have been in and out of therapy. I've got it all: PTSD, borderline, anxiety attacks, depression, and dysthymia (which makes for double-depression!).

On the outside, strangers and friends see a lot of achievement at fancy institutions. I've been told that my intelligence and rationality are intimidating. I do well in public speaking. But they don't know about how poorly I did at work, or how many days of work I've missed when the anxiety and depression kicked in.

For the first time in my life, I'm not working. Luckily, I have my husband who loves me like I have never been loved before. Recently, I moved thousands of miles away from my family and have only started becoming serious about treatment. With the little bits of improvement I feel now, I really wish I had moved away when I was 18. I wish I had told my siblings that I was sorry they didn't get a more rational sibling. To some extent, I wish I hadn't become to rational and entered a field where I felt lifeless. I remember a time when I felt a lot of life, energy, and power doing art.

Those are the things I wish I did to cope with being the odd one out: continuing to be myself and choosing only to be around people who could respect that.


If you weren't the odd one out then how did you handle dealing with the family member that was the odd one out?

I keep in touch with one sibling, who respects our differences. She has told me that she wished she could have been more in touch with her feelings like me when we were younger. She also wish she had stood up for me.
posted by mild deer at 2:45 AM on February 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


OP: the biggest issue for me was to deal with society's pressure and condemnation. Social protocol dictates that "you should love and care about your family no matter what", and in my case (and likely yours too) that does not make any sense.

At some point you get the luxury to meet and make friends with people who do not care about that too much and value you for who you are and not where your genes come from. When that happens, hang on to these friends as they will give you a strong sense of social validation.

Further the other issue to deal with is how to explain your non-existent relationship to new friends or partners. I am myself at a loss about this, and your post encouraged me to post another question in that direction.

In any case, congratulations for being yourself beyond, or despite your genetic relatives!
posted by knz at 3:56 AM on February 13, 2012


My family did this, but they were nice about it; never any overt criticism or attacks, but a subtle sense that....well, have you ever met anyone at a party and you got the sense that they just didn't get you? They didn't think you were a bad person, they just didn't get you? My family doesn't get me.

Finding my own family of friends has helped me a lot; I love my brother in a familial sense, and i want to be part of his kids' lives, but the guy who FEELS like my brother is a guy I met in 2001; I trust him and go to him WAY sooner than I would consider going to my actual brother (and, in fact, I made an emergency late-night phone call to him once for consolation after a Christmas eve blowup with my real brother).

It's sad, and I've grieved for it. But -- surrounding myself with this chosen family has given me the strength to start making tiny, tiny inroads with my actual family. I'm cordial to my actual family, but the way I treat them is a lot more like how you'd treat people at a cocktail party; and then it's my friends that I go home to and let my hair down around. I became more strong in my sense of self with the help of my friends, who accepted me as I was; and it became easier to hang on to that sense of self when I dealt with my birth family. And the more secure in my sense of who I was when they saw me, the less they got to me, and the more they gradually started to accept who I actually was. They still don't get me, but at least I sense that they've stopped trying to sort me into a box they WILL get, and are slowly starting to figure out what they would need to know in order TO get me.

Your birth family is one thing -- your friends are your tribe. Find your tribe and hang out with them, and then you will be stronger in dealing with your family. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:50 AM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


well, have you ever met anyone at a party and you got the sense that they just didn't get you? They didn't think you were a bad person, they just didn't get you?

Imagine that your family isn't yours. They're your best friend's family--folks that don't get you for their own reasons, whom you treat decently and politely for the sake of your best friend, but in whom you have no immediate emotional investment. It's an architecture of politeness, with no expectations beyond mutual manners. Readjusting your expectations and letting go of the need for a "click" doesn't make you a bad person, and (if you can do it) increased polite-and-neutral contact may decrease the bad feeling on their side. It's a tough go. Good luck, livinglearning.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:07 AM on February 13, 2012


How did you handle feeling like the odd one out in the family?

I moved very far away and mostly reduced contact to an occasional phone call. Not so much to evade them as to pursue things, people, places and life choices congruent with who I am.

In retrospect, the distance has been very healthy for me, and staying near to them would have been a disaster for me. They mean well -- and I generally mean them well too -- but it doesn't matter. We're just too different.
posted by ead at 9:31 AM on February 13, 2012


Well, one side of the family dropped me like a hot potato and the other one politely puts up with me at designated family holidays and otherwise we have no contact. I don't know if they'd even invite me if my mom wasn't around (my dad no longer being around is why the other side dropped me). But yeah, I am Not Their Kind, Dear and always have been.

What it really boils down to is that you distance yourself and limit or get rid of contact with them, as best you can. They probably won't miss you and you'll be happier. And to some degree, you just have to accept that you're the duckling in with the swans or whatever. You can't become what they want, so... find another pond.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:30 AM on February 13, 2012


My sister is the odd one out in my family. To be honest, I wasn't particularly nice about it either. For a long time, when we were younger, I insisted she was adopted or switched at birth because we were so different. Up until I read your post, I didn't really realize the extent that my family excludes her from things. We don't do it on purpose but sometimes it just happens.

My brother, mother and I have similar goals, hobbies, ideas and personalities. We're loud and she's quiet, so a lot of the times, she gets lost and ignored. My mom makes up for it by excusing her from things. I'm not sure if it's helping or making it worse. For instance, my brother and I are louder, faster and as a result, my mom thinks we're smarter. Hence, she excuses my sister from the academic expectations she sets for us. She does this with a lot of other things.

It's kind of the attitude that we all adopted. It's our way of embracing her differences. We point out differences a lot and at times, we get frustrated with my sister for her approach to things because we don't understand her at all, but we wouldn't ever want her to become something she isn't. She doesn't get judgement for her decisions and choices. She does get met with a lot of confused looks and misunderstanding, but we trust her to make her own decisions and beliefs. I don't know - are we doing this wrong? I'd hate to drive her away because I do love her.

It helps also that my parents are divorced. My sister relates to my father a lot more than the rest of us, and it helps that there's this fracture because I think she feels like she's got another outsider to relate to. Do you have a relative like that? I think it helps!
posted by cyml at 2:11 PM on February 14, 2012


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