Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in?
During a recent interview, I casually mentioned that growing up, I often didn’t feel like I belonged in my family. The interviewer immediately identified with what I said and shared that she had experienced similar feelings in her family as she was growing up.
It’s pretty common to remember the times you felt out of sync with your family more clearly than all the times you felt connected and loved. Our brains naturally put more emphasis on negative impressions. So, feeling as if you didn’t belong in your family as a child is actually more common than one would think.
In our research and work with Perceptual Style, we’ve discovered that the feeling of not fitting in and feeling like a “black sheep” is often due to Perceptual Style differences between parents and children.
Even with lots of love and care, it sometimes happens that a child’s natural strengths are discouraged in preference for the natural strengths of the parent.
With the best intentions to help their child navigate the world and prepare them for the best possible life, parents can promote their way of doing things as “the right way” without considering that their child may have different skills and strengths.
In my case, my Perceptual Style is Activity, and as a small boy, I had the buoyant energy, natural curiosity, and sense of adventure that is common to the Activity Perceptual Style. But these natural skills and talents were ones my parents viewed as detrimental to my long-term success in life.
My parents’ Perceptual Styles were Methods and Adjustments. My natural wit and sense of humor, bouncy energy, curiosity, and need to experience things were, to my parents, superfluous or even detrimental to their plan for me. So, they reined in their wayward child with the same seriousness, intentionality, and thoroughness with which they did everything in life.
My parents were doing what they knew worked for them and what they felt was in my best interests. And we had a loving family. But I often felt like I didn’t quite fit in. I was my serious, studious self at home and my energetic, curious, adventurous, and sometimes rebellious self with my friends.
This type of experience is one of the ways we all develop acquired skills. Acquired skills are skills that are not aligned with your Perceptual Style but are necessary in your life for a variety of reasons – for example there’s no one else to do them, you were taught you had to do them, or your job required them.
Natural Skills are the opposite of acquired skills. Natural skills are aligned with your Perceptual Style and flow naturally for you. You have an extensive set of skills and behaviors that are natural for you because of how you see and make meaning of the world.
One easy way to tell a natural skill from an acquired skill is that with natural skills, you derive joy, satisfaction, confidence, etc., from doing them. It just feels good to perform them, and you look forward to and seek opportunities to do so!
Acquired skills often feel like hard work, and the positive feelings they bring come not from doing them but from getting through them. You look forward, not to performing them, but to finishing them. The satisfaction is in the completion, not the performance. In fact, acquired skills can often feel like hard work.
As children, our parents have a lot of influence on both our natural and acquired skill development.
If they encourage you to develop skills that are natural for you (and perhaps very different from their own), they are giving you “permission” to be you.
If, on the other hand, they encourage you to develop skills that are natural for them but not for you, they are “promoting” acquired skill development.
Imagine you are a small child just beginning to explore the world around you. You discover that there are some things you really like to do, such as dance, and others that are a lot less enjoyable, such as drawing.
You discover that when you dance, your parents praise and support you. What they have done is give you permission to explore your natural skill. If, on the other hand, they discourage your dancing and insist that you draw, then that is promotion – you are being pushed into something you have not actively chosen for yourself and is likely going to be an acquired skill for you.
Our research shows that feeling like you don’t belong in your family can result from a strong imbalance in the skills you have developed with promotion versus permission. An imbalance dominated by promoted skills often creates feelings of alienation and being a misfit.
My parents gave few of my Activity natural skill potentials “permission”, while many of the skill potentials that belong to Adjustments and Methods were promoted. No child can afford to express or develop skills that their parents do not permit or reward, and I was no exception!
Suppressed natural skills and behaviors don’t disappear, they just go underground. They lie dormant, and their presence can cause guilt. Children will behave in ways for which they are rewarded. If there is a disconnect between the behavior that is rewarded and the natural skill potentials of their Perceptual Style, they will feel the internal tension of the contradiction.
Feeling like you don’t belong in your family is not the only issue that arises from having an overabundance of promoted skills. While that can cause anxiety and feelings of frustration and alienation, trying to build a career based on acquired rather than natural skills can lead to being very unhappy at work, and it is all too common.
Learning about and incorporating your strengths into your actions is a powerful and rewarding experience. It creates a solid foundation for you to take action, understand your true value, and gain perspective about things you think are your weaknesses or challenges.
Recognizing your strengths can also help you discover those skills that you have acquired through necessity (you had to learn how to do it because something needed to get done and you were the only one to do it), promotion (you were told you needed to develop the skill by someone in authority, such as a parent, teacher, or employer), or admiration (you admired someone else’s ability to perform the skill and decided you want to learn how to do it too).
So, if you have ever felt that you didn’t belong in your family or found your career unsatisfying, maybe you never received permission for your natural skill potential. Maybe what you learned to do well is the promotion of acquired skills. Once you discover the difference, it’s not that difficult to tap into your natural strengths to help you find balance and joy.
Even if you have never experienced a feeling of not belonging or a lack of job satisfaction, discovering which of your skills are natural and which are acquired can add greater depth and meaning to your life and increase your sense of inherent value. Let us help you discover yourself and what you do best!
Until next time – celebrate who you are and laugh a little each day!
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To find out more about the services we have available to help you find the success you want and deserve go to https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.
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About Dr. Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D.
Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 35 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley. He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents. For more information, visit https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.
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