Help! I’ve Been Pigeonholed!

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I think that being pigeonholed is one of those things that people universally agree sucks. No one likes being cast into a one-dimensional role (except that one terrible actress amiright?). We strain against the boxes people put us into, we push and pull until we prove that box was never big enough for us in the first place. But what if the people putting you in that box are the people who know you best? The people who love you the most? What if the people pigeonholing you are your family?

Well, speaking from personal experience, it TOTALLY SUCKS. Because at least when strangers pigeonhole me, I can attribute that to not knowing me very well. But my family, my family knows me really well. Which actually might be part of the problem. You see, in my family, I’m pigeonholed as the “emotional/dramatic” one. And I’m pretty sure that like 97% of that classification comes from when I was a pre-teen and yes, intensely and overly emotional. Because of HORMONES y’all. That shit will fuck with you majorly and also being a pre-teen girl is also hard as hell. So yeah, I was emotional. And then I grew up, into an adult and though I still cry at sad movies or during Budweiser commercials (seriously, his horse ran to him…so sweet) I’m in no way defined by my emotions. They no longer dictate my choices and reactions to life. Because, you know, I’m not 13 anymore. I’m 27 going on 28 and I’m married and planning for a family and actually, not particularly dramatic or emotional. In fact, most of my friends would probably classify me as “laid-back” and “chill” because I sort of am. I can take life’s punches and ball-kicks and handle them without public tears and tantrums. I’ve been knocked down loads and have picked myself up after each time. Because I’m strong.

But regardless of everything I just said, regardless of how logical my reasoning is for being a ball of intense emotions at 13 (Again, hormones…) my family still thinks of me as the “emotional” one. Anytime I disagree with them or question the things they’re doing/saying then I’m the one being “emotional” or “dramatic”. No matter how much sense my arguments or statements make, they are eternally dismissed as “emotional”. I can say with a completely tear-free face and steady voice “I think you’re wrong.”  and invariably the response is “You’re just being sensitive. You’re so emotional.”

Now tell me, how do you respond to that? How do you bust the hell out of that pigeonhole, when the people putting you into it know you so well but only remember this tiny part of you that is long gone? Because at this point, short of becoming a robot, I’m not sure how to  free myself from this pigeonhole.

Have any of you, dear readers, been pigeonholed by people close to you? How do you handle it?

– Mae

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29 thoughts on “Help! I’ve Been Pigeonholed!

  1. I got the “emotional/dramatic” pigeonhole myself, so I feel your pain! What I ended up doing was turning it back on my family and basically saying, “Oh, you think I’m emotional NOW? Keep pissing me off by not considering my argument. See where that gets you.” It took a shouting match or two, but at least they know now that I mean business.

    Ironically, at least two of my close friends/roommates pigeonholed me as “cold and distant” because I would shut down during arguments with them. Man, is that whole business a long story; the sum of it is, they would sit on grievances for a while and then hit me with them all at once, at which point I would close off to keep from saying things in anger that I didn’t mean. Which, of course, made them mad. Despite how I tried to explain, THEY needed ME to talk it out RIGHT THERE AND THEN, otherwise I obviously didn’t care and thought my life was more important yada yada yada.

    As for how to handle that? Well, I didn’t. I worked it out with one of them, but the other…we just had different styles of communication and she couldn’t wrap her head around mine, among other issues.

    So…good luck with your family! 😀

    • Thanks for you comment! It’s really helpful to hear from other people who are dealing with the same thing- it seems like this is pretty common amongst families.

  2. I have that same problem with my family! They think that I can’t keep a secret because I always told them.. at like four years old. I am great at keeping secrets, yet they still always say “Don’t tell anyone Kate” every time! I’d say the best thing to do about being pigeonholed is to know yourself and know that you aren’t in that box. Because we can’t always change people, especially our families.

  3. I too feel as though my family believes I’m the same person I was at sixteen. I once said this to them and my step-mother said, “We treat you like an adult.” I pointed out what I had said was the person who I was not that I felt like I was being treated like a child, and all I got was a bunch of puzzled expressions.

    I don’t know that any discussion on the subject has helped matters or un pigeon-holed me. I think just living my life in the manner in who I am now has helped, some. In the end we are only responsible for our own behaviors and perceptions. . . . Not that I can go to any kind of family gathering without some anxiety still knotting my stomachs. Because that is also who I am now, some one who has anxiety over things they ultimately can’t change. Then it’s like that moment actors must have when they play themselves and are like, But who am I really?

    This is probably not helpful. . . . Sorry. 🙂

    • Your comment was helpful! Thanks- you made some really good point and I think it does probably come down to just knowing ourselves really really well.

    • I feel like I can empathize with both Mae and Jami Zehr, my family…er step-family, seems to have me pigeon holed at 16 as well. I have been an adult for a long time, and I have taken care of myself for longer than that, but they continue to dredge up feelings from the past and cast them onto out current situations. This is the second time in two months that my step mother has pulled some shit reminiscent of my youth, and I decided that I can’t deal anymore. If they want to come around they will, but it’s not worth all of my stress and anxiety cause by the old feelings. Blegh. Hope all is well, you gotta look out for yourself lady, and don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks! Happy Happy!!

  4. Here’s the one I get: the kid. Because I was the youngest in my family growing up, my extended family still treats me like I’m 9 years old even though I’ll be 23 in June. It’s totally annoying. Yes! I can drink and swear freely now! Remain calm!

  5. I’m not a great fan of being pigeonholed either. My family (well, ok, my mother) is always telling me I take things too seriously. I don’t think I do. I have a very dry and slightly sarcastic sense of humour, so I’m probably a bit deadpan sometimes. But nothing I say or do can convince her otherwise. I’ve learned/am learning to just let it all go. People think what they want to think, they will accept you for who are now or they won’t. It’s a little frustrating sometimes but I think worrying/thinking/being angry or upset about how other people percieve us – those closest to us – is a negative thing for us to do to ourselves. We end up wound up or stressed and I mean, do we really need to create thatkind of energy for ourselves?

  6. I’m the youngest in my family so when I try and get involved in some sort of discussion or voice my opinion on something, I get dismissed because they think I don’t know what I’m talking about being the young one. Despite the fact that I am 27 and have a master’s degree (something that no one in my family including aunts and uncles have). I actually consider my opinion to be a bit better rounded because most of them haven’t traveled outside our hometown or know much about world views which is something I at least know something about. Now I’m not saying this is a good idea but obviously no one likes being pigeonholed, what if you were to do the same to them? Granted it might not help at all but it might help them to see that people are not always who you label them to be. That or wow their minds somehow.

    • I feel ya sister! This can be really frustrating. I think I’m just going to try and let my actions speak for themselves. At the end of the day, that’s what is going to be the most persuasive argument…probably.

  7. You think being pigeon-holed as being the smart one/ the one who reads would be a good thing, but it has its down-falls as well, because you can’t act stupid around certain members of your family and usually the family members expect you to agree with them. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut many a time. However, in my immediate family, I would be the “emotional one”, which leads to most of my opinions not being taken seriously.

    • I know what you mean! People tend to dismiss me when I say I don’t like being pigeonholed as “the smart one” and “the one who can achieve anything”, but it really does bother me. When I was younger I thought good grades would get me into an elite university and then into an elite Master’s programme, say at Cambridge or Columbia or Harvard. And the grades I’ve gotten as an undergrad probably would do that – but the thing is, I don’t want that anymore. I’m bookish, yes, but I’m also creative and I love to apply what I’ve learned, and I really don’t want to keep studying. I want to get a fun and creative job after graduation and I get a lot of that type of feedback along the lines of “you’re wasting your talent not getting a Master’s degree and/or not pursuing a career as a consultant or something and earning lots of money”.
      I feel like people, especially those that have known me since I was young (and admittedly, a lot more bookish and quiet), don’t see that wild, funky, creative side of me at all, and they judge me for not wanting what they think I should want.

      I’ve also gotten this stamp of the “overemotional” one who can’t really take care of herself – it was during a time when I got myself into a really toxic relationship – but I got out of it with my friends’ help and I’ve since really become a lot smarter around relationships. I’m emotional, but no longer naive, and I feel that my friends don’t quite believe me yet. They still watch my relationships very critically, and that also bothers me sometimes. I know it’s protectiveness but I’m not that person anymore! You’re right though, actions speak louder than words… the longer I am drama-free, the more they ease up. I guess that really is the only way!

      • I think a big part of the frustration of the pigeon-hole, is the “dismissal” part that you explained so well. No one like to feel like their thoughts or feelings are being “dismissed” just because they don’t jive with what everyone else “thinks” you should think/feel.

        • Yes, exactly – it’s sort of like, once you’re in a box, people will ignore any evidence that they might have put you in the wrong box.
          That sounds more cynical than I mean it, really, I do think perceptions (and “boxes”) can change…

  8. Oh I hear you. There’s nothing worse than being remembered as the moody teenager version of yourself.
    It really doesn’t help that I do have a tendency to get a bit shrieky and frantic when I’m pissed off, and what could possibly piss me off more than being described as shrieky and frantic? It becomes a vicious cycle of tears and irritation.
    I can be a bit of a drama queen, but it’s never intentional, so it hurts when people think I do it out of my own amusement. You are not alone!

  9. Amen, sister. I’ve got the same pigeon-hole in my family, and to be completely honest, I don’t deal with it well at all. In fact, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where I do just what they expect and am mad at myself the whole time.

    I’ve found that honesty is key, though. I’ve turned to the one person who knows me best within the family, shared my concerns and they’ve then spoken to other family members. I know this sounds like someone is fighting your battle for you, but pleading your case will not sink in coming from you! It’ll have more weight coming from someone else. In my case: my mom. And it worked for me… most of the time.

    • It’s hard to deal with it well- there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong way to deal with it and especially in the moment. It sounds like you found the best way for you though- good on ya!

  10. If it’s anything like being pigeonholed into one style of writing, then you just do lots of something else. Like, you should become a robot, and be devoid of all emotion for a while.

  11. I have also gone through this as well except with me it was my neighbours and class mates who pigeonholed me. I would suggest telling your family that you are a married, intelligent grown woman who has changed over the years. Mae I wanted to ask you how did you create the “next” and “previous” thing at the top of your home page. I’m struggling to do this for my blog. HELP…

    • Thanks for sharing!

      Actually, I didn’t create it, Grace did, but I think it was in the theme template we chose…not totally sure though. Sorry I’m no help!

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