As a kid, I was the only Italian on my block and the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding did wonders for me. It made me further understand that there were other families like mine and made me more proud to be who I was and to have the Mediterranean culture that I did. It also made me understand that I had to, you know…”cut the cord” a little bit. The main character played by Nia Vardalos also had to establish very real boundaries with her family for the sake of meeting her own needs. She did just that and ended up with a hottie like John Corbett (not too shabby ;)). As a psychologist today, I can see a lot of people struggling with respecting their culture, families, and relationships while simultaneously trying to do what’s right for them as individuals and establish their own boundaries. This is no easy task but you have to establish healthy connections with the people you love that respect both you and them.
So listen, if all of your family members have a key to your new house and feel free to come and go as they please, it’s time to consider that you may need to establish some boundaries; for your well-being and theirs. You might be, what we psychologists like to call, enmeshed. I explain enmeshment as living like two intertwined trees, dependent on each other to live. When one tries to break away, the other inevitably dies. I see this with my clients all the time. Be it adolescent clients or full grown adult clients, I see enmeshment regularly.
One of my early 20-something clients expressed that he was very close to his mother but was beginning to be short with her and I understood why his frustration was elevating. He explained that he felt indebted to her and had to do everything she asked of him immediately. She, in turn, drove him to work and made him dinner and gave him advice on life choices. Can you see how they were living like those two trees, intertwined and enmeshed? They were dependent on one another, impeding each other’s growth for the sake of their own comforts. Both mom and child are guilty here and both need to learn about personal boundaries.
Establishing boundaries is very hard at times but I’ve compiled a step-by-step guide to help people navigate through this process.
- Assess Needs. You have to conduct a needs assessment on yourself. What do you need? Do you need to move out? Do you need your own car? Do you want to leave town for school or a job opportunity? Figure out what you need in the absence of another’s opinion of what you need.
- Establish Boundaries. For the sake of moving forward and respecting yourself, you have to start “laying down the law.” This could involve, saying no to people more often or having to respectfully decline invitations. Basically, you must think of yourself a bit more often. I’m not saying you need to be totally self-involved but if you are enmeshed with someone, I’m pretty certain that you consider their needs and feelings more than your own.
- Tend to the Guilt. Upon completing steps one and two, you will feel guilty. Guilt is anger turned inward but you have to realize you’ve done nothing wrong. If anything, you are helping both parties evolve and live independently. It’s for everyone’s benefit, really.
- Sympathize. If you are ready to establish boundaries but the other party isn’t, they will not be happy with you. They may be upset, put up a fight, and/or be confused as to why you are not accommodating them like you did yesterday. If you try to explain yourself, they may get even more upset and drag you down with them. Unfortunately, if the other party does not understand what you are doing, you must simply sympathize with their reaction. “I’m sorry you feel this way, Mom, but these are the changes I’m making.” Nothing more, nothing less.Try out these four steps and let us know how it goes!