SCOTCH PLAINS-- If you have ever watched the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, known as the Portokalos family, then you can certainly understand what it’s like having an overbearing family. The family is very large, loud and intrusive. The movie was released in 2002 and the premise of the movie is basically about a woman named Toula  (Nia Vardalos) who is unmarried at age 30 and meets Ian Miller (John Corbett). Ian is not Greek which is a huge issue for her family since they expect her to marry someone who is Greek. She struggles in trying to separate from her family so that she can establish a sense of autonomy and independence. 

This movie resonates with me and certainly reminds me a lot of my own family of origin. So if you have ever watched this movie, you know that the Portokalos family is a very enmeshed and overbearing family with limited boundaries. So how do we define boundaries?  Boundaries help you define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated by others. The Portokalos family was a loving and caring however involved in everyone’s business and there was no space for differentiation. 

Differentiation is defined as “The ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s own emotional functioning.” (Kerr & Bowen 1988). Although families tremendously affect how people think and act, the more one is differentiated, the less of an impact others can have on you.

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 Boundaries protect us like an internal shield, helping us determine which emotions are ours, and letting us deflect emotions that are not ours.  When we have healthy boundaries, we can honestly determine our feelings about any situation, person, place, or thing.  

 With healthy boundaries you can truly detach from other people while staying in caring relationships.  You can begin to choose your own behavior, thinking, and feeling.  Learning to set healthy boundaries is a very big part of recovery from codependence.  Learning to set healthy boundaries usually takes time, practice and patience and does not happen overnight.

If you recall from the movie, Toula had a difficult time in expressing her feelings and was unable to pursue her interests and career without the influence of her family.  She eventually was able to convince her dad with the help of her mom and aunt that she can return to school.  The cultural norm was that she should marry, have babies and serve her family and husband.  She did all she could to challenge these cultural norms and succeeded.  She was eventually able to differentiate from her family and marry Ian Miller. 

During this holiday season remember that we are in a pandemic.  Many of us have been isolated for a long time and we are craving connection with our families and friends.  However, if you are not comfortable in joining in with other family members, simply voice what you want.  You cannot be coerced in participating in something that you just do not feel safe in doing.  Overbearing families have a tendency in being very convincing and assertive. 

When setting healthy boundaries it is important to remember that you do not cut off family members instead you are able to voice what is and is not acceptable to you.  Having overbearing family members can be challenging however with clear boundaries one is able to remain in contact and not lose their sense of self. 

At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey we are currently offering zoom, face time and telephone sessions.  Visit us at www.hellenictherapy.com or FaceBook call us at 908-322-0112.