Jane Binnion writes about working out and setting our personal boundaries and how to communicate them, using lessons learned from her Rottweiler, Jess.
Jess, my lovely old Rottweiler, came to me as a rescue dog in November 2020. I didn’t know much about her other than her owner had died and, as she was eight years old, I was to be her retirement home.
Over the last 18 months, Jess and I have been getting to know each other. One of the most interesting things I have observed is her clear boundaries. Being a rotty, she is mostly as soft as pudding but there are certain things that she does not find acceptable.
The first example of this I learned was that she had no intentions of sharing her bone with me. Luckily, I’m a vegetarian. Then next, she was clear that she didn’t share her sleeping space.
She let me know these things very clearly, by letting out a low, but quite a distinct growl.
Now I am aware that some people think dogs should be totally obedient, but that’s not how I feel about animals, they are living creatures with their own personalities. For some of those people, if their dog growls at them, they think the animal should be punished. And the essential thing about this, is that next time, knowing that they are not allowed to give a warning growl, the dog will just bite!
Jess is a big dog and could hurt me if she wanted to, but she doesn’t want to, which is exactly why she lets me know what is, and is not, acceptable to her. And that is what boundaries are all about.
Of course, not only are boundaries different for all of us, usually based on our personal experiences, but boundaries can, and do, change. The safer Jess feels, the less she needs to enforce boundaries, so now I can walk close to her when she is enjoying her bone. She pauses, but she now trusts that I probably will not steal it from her.
And that’s the same for us. As we trust that people respect our boundaries, we don’t have to be shouty about them.
Sadly, many of us have been denied the opportunities to explore our boundaries as children, perhaps being told that we have to do things, even when they feel icky to us. At The Growing Club, we see this all the time; women feeling frustrated by people taking advantage of them, angry that no one helps around the house, feeling that people do not respect their price or work hours – but still unable to state their boundaries for fear of upsetting people. Sadly, the outcome is often we end up exhausted and blow our top, which then leaves us feeling bad about our behaviour. Just as, if Jess bit me she would feel so ashamed.
Many of us have come to believe that setting boundaries means we are not kind or generous – that we are selfish. It was Brene Brown‘s talk on boundaries that made things really clear for me when she said “Compassion without boundaries, is not compassion” and that, as she explained, with clear and firm boundaries we can be infinitely compassionate.
I’m still working on that.
If any of this rings true for you, and you would like to explore how to identify and communicate your boundaries without biting, and how to then ask for the help you want, these two half-day workshops being led by Sarah Ludford, might be just what you’ve been waiting for: