The other day I was out and about and decided to pop in to see a prospective client and say hello. Now this client is a fairly new prospect so I don’t know them well and as I walked into the store, I was pleased to see two little dogs running up to greet me. I am a huge dog fan so I was completely taken by surprise when, as I reached down to greet the little furballs, one of them bit me.
It wasn’t a big bite by any means but it was enough to break the skin and although the nip took me by surprise, what was even more shocking was my reaction to the whole thing, which was … nothing. I did nothing.
Okay, that isn’t entirely correct. I DID comment on how cute the little bugger was and had a quick chat with the owner, all while hiding my hand behind my back so she wouldn’t see the blood.
That’s right, I hid my hand so she wouldn’t see that her dog had bit me.
When I got home later that evening, I told my fiance what happened.
“Why didn’t you say anything?!“, he said.
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to upset her, I guess.”
“That is weird, Christine. Who cares if she got upset? Her dog bites. What if he does that to a kid?!”
And that’s when it really hit me – he was right. It is weird. Not only is it weird but it speaks (loudly) to something I have struggled with my whole life – speaking up for myself and holding boundaries.
Now obviously, I could have reacted to the little nip in a variety of different ways. I could have yelled, stormed out, kicked the dog, or I could have done the most reasonable thing which would have been to say, “Your dog just gave me a little nip. Not a huge deal, but I did want to let you know since you have him in your business.”
But for some crazy reason, the idea of saying something like that makes me feel like my skin is going to crawl right off my body. And apparently, I would rather hide my bloodied hand behind my back than potentially inconvenience someone by telling them their dog has a case of the ‘bites’.
What. The. Hell.
Although this incident was super minor, it marks how much I still struggle when it comes to speaking up for myself. This is something I have worked hard on for years and whether it was as simple as saying “No, I can’t lend you money.’ or something as big as “No, I don’t want to have sex.“, putting my needs, desires, or feelings above other’s has been something I have always battled.
I know I am not alone in this problem and that women in particular are taught to keep quiet and be nice, no matter what. But I’ve got to say, this really pisses me off!
I think part of my problem is that despite the fact that I have been working on establishing healthy boundaries for years, I have also been determined to do so gracefully. It is quite common for people who have struggled with establishing boundaries their whole life to take things a little too far when they first start and I have been hellbent on NOT becoming one of those people who ‘speaks their truth’ ALL THE TIME.
(Come on, you all had someone pop into mind, didn’t you?!)
Establishing boundaries is scary, especially at first, and sometimes it feels easier to come at it guns a’blazin’ and with teeth bared. Much like the little dog that bit me.
Essentially, people who are new to establishing healthy boundaries are much like dogs with ‘Little Dog Syndrome’. They are scared and insecure and often display an unnecessary level of fiest when trying to establish a perimeter which is not to be crossed.
This is something I wanted to bypass completely. I wanted to go straight from doormat to having confidence and self-assurance without having to experience the annoying lapdog learning curve.
Maybe I was out to lunch thinking I could avoid this stage or maybe my learning process will just take a little longer this way. More likely though, I just need to cut myself some slack. Confidence and self-assuredness are not static and neither is our ability to effectively hold and communicate healthy boundaries. We will have good days and we will have bad days. We will have little dog syndrome days and Doberman days. But one thing I know for sure is, I’m committed to this process. I am committed to taking deep breaths and treating myself with as much respect as I do others. And that includes being gentle with myself when I mess it up.