What Cats Teach Us About Boundaries, or… ‘what’s yours is mine & what’s mine is mine’

Number 15 out of 28; this piece is part a Blog Challenge to write and publish a post, every day of the 28 days of February 2015, from Sandra Peachey – the author of ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’.

George Tickets

“But I was only keeping them warm for you…”

One evening I was dashing around getting ready for a night out. I had been well organised and printed off the tickets I needed well in advance, and now I was ready to leave the house… I raced around looking in all the usual safe spots, but the tickets had seemingly disappeared… Finally I spotted them – they were on the sofa of all places; and in fact were ensconced under my cat George (quite rightly and safely, in his opinion). I grabbed the tickets out from under him, wondering if he was either – being helpful and pointing to them for me; he was trying to prevent me from leaving the cave and going out into the jungle; or he had simply taken possession of them…

Cats can be very possessive creatures… Leave your favourite jumper, or a pile of laundry, or a book, or any number of random objects lying around unattended, and next thing you know, a cat will be draped over it, probably feigning sleep. If you then dare to reclaim that particular possession, the un-felicitous feline will be righteously outraged and shall then invariably shoot you such a look of such distain and reproach, that the fact that you did not want your (own owned) object covered in mud and fur, is now rendered of absolutely no consequence. In short, they have hijacked what was rightfully yours and yet you are the one feeling mildly bad / slightly sad! Cats are clever like that…

That’s my humorous, human take on it of course, but really what I see with cats, is a constantly curious examination of and experimentation with the boundaries that surround them.

In amongst ‘The Pride’ that is composed of 3 cats and myself, there is an invariable pushing and testing of the boundaries that both tie us together, and characterise how we interact. And these interactions naturally happen in the human world too, and often will surface in the coaching work that I undertake with clients.

A case in point was one of my corporate clients. Several summers ago I was coaching a lady called Carol who had a high powered, professional job in a very male dominated industry. Her manager had suggested that she undertake a programme of coaching, so she had come to me and together we were working through a number of inter-related issues – which, as they do for so many of us, were inter-woven with her emotional history, her personal life and her work life.

Carol would come to my house once a week at 8.00 am, for a two hour coaching session, which would almost invariably be conducted in the garden, (or, as I like to refer to it, my ‘outside office’). As always Carol would be let in, greeted by the cats, select a flavoured tea (from the vast range that I provide) and then settle herself down at my garden table.

I remember how one particular morning we were discussing boundaries… Carol was working through some issues that she had with several work colleagues. It seemed as if there was a blurring of the boundaries in respect of who took charge, who took notice and how every one functioned as part of their team. As a result, there was a lot of verbal jostling and email jousting, as the various parties involved sought to stake a claim and make a point. It made for a stressful scenario, as people patrolled their power borders, trying to either take (or ignore) their own and other’s respective responsibilities.

As Carol and I worked through this, in the morning sun light, I was explaining my thoughts about boundaries and then, with perfect timing, my cats Taz and Sophia came racing through the garden. Taking no notice of the humans, they literarily screeched to a halt, feet away from our feet and started to scrap. The two of them turned in to snarling knot of fur, with paws, torso and tails, toiling and tumbling in their power play.

I was unconcerned – they do this a lot and neither hurts the other. Their tussles are combination of play and questing for dominance; questioning and pursuing who holds what place in the feline order of things. Play fight over, a new order is established, until the time comes to test it all over again.

For us suited and booted humans at work, it is also normal to test our boundaries, but we need a more solid approach, where colleagues understand and accept the boundaries that are set out – both formally in terms of reporting lines and duties, and informally, through daily interaction.

My duelling cats were neatly demonstrating what happens when challenges to other’s boundaries are made… Carol and I then took their skirmish and used it as a metaphor to draw comparisons with her work situation. We talked through being clear about our own boundaries and other’s, which then made dealing with the ‘border skirmishes’ that incurred into our own territories, easier. For Carol, gaining clarity on this became her own soft power, which meant that instead of individual rucks and retaliations, she now found that she could mentally step away and see the whole picture, not just her corner of it. And in doing so, she gained a greater perspective on dealing with each single situation, suddenly allowing them to become more simple and therefore far less consuming – in terms of time and emotional energy.

Corporate life has often been referred to as a ‘jungle’ and I could make many analogies about that here. Suffice to say that such analogies often emanate from animal type behaviour, yet we need to move beyond this, because that is just one dimension of who we are and what we do.

One of the many reasons that coaches have a place in today’s climate is because of the way in which the world of work is set up, in that we learn the nuts and bolts of our professions, the ins and outs of our tasks and we gain experience in our duties. However, so often we are not given a text book education about how to handle relationships (at work or other wise), how to best manage our thoughts and feelings, or indeed how to manage the every day politics of any of the worlds that we walk through.

And so, needless to say, I shall return to my cats. After their scrap, Taz and Sophia were next to be found sprawled out on the garden lawn, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. I watched as Taz suddenly grabbed Sophia’s head with his front paws, and instead of giving her a severe ‘licking’, gave her several lavish grooming licks instead. The gesture felt like another, finer, familial form of putting Sophia in her place, and yet she accepted it with delight and by purring out her pleasure in testament. This place in the order, she did not refute or fight.

I know which kind of licking I prefer…

PS: Real time writing… Due to a delicious piece of unconscious serendipity, I happened to bump into Carol just a couple of hours after I posted this blog… She introduced me to the new man in her life and then told him about her ‘coaching with cats’ experience. She said how loving and friendly the Pride are and how, especially at the beginning of our coaching time together, so often she would be feeling sad and that Taz, my fabulous feline teddy bear, would come to her and nudge her and give her a cat cuddle to cheer her up. She then went on to say that the coaching experience with me was “life changing” and that everything in her world had since changed – her job, her relationship, her home. She finished off by thanking me.

Even after all this time of sharing what I do with the world, I’m still a little uncomfortable with such blandishments, yet I have learnt to accept such gorgeous comments in good grace and also acknowledged in return that she was the one who had made the changes and turned her life around. And it was so lovely to see – she looked less tired and stressed; her energy was so much freer and happier. I don’t have a word for how that makes me feel, though the feeling is a curious blend of humble and proud. Proud, for me, and my coaching cats, of course…

PPS: Did you know that a collection of my ‘Peachey Letters’ have been gathered together in to a beautiful book, cats and all?  I’m completely biased of course, but it makes a purrfect present, for you or the cat lover in your life… You can buy it from book websites any where in the world, including Amazon (in both Paperback and Kindle)