One of the things which stops us setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with others is the fear that by doing so we will make ourselves unpopular, lose connection or be rejected. It’s a deep seated fear which is often outside our awareness. And if it is in our awareness it is something which is hard to acknowledge. Even experienced leaders shrink from setting clear boundaries. Simple things like the person who is regularly late, or not pulling their weight, to the more serious end of the behavioural spectrum – might not be tackled immediately. So the behaviour continues, the leader gets more frustrated, but now it’s too late once the pattern is established. So behaviour continues and emotion builds until the pressure valve blows.
This isn’t the only consequence, though, of not setting and maintaining clear boundaries. When we fail to do so, people ironically find it harder to trust us, than when we do. This learning couldn’t be more clear than when we work on our personal leadership power with the help of horses.
Horses continuously look for good leaders who make them feel safe. If they don’t find that, they will seize the leadership initiative themselves if they are a confident horse, or they will vote with their feet and seek leadership they can trust from someone else, if they are less sure of themselves. Boundaries are also something which horses understand and respect very deeply. They set their own boundaries without hesitation – the swish of a tail, pinning of the ears, will signal that another horse has transgressed what is acceptable within the leadership hierarchy of the herd. But, once the boundary is reinforced and respected, the herd settles back down peacefully to graze and play. They don’t bear grudges or worry about whether they have caused offence. They all know where they stand.
So, when we work with horses, if we let them intrude uninvited into our personal space, allow them to walk all over us, or are unclear with them about what is or isn’t OK with us, they are worried by this lack of clarity. They can’t trust us because we are not reinforcing the recognised herd hierarchy one way or another. And we are certainly not showing what they expect of a good leader.
Our lack of boundaries also goes hand in hand with unconscious emotional and non-verbalised scripts which affects our energetic impact and therefore how a horse perceives us. Most likely we question at some level our sense of self and legitimacy. Our lack of boundaries betrays an intense need to be liked, to belong, at the expense of being respected.
Tough stuff. And no wonder that we find it difficult to explore this territory. But when we do and learn how to be clear about our boundaries to ourselves and others, our relationships flourish. Trusting someone at a very basic level means that we need to feel safe with them. It is also critical that we respect them too. Trust and respect go hand in hand – it is impossible to have one without the other. So trust yourself – dare to set your boundaries and see how your world changes.