Being assertive is not something that comes naturally to me. Unfortunately, this has led me to fear confrontation with people, and develop a very unhealthy ‘people pleasing’ attitude as I’ve grown up and ventured out into the adult world.
To some of us, assertiveness can seem ‘dominating’ or ‘forceful’ and it doesn’t feel ‘right’ presenting ourselves that way or expressing ourselves in a direct manner.
True assertiveness is an essential communicating style that should never be confused with passive aggression or pure aggression – unfortunately many people use the latter two and consider it to be simple assertiveness. On my journey of getting well and stronger, I have learnt something which really inspires me in my bid to find my voice and speak up more………The words ‘Kind Assertive’.
We’re all familiar with ‘calm assertive’ – but let’s consider ‘Kind assertive’. I like this very much. And it strikes a chord with me, because everyone wishes to be spoken to with kindness, and in a tone which is understanding and empathetic.
True Assertiveness is about standing up for yourself, whilst respecting someone else’ s feelings and point of view. It’s about saying no, in a sincere and caring manner, whilst balancing the art of doing what’s right for you. It’s about helping others, whilst taking care of yourself and never crossing the line between people pleasing and selfishness. A nice, happy medium. Never forceful and never forced.
Now…where do animals and horses fall into this?….. Well – our beautiful equine friends are herd animals. Prey creatures. They exist within a secure hierarchy amongst themselves, and rely on assertive body language between each other to form their family groups.
Horses require a leader in the herd for safety and security. Humans work successfully and form long lasting attachments with horses by embodying all that a ‘herd leader’ would be. Just as a mother horse tends to her precious foal. Guiding him as he grows. We can become like that mother horse. She is a kind, calm and assertive leader.
Horses need boundaries as children do, to encourage security and appropriate behaviour. It is NOT about dominance. It’s about partnership. Our partnerships respect each other. But both have to be equal so that the union is balanced. Horses can help us achieve that balance and correct level of assertiveness to carry into everyday life.
If you are aggressive with a horse. You will get one of two responses.
1. Aggression (self defence in return)
2. Fear based submission
If you are passive – aggressive, you will get one of two responses.
1. A build up of aggression
2. A build up of fear – resulting in submission
Submission throws the balance and partnership off course. Aggression creates danger and emotional pain for both parties. Humans and horses do not do well with these scenarios and emotional responses. So how do we achieve ‘kind assertiveness’ in taking care of horses, and be someone they look to for guidance and daily care, whilst also implementing it into our lives?…… I have found these three things invaluable.
* Firstly, we act kindly. We show respect. Which means listening and understanding.
* Secondly, we make our request clear and consistent. An instruction. A question to be answered, instead of a command to be obeyed.
* Thirdly, patience. We take our time.
If a horse crowds your space and barges you around, you teach them this is not acceptable. You foster respect for your space, and in return respect theirs.
If a horse is fearful, you show compassion, and teach trust. By encouraging a positive partnership based on ‘asking’ and NOT ‘telling’.
The same works with people.
I have found that in being a ‘leader’ to my three equine treasures – who are relying on me for care, safety and security – I can train myself how to use these skills in my interactions with fellow humans. Horses instantly alert us to whether we are getting it right or wrong!
If I am too inconsistent or mild mannered with my herd – I have three naughty ponies squabbling at the gate for feed time. Their manners and behaviour would deteriorate swiftly. The boundaries would disappear. They would push me around, not knowing what to expect from me! Or from themselves!
If I scolded my ponies when they were frightened, rather than understand why they are fearful, then we would never build confidence and achieve a partnership. Trust would slowly disappear. I would not be respecting their feelings to that feared situation. They would slowly become more anxious without any sense of security.
Kind assertive and calm assertive behaviour from myself, will invoke kind and calm behaviour from my horses. And kind and calm behaviour to each other promotes the same. Balanced, secure people, who know what to expect from each other – two equals negotiating in an empathetic and simple manner. Without any need for negativity. We beg to differ, we beg to agree. We understand and accept our differences. We speak to be heard and listen to understand… easy! Well…we hope so!
There are so many moments experienced with my horses in which they teach me something I can apply to my own life.
I continue my mission of healing with my horses as my guides – noticing all the lessons they are teaching as we go. I hope to become braver, and ‘kind assertive’ so that as I wander through the journey of my life, I can be the best version of myself. For them, for me and for everyone I meet.