Leaders are taught from their mentors, that displays of emotion are signs of weakness. Anything further than a guarded chuckle or a high-five for a job well done is excessive.
Never cry, never show anger or fear or even frustration. When you exhibit any emotions, others will immediately take control of you, because they will see that you have lost control of yourself.
The problem is, bad things happen to the minds and bodies of people who spend all their work days suppressing emotions.
One of the latest studies to support this theory was from Stanford University. Researchers there discovered that when we intentionally suppress our emotions, our memory of an event is impaired.
When you go to bed at night, your brain finds itself in a conflicted position. It is trying to remember the event, but also to forget the event. Mental fatigue is the end result.
Keeping a clamp on those emotions also keeps others from seeing you are suffering. You really need the hormone oxytocin, also known as "the cuddle hormone", because it reduces stress. If no one can see you hurting, they are not going to move forward with the hug you really need.
The Stanford study also linked poor sleep habits and higher blood pressure to people who stifle their emotions. You may end up grinding your teeth, having digestive problems, and experience weight gain as you over-indulge in comfort food.
When you work with horses, it is hard to hide how you really feel.
Horses are like mirrors to what is going on inside of you. They give clarity to how you really feel. They do not judge, or try to take advantage of the situation; they just reflect it back to you.
The horse becomes calm when you acknowledge your true feelings, even if you cannot diminish the emotion. The horse’s feedback is instant and authentic. It will change its behavior as you change yours and become true to yourself.
The horse does not approach you with a preconceived idea of how you are. It does not look across the corral and think, “there is a person who is hiding a lot of anger,” and approach you knowing that. They approach you with a blank slate.
As you begin to interact with them, their keen senses make them aware when what they see is not what they sense. Some call it intuition, while others call it an enhanced response, but it is present in every exchange between you and the horse.
Some riders jokingly say that their horse can read their minds, but in reality, the horse is reading other signs that you exhibit. They are observing your stance, your breathing pattern, your body tension and the primary, uninhibited signals your body sends, despite how tightly you are controlling your mind.
The horse does not judge if you are angry or sad or happy. The horse uses your non-verbal communication as data, making them aware of what emotion is present in you. It is just data to the horse, even the subtlest change is transmitted to them because of their finely-tuned senses.
You cannot fake it with them.
If what you feel on the inside is not the same emotion as you are exhibiting on the outside, it is confusing and upsetting to the horse, and it will be uncomfortable as a result.
Dealing with your emotions, changing them, acting on them, or dismissing them as unworthy are all ways to handle them. Hiding and suppressing your emotions, and trying to communicate with your horse will not end well for your experience with the animal.
It also will not do your mind or body any good. Consider that the next time you bottle up honest emotion.
Find ways to use your emotions as communications tools in your work with others. Your horse will respond better when you are authentic with your emotional state. So will humans.
HorseDream Canada, founded by Susan Wilson, provides high impact, quality leadership and team development experiences for individuals, teams, leaders and companies. It is part of an internationally renowned Horse Assisted Education Program providing transformative learning experiences around the world. HorseDream Canada is a division of I DO BUSINESS. Inc., a social purpose business. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for our new book, Leadership 93/7 coming soon!