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Boundaries Aren’t About Separation: Boundaries Are About Clarity and Connection

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wanted to say no, but didn’t because the request came from:

  • a friend

  • a family member

  • a potential client

Have you ever been in a situation where you did not want to:

  • Drive with friends instead of driving your own car.

  • Stay with relatives for Thanksgiving instead of booking a hotel.

  • Advise a potential client for free, via email, instead of them actually paying for a coaching package.

These are common issues that I have faced and come up for my clients often.

Saying No and Setting Boundaries

It can be so hard to say NO or to set boundaries.

Way too often, people agree to do things and don’t consider the long-term consequences of not taking care of their own personal preferences by learning to say NO.

The reality is that the short-term desire to please or avoid conflict WILL eventually result in resentment, possibly illness, and for sure unclear communication in relationships.

In these tricky situations, I often hear these justifications:

  • Well, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I want people to like me.

  • It’s not that big of a deal. I can handle a little discomfort.

  • I’ve got to get this client, and I’m sure eventually they’ll sign up and likely bring me other business.

These are all logical, kind, and possibly viable reasons. However, these reasons are not healthy, real, or relational.

When you (or I) don’t take care of our personal space and preference, you are not in a relationship, you’re in some type of care-taking situation.

Relationships involve people showing up and being real.

Let’s Bring This to the Horses

One of the most powerful lessons worked out in an Equus Coaching session is related to boundaries and establishing personal space.

Some of this is simply obvious. There’s a 1200 lb. horse bumping his rather large head into your chest and circling you way closer than you’re comfortable with.

Yes, it’s obvious, you have to show up and define your space or you could literally be injured.

You have to be clear with a horse. Unlike human interactions around boundaries, horses are not going to respond to nice and polite gestures that are not clear and embodied.

If you spend your time trying to make the horse like you or focus on changing the horse, you’ll get nowhere. With a horse you have to:

  • ground yourself

  • get clear about you want

  • communicate your intention crystal clearly from the inside out

If you do that, the horse will respond quickly.

If on the other hand, you’re trying to hint, encourage, and persuade a horse, you’ll get nowhere. Horses respond to people who are consistent and congruent, and they provide immediate feedback when you’re not.

Humans … not so much.

As I watch clients in the round pen with a horse, working to establish their personal space, I always ask:

  • “Where does this show up in your life?”

  • “Where are you being overrun by someone, something, or even your own body?”

It’s Okay to Ask for Space

Recently, I was working with a woman who has been dealing with an on-going, life-threatening physical illness. A great deal of her time and energy was spent in the hospital or in medical treatments. She had an amazing attitude towards her life and situation.

In our Equus Session, what was most interesting was how the horse gently, but very persistently, pushed her up against the edges of the arena. I asked, “Where are you getting pinned and not asking for space?”

“I’m good at asking for what I need from people.,” she said. “Where I have the most issue is with my own body. I feel so helpless when I’m in pain. Plus, my body just keeps coming up with more issues!”

As she began to share, not just the words but the feelings, the horse stepped back and away. Suddenly, she had more room.

As she let herself acknowledge the fear and frustration of having her own body constantly break down, the horse stood at a much more comfortable, respectful distance.

Then, she then acknowledged her exhaustion. At that moment, the horse moved closer, but not pushing her into the wall.

Next, I suggested she try walking and talking to her body, i.e. the horse. They walked together with the horse maintaining a comfortable distance.

In the end, she had a profound shift as she was able to relax, breathe, and feel. She felt more connected to her body and soul when she acknowledged and expressed her struggle.

Real Relating

I totally get the desire to be strong, positive, kind, and not hurt anyone’s feelings. But relationships, real relationships, have tension, disagreement, discomfort, anger, frustration, and sometimes distance. Yes, even the relationship to parts of yourself, including your body.

Establishing personal space and boundaries is NOT about creating distance or separation, not at all. Establishing boundaries is about showing up and being in a relationship – even if that means asking for space from someone. When you’re honest you can be present and able to respond and engage.

You need to learn how to say “enough, no, or I want” (fill in the blank).

Yes, even if the other person gets upset, at least you will be present since you’ve been honest. Then you can listen to how they feel without giving up what’s important to you.

Like horses, people want clear, congruent communication. Isn’t that what you want in your relationship? So, lead the way – show up and discover what it’s like to relate!

The Horse Knows,


P.S. Want to improve your boundaries by working with a horse? Come to Find Your Mojo in Montana, May 2-5, 2018. Don’t like groups? Contact me to schedule your very own Mojo Intensive here in Montana.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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