Self-limiting beliefs can become looped in our minds like a stuck record, restricting progress and preventing us from living a fulfilled life. In The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz presents a practical guide to breaking these mental chains and living a life free from the suffering they can bring.

As I consider Ruiz’s first agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word, I examine what may lie behind saying what we really mean, as I believe it is inextricably linked to the true self.

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott studied the relationship between the primary caregiver and the child, exploring how spontaneous and sincere responses to the child allowed the true self to evolve. In cases where the gestures of the child were discouraged or prevented, a feeling of unreality could arise, leading the child to suppress its needs and comply with what others wanted, in order to be tolerated or loved. This is what gives rise to the false self – a state of being which is characterised by feeling emotionally numb, unanchored, and not entirely present.

Perceiving the world to be unreliable and unpredictable, the individual uses the resources available to them to build and maintain their false sense of self. They become trapped by despair, unable to feel valued or happy about their achievements.

Horses are highly attuned to their surroundings and so they can perceive emotional blocks, stress, and incongruent behaviour and will become cautious in response. In meeting horses for the first time, clients will often relate to the horse that they believe is most like themselves and in this way, the horse can become a mirror of the self.

Because horses experience emotions as information, the way in which they respond can provide valuable insight into the impact of our behaviour on others and once we begin to reveal our vulnerabilities, we invite them in and the relationship starts to build.

Horses live in the present moment and take us as we are, without analysing or judging.  The experience of interacting with them authentically is extremely powerful, allowing us to explore feelings and teaching us how to set healthy boundaries as the bond grows.

Linda Kohanov, the author of The Tao of Equus, explains it as follows:  “As animals that are preyed upon in nature, it behoves them to know when another herd member is feeling afraid or playful, angry or in pain, depressed or content. Though they ultimately strive for well-being in their relationships, horses don’t consider so-called positive emotions any more important than the negative ones humans routinely try to suppress. To these animals, the ability to intuit fear in a distant herd member and act on this feeling without hesitation is a lifesaving skill. Their innate aptitude for resonating with another being’s trust, joy, or confidence is a life-enhancing skill.

These mindful creatures have developed a magnificent capacity for responding to subtle changes in the arousal of other horses as well as predators, a species-wide talent they easily transfer to interactions with people” (2001, p. 105).