Is Pressure Always a Bad Thing?

June 14, 2016

Is It Always a Bad Thing?

In Natural Lifemanship, we use the word ‘pressure’ a lot.  It’s been very carefully chosen, actually, because of its usability in all circumstances.  We use it when we talk about horses, families, therapy, work, and everything else. But for many, the idea of pressure connotes something negative – pressure is force, pressure is stress. The dictionary describes it this way. And if you have any experience with typical horse training, you would be right.  Typically, horses are forced or stressed into making the choice that humans want.  So much pressure is exerted that the horse will do anything for a release.  These methods of force have no place in therapy, so it is important for us to really examine the idea of pressure, and whether or not it truly is a negative thing all of the time.

I have heard many times that pressure is an unkind, unhealthy thing that we should never exert on children, animals, our partners – but I believe when people say that what they mean is inappropriate pressure.  And to that I emphatically agree – YES!  Inappropriate pressure is unkind, unhealthy, and not good for relationships.
But just plain old pressure?  That’s simply a fact of life, and of relating.

Let’s look at some examples.  When your toddler walks up to you, arms outstretched, is that not pressure?  Your toddler is making a request using a small amount of pressure…energy…force.  And is that a bad thing? Or is your toddler simply trying to connect?  What about when your horses stand at their gate watching for you at breakfast time?  Your calendar has a big red circle on Friday because your project is due? Or your dog sits by the back door, waiting patiently to be let out?  All of these behaviors exert a very small amount of pressure on us – it is simply communication.  When we think about it in terms of our own personal development, we call it eustress.  A small amount of tolerable stress that helps us grow.  Pressure can be the same, when it is used appropriately.

Now, if completely unwarranted, your toddler screamed and yelled and threw himself on the floor about being picked up; or your horses tore down their gate and galloped into the feed room…now that is some serious pressure, that is inappropriate pressure.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to exert pressure on each other, right?  Some folks seem to think so.  But, can you have a relationship without pressure?  Can you grow without pressure?  Physically speaking, no, we can’t.  Consider an astronaut – without gravity constantly exerting pressure, brains and bodies atrophy.  And emotionally speaking, no, we can’t either.  How far would you have gotten in academics had you not felt some pressure from yourself and those who loved you (pressure as expectation)? Would you and your partner ever have met if someone didn’t work up the courage to speak to the other one (pressure of requesting engagement)?  Would you and your pet have much of a relationship if you both just went your own way and took care of yourselves all the time – never exerting any requests or offering any engagement?  Likely not.  We would physically deteriorate, and be relationally alone, without pressure.
Relationships require give and take – giving of time, of attention, of energy while also taking of time, of attention, of energy.  We engage in this dance of a relationship through moments of pressure – requests made by one to the other.  When it is done appropriately, pressure is not harmful or frightening.  It is the stuff healthy growth and relationships are made of.

Kate Naylor  is a licensed therapist specializing in TF-EAP in the Austin, Texas area.  For more information visit:  http://www.Kategosenaylor.com