Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

Category Archives: Boundaries

Knowing and not overstepping your limits – Part II

What do you know of your own limits in terms of your mental, emotional and physical energy? And – following on from last week’s discussion – how aware of you of your own triggers that point to when you are overstepping those limits?

I enjoyed a walk around a local reservoir recently in stunning autumn sunshine.

What limits prevent you being completely drained?

What limits prevent you being completely drained?

I like the analogy of a reservoir. I start the week with fairly good amounts of energy. Some of that drains out as the week progresses with work, family commitments, friends in need, mundane life stuff. But if there are no walls or barriers stopping all the energy draining away, by the end of the week I can find myself completely empty.

Knowing yourself is key here, as ever. I love my work, and recognise that it involves giving a lot out to people. I also love exercise, being outside, music, efficiency and order. So if my week is chock full of people, the house is in a mess, I have had no exercise nor been outside much, and haven’t touched the piano, that raises a red flag that I am potentially heading towards exploding with someone. They suffer, I am horrible, everyone is miserable.

In contrast, two things help.

Firstly, creating boundaries on my time and energy by saying ‘no’ to things that stretch me too far and risk totally emptying me. Learning to say ‘no’ to things I might like to do or that I ‘ought’ to do because I understand and protect my limits.

Secondly, topping up my energy – filling up the reservoir. This means planning in things that, for me, as energy gainers. Ensuring that I stop work and get outside for a walk. Planning in a meeting with a friend who restores and refreshes my soul. Switching off the computer and sitting at the piano instead. Small things, but a big cumulative benefit of me being able to function at my best in all my roles.

Each of us will have our own idea of what drains and tops up our energy. It comes back to how well we know ourselves, our own limits, and our own triggers.

This isn’t about being a selfish island. This is about understanding and valuing yourself so you can be the best version of yourself to those around you. Communication is crucial here – what do those around you expect of you? Do they know your limits, and do you know theirs? This is where we will go next week.

For now, what are your limits, and how are you protecting them so you are not overstretched?

What are your limits that prevent you being overstretched? Part I

What do you know of your limits – emotional, physical, mental and spiritual? What is the necessary amount of space you need to function at your best and not collapse into a gibbering stressed heap or explode into a crazy raging person?

And therefore – you guessed it – how are you protecting that space with good boundaries?

What do you know of your limits?

What do you know of your limits?

One way we know that our boundaries are fairly permeable is when we find ourselves overwhelmed with life, drained and – in my case – turning into grumpy psycho mum. Energy levels totally drained, no reserves of patience, grace, empathy left for anyone, and a very short fuse of intolerance towards my nearest-and-dearest (why are those closest to us always the ones that get it in the neck?). Not a pretty picture. I am a gut person – I am passionate about life, exuberant, unconventional and usually full of energy. But when that energy is depleted, I spiral down into feeling stressed, overworked and that I have to respond to everyone else’s needs whilst ignoring my own. At that point, those same gut instincts can erupt into a visceral explosion that is totally disproportionate to the situation.

I find myself resenting what I do for others, feeling neglected and uncared for, and that I am my own – and everyone else’s – lowest priority. I have gone beyond my own limits.

But need this situation have arisen? Sometimes, life just seems to chuck a whole bucket load of circumstances at you at the same time, over which you have little control. However… and I say this to myself….generally, we have much more responsibility and choice here than we think.

If we choose to live stretched to the limit in all areas, there will be no room for absorbing any extra crises or demands that turn up unexpectedly. If we choose to pack our time full and expend energy in multiple different areas at once, are we surprised that we get to the end of the week and we are exhausted, drained, and the ones we love most suffer most?

Several nasty explosive outbursts on my part, plus growing self awareness have prompted me to stop and pay attention to the triggers that lead up to me losing it. Questions I am learning to ask are:

  • At what point did I start to feel overwhelmed, and what contributed to that?
  • What is missing from my life this week that usually gives me energy?
  • How much of my time this week has been taken up on things that drain my energy?
  • Have I taken any time just for me, without guilt?
  • Where is the anger and resentment coming from?
  • What am I responsible for here, and what am I not?
  • And – crucially and always – what and who are most important here?

How would you answer those questions for yourself when you are heading towards overwhelm? What do you know of your own limits?


When you say ‘yes’, what are you saying ‘no’ to?

What is the cost of saying yes?

Life is full of choice: what is the cost of saying yes?

What is the cost of saying yes, both tangible and intangible? In our voyage through the tricky waters of boundaries, saying yes to requests from others or to situations that arise when we actually would prefer to say no, is possibly one of the most difficult boundaries to maintain.

If you say ‘yes’ to this, what are you therefore saying ‘no’ to – this can be subtle and very hard to identify, as we often seek to delude ourselves and convince ourselves that

  • we are indispensable
  • we do have time
  • the costs are worth it
  • no one else will suffer as a consequence.

And every time we do this, we make a choice. We live with the consequences of our choices all the time. Even not making a choice is in effect a choice – we have much more responsibility and choice than we often think, as we can always choose how to respond.

What is the impact therefore of the choice you make on all concerned? What is the cost of saying yes?

This ties back to our values, self care and self worth – the better we respect our own boundaries round our energy and emotional health, the better placed we will be to care for ourselves and therefore have energy to invest in and care for other people and situations.

As ever, there are no easy or straightforward answers here, and each situation warrants it’s own reflection. As a self employed person with control over my time, there are many things that I could be doing. Lots that perhaps I ought to be doing. And many indeed that are very attractive and I would like to be doing, at the top of that list being people I would like to see, get to know and spend time with.

No one is telling me how to use my time, nor keeping tabs on what I do or on how productive I am. And it is all too easy for me to get caught up in the latest social trend, marketing technique and put pressure on myself to be performing in my business at a certain level.

But says who? Ultimately, what is most important to me about my business and how I work?  These are some of the questions I am learning to ask myself, as I discover what it is to use my time wisely, effectively and productively:

  • What are the benefits of both saying yes or no, and to whom?
  • What is fair here – both to me and to the other person? What are their expectations of me, and what are those of myself?
  • Is this a commitment I have chosen, or am I reacting to an expectation being put on me?
  • If I say ‘no’, is there another solution here that is win-win?

It all boils down to many of the same root issues – having a clear focus on what I am protecting, and what is most important to me. When I lose sight of that, I can easily get sucked down social media or marketing rabbit holes, or see too many people in a week and end up without enough time to give my best to my own business priorities.

Next week we will consider our energy levels and how to preserve them with good boundaries such that we can do what we are purposed to do at our best. But for now, when you say ‘yes’ to someone or something this week, take a few seconds to consider what you are saying ‘no’ to. What is the cost of saying yes?

Do you suffer from ‘hardening of the oughteries’?

Now there is a phrase that made me stop and do a mental double-take: ‘hardening of the oughteries’.

I first heard the term when it was used by a client in relation to herself.

Do you say 'yes' to too many things because you ought to?

Do you say ‘yes’ to too many things because you ought to?

I have not dug up it’s origins, although a very brief online search attributes it to the late Dr Frank Lake, in his book Clinical Theology. And he came up with that phrase over 50 years ago – it seems human nature rarely changes despite technological advancement.

And as we continue to dip our toes into the enormous, deep and stormy water that is the subject of boundaries, this is directly relevant. Why?

Because we often break our own boundaries by saying ‘yes’ to someone or something because we feel we ought to.

Listen to the ‘oughts’ in your own conversation for a few days and pay heed.

When do you find yourself saying, “I ought to say yes because

  • I am (or I want to be seen as) an obedient/good/helpful/kind/hardworking/…../person”
  • I don’t want to let the other person down
  • I don’t want to disappoint or be seen as a disappointment
  • I want to be needed and valued
  • I want to prove myself

Now none of these reasons are bad in themselves – integrity, reliability, hard work, generosity and self worth are very important in well functioning relationships. But not at the cost of feeling run into the ground, and being at the beck and call of everyone else, which is the risk of always responding to the ‘oughteries’.

As ever, self awareness is crucial – what is under the surface of your reaction, and why. What is your motive, and what is most important here? Some alternative questions to ask yourself when the ‘oughteries’ surface could include:

Am I ignoring my own needs because of negative tapes that have stuck to me from the past?

What do I really want in this situation?

What am I trying to prove, and to whom?

If nobody were disappointed or let down, would I prefer to say yes or no?

Would I be comfortable asking the same question of someone else?

Is this a precedent I want to set, and if not, where would I draw the line? ie: if I go down this route, how do I subsequently say no to similar requests?

None of this is easy, and this level of self awareness takes time and energy. But gaining a stronger sense of self, understanding more clearly what your current life priorities are (which will change and evolve in different seasons), and respecting your own boundaries and those of others will go some way to preventing ‘hardening of the oughteries’.

How do you react when your boundaries are crossed?

When your boundaries are crossed – when someone steps over that invisible line, either invasively or because you let them – how do you react?

What happens when your boundaries are crossed?

What happens when your boundaries are crossed?

We have been exploring boundaries a lot in recent weeks, as it is something that I deal with regularly in my work as a life coach. And now we come to a particularly thorny issue: the challenge of maintaining boundaries, and what we do when they are crossed. I still am in the realm of work boundaries here – we will start to consider personal boundaries over the next couple of weeks – but some of the root issues are the same.

And of course, most of it comes down to two things

motive and values

Why do we do what we do? I had a fabulous evening with a couple of dear friends from college recently, and of course we indulged in a spot of reminiscing. Our (to me, slightly creepy) psychology lecturer would take great delight first thing on a Monday morning fixing us with his beady little eyes, and inquiring “What did YOU do this weekend?”. The question was always loaded with suggestion and judgement. He never expected, nor obtained, an answer, and all he was doing was making us think –

what were the motives behind our behaviour, and what did those motives say about what mattered most to us?

Let’s consider a relatively minor example, but one that highlights the underlying emotions, motives and values. When you reply to a work email late at night, or at the weekend – why? What are your emotions telling you? Are you responding

  • because you like to be needed, you have been contacted after all so you must be important?
  • to prove yourself to your boss, your colleagues, yourself?
  • you enjoy the job perhaps more than you’d admit, and more than whatever else you happen to be doing at the time, even if it involves family or recreation, and especially if it involves mundane tasks that you would rather not do (but the doing of that task would show love and affirmation to your nearest-and-dearest)?
  • because you are afraid of the consequences of not responding? Fear of getting it wrong?
  • because your work load is such that it is quicker and easier to deal with it there and then rather than have it looming the next work day, alongside the mountain of other work?

Now, many of these reactions are valid, and as ever, none of this is straightforward. The key here is to pay attention to what is going on, and why. What is the impact of your decision? What are the underlying motives, and what does that say about you and your boundaries? What is the most important thing here, and how committed are you to that? Step back and see the bigger picture of what is most important to you in the long term, and therefore how that affects your decision.

Is this really a reflection of your levels of self esteem or self confidence – perhaps if you are really honest with yourself, your worth is tied up rather more in what others think of you than you would care to admit out loud.

How to address this then? Perhaps send a holding email, thanking the sender and politely but firmly assuring them of your full attention when you are next at work. Perhaps explain calmly and firmly – these are my working hours, and I am fully committed to working hard and well within them, with these exceptions. Perhaps assure your nearest-and-dearest that whilst work is important, there will never be an end to it and time with them is more important. Perhaps a conversation about workload and expectations are required with your boss or colleagues – this takes proactivity and confidence, but the alternative is to continue to have your boundaries invaded.

But you know, perhaps there is something deeper going on, in regards to how you see yourself and your worth. Many reasons can create this situation of low self worth and confidence, and navigating your way through it alone can feel too monumental a challenge.

If this is you – perhaps now is the time to get in touch here for your free taster session, and see if we can work together to rebuild who you are. To firmly establish you as a unique and amazing individual, and therefore to know what it is you are protecting with boundaries. And thus to gain the confidence to know how to respond when your boundaries are crossed.



How do you rest?

How do you respond to the concept of a Sabbath rest?

How do you rest?

How do you rest?

Does it bring to mind images of Jewish tradition, or narrow minded out of touch legalism that frowns on shopping, working, housework on the Sabbath? But interestingly, in our modern age, the concept that is behind Sabbath rest is gaining prominence, whether from a faith perspective or not.

The idea is to take a day away from the normal crush of daily life, and rest – to be refreshed mentally, emotionally, spiritually. A day with clear boundaries round it, where what we are walling out is the everydayness of our lives, and we are walling in is time to slow down, engage in restful pursuits, connect with important relationships.

And – dare I suggest – that day of rest might be completely off line. No technology, gadgetry, social media. A day of head space from all things technological to allow the opening up of creative space and perhaps a dusting down of long-forgotten activities.

What is your reaction to that idea – one day of rest a week without electronic noise?

Do you recoil in horror, unable to countenance the prospect of not being able to update your status or check that of others?

And whatever might you do with all that time….?

Well, here is a novel idea. What did we all do before the advent of the internet? Read, talk, play board games, go for healthful and energetic walks (‘a walk for no reason’, to quote my nephew!), enjoy good company over long, leisurely meals – any of that sound appealing?

Switching off is hard, but when we live in a constant state of being ‘on’, it can be hugely draining on our mental energy, and cause us to lose touch with our more creative side.

Younger daughter has several of these so-called adult colouring books, and has allowed me a page to do. The photo is of one of her finished pictures – it took quite a while! And what a revelation! It is such fun, and utterly absorbing. Absolute concentration is required on the task, and therefore there is no room for anything else in my head. The end results are beautiful, it is very relaxing, and quite social if we do adjoining pages together. Apparently it is being recognised that this type of creative activity is producing benefits comparable to aspects of meditation, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post. It is stress relieving, low cost, low tech. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but as an alternative to online entertainment, it is worthy of consideration.

Again, as ever, it is not always possible or practical to have a weekly day of rest – tech free or not, that might be one step too far. But as a concept it is important – giving yourself permission to step away from the normal routines, have more time for slower activities that bring you life and joy. For me, my faith should act as a prompt to do this regularly. But if I’m honest, how different is a Sunday (or whatever your chosen Sabbath rest day is) from my normal day?

How firm are boundaries round that time of rest in terms of what I am protecting?

What is in focus at your dinner table?

What is most important to you?

Where is your dinner table focus?

Where is your dinner table focus?

For me, in my work as a coach, this question tops the list of those I most frequently ask. Where is your focus?

We cannot create boundaries that are effective and robust until we know what it is we are trying to protect – what we are walling in and walling out (with grateful thanks to the poet Robert Frost!).

Let’s take as an example, the use of electronic gadgetry. We looked at this in relation to work emails etc last week. But another thorny issue is at stake here.

I saw a brilliant spoof advert recently (an April Fool as it happened) made by a well known pasta sauce manufacturer. It advertised a pepper mill for use at meal times. With one twist, all electronic devices were switched off. Initially there was outcry amongst the teenagers and children, for whom the use of such devices can approach an addiction. More subtly, it frustrated adults who were unable to ‘quickly check their email’ whilst eating. But the point? After the initial ruckus died down, families sat round the table and talked, laughed, shared their day, made eye contact with each other  (remember that?). Their focus became on each other and not their own devices. Community was re-established.

Emails, the internet, social networking sites will never go away. They are a fact of life, and have many great uses. But how and when we use them is a factor of what is most important to us.

Talking with our family, flatmates, partner, friends over a meal – sharing life, laughing, connecting, keeping the conversation open (especially important with teenagers, as I am learning): Where does this rank in importance over checking email, updating our status, catching up on iplayer?

There I go again with my black and white questioning. It’s not as simple as that…..I hear you protest. And of course there are grey areas in there. But if my children or friends see me checking my phone at the table, then they will not only very quickly learn that they are less important, but also that it is acceptable behaviour for them too. And where does it stop?

So when you sit down this week to enjoy your actual food, here is some food for thought:

Where is your main focus?

Who are you eating with, and what would they say about where your focus is?

What kind of boundaries do you have around your mealtimes, and how well maintained are they?

Encourage your mealtime companions to apply the same questions to themselves – who knows, you might even end up having a conversation about it and allowing what really matters to come back into focus.

Boundaries around your electronic life?

What are the boundaries around your electronic working life like?

How good are the boundaries around your electronic work life?

How good are the boundaries around your electronic work life?

Do you find yourself checking emails at weekends when you didn’t intend to – you simply planned to look something up on line but got distracted?

How quickly do you respond to work emails or texts outwith work hours?

Do you sometimes reply to emails from a colleague or your boss very early in the morning or late at night, to prove a point about how hard you are working?

Now sometimes, this is the only time we can catch up, or we may have arranged our time and our day with a different working pattern. But in showing willing to reply to emails about work at any time within your own time, what message are you sending to your boss: essentially that you are available at their beck and call, that you have no boundaries and can be expected in future to reply to work queries whenever it suits them. Not you. Not only that, but what message does it send to those work colleagues who might be more junior to you: that to get on in work you need to be prepared to respond to work on the boss’ terms, not yours.

That your time is not your own. That work has to take priority over anything else you might be doing.

You may not have thought about it in such black and white terms…..that is me all over though, a character trait my nearest-and-dearest find challenging to live with.

But often it is only when we put an issue into such stark terms that we can see clearly how to make changes.

Some points for consideration here – what are your contracted hours, if you are employed? I understand the pressure of jobs that involve on call, from my work as a physiotherapist. This is different, and tricky, but factoring rest time where practical after the event is important – and often requires us to give ourselves permission to do this.

But as a starting point, defining as clearly as possible what hours we work, and what else we do outwith those hours, then enables us to decide under what circumstances we will work extra. We are made to work, to be productive, to engage in meaningful activity. And we gain fulfilment from doing our job well, with integrity and honour, and going the extra mile in service as appropriate.

But no-one wins when we are walked over, taken for granted, and our generosity and willingness to accommodate the needs of everyone else is abused.

Learn to communicate clearly, politely and firmly when you are available, and when you are not. Provide an excellent, efficient and effective service when you are available, but be clear when you are not. And stick to your guns – respect your own boundaries and others will gradually learn to do so.

How often do you plan in time off? A self employed colleague recently informed me that he hasn’t taken a proper holiday in over three years. There never seemed to be the right time…. but his productivity was nose diving through sheer mental and emotional fatigue.

Work will be there on your return, but you can return with fresh zeal and commitment.

Some food for thought. Next time your work email pings outwith working hours, how will you respond? How robust are those electronic boundaries?

Does work creep through your boundaries into your personal time?

Are your boundaries too permeable?

Are your boundaries too permeable?

Are your work boundaries just a little bit too permeable, allowing work to creep and seep unhealthily into your personal time?

What commitments, pursuits, hobbies do you have out of work that you enjoy, that give you life, and – crucially – provide a time limit on work? A post-work planned activity generally requires a clearly defined finish time, and thus the likelihood of heightened productivity during working hours.

During the summer school holidays, elder and younger daughters were away for two separate weeks enjoying the delights of undiluted grandparent attention. This is a win-win-win situation:  the girls love being spoiled by their two sets of grandparents, who in turn love having the grandchildren to themselves. We are hugely blessed to have four parents between us who are fit and well, and able to do this. I am able to catch up on work, and husband and I have a week of date nights.

But curiously, the absence of the children also removed most of the normal boundaries I have on my working time. And whilst I had expected to achieve a huge amount in the extended time available, I noticed that my productivity dropped in the absence of time pressures. Being self employed, I am used to creating my own work patterns, and am motivated and organised with my time. Usually. But without deadlines to serve as boundaries round my time, motivation dropped. I had to give myself a stiff talking to, create artificial time boundaries, plan in non-work activities to achieve that discipline.

When we have no fixed activity or priority to move to at the end of our working time, it is easier for boundaries to become blurry and for our work to eat into our personal time. What does this say about how much we value ourselves, our nearest-and-dearest, and the importance of time off?

On one of our date nights in the summer, my phone pinged to notify me of an email from a new potential client. Husband stated that it was fine if I replied there and then.

And I was tempted – being conscientious and generous with my time are important parts of how I do business, and I might risk losing this client if I delayed in replying. What if they thought I was slacking? Or not available? Or too busy for them? All temptations that can play into my fears. After all, we had had plenty of time together that week, we were simply sitting in the pub talking, what would it matter? Very permeable boundaries…..

In fact, I did not reply. And this is why: it was 9.15pm, and I was in the pub with my husband. Two principles were at stake – on a non-work evening, on a date, my husband is more important than anything else (barring an emergency) and switching my phone off communicated that to him (a good question here – why was it on in the first place?! – in fact we were looking something up together, honest).

Second principle – if I replied to this potential client at that time of night, what does that say to her about my own boundaries? I am constantly challenged to live as I coach, and therefore responding to work email whilst on an evening out would be a direct contradiction to what I coach others to do.

Create and respect your own boundaries. Be clear what you are walling in and out.

And in doing so, others will learn to respect your boundaries, and respect your integrity in maintaining them.

Boundaries are walls round what?

What are your boundaries protecting?

What are your boundaries protecting?

What is your understanding of boundaries, and how well established are your own boundaries?

There is an oft-quoted line from Robert Frost’s famous poem Mending Wall that goes like this:

“Good fences make good neighbours”.

It is quoted in material dealing with boundaries, supporting the idea that personal boundaries are necessary and important to ensure mutually supportive, healthy relationships. Now I agree with this entirely. But what I have been musing on is the part of that poem that I still remember from English studies at school:

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” (Robert Frost, Mending Wall)

What I was walling in and walling out…..and it strikes me that in that phrase lies the secret to understanding our boundaries and why they are indeed important.

  • How can we build a wall unless we know where to build it?
  • Why would we go to the bother of building a wall unless we had something to protect?
  • And what is it that we are trying to protect?

And there it is – for me, the key to boundaries. Once you know what it is you want to protect – what it is you are walling in – creating boundaries makes perfect sense, and ensures that you are clearer on what you are walling out.

So…..what am I building boundary walls round?

Me. My identity, self worth, values, priorities and life principles.

Getting to grips with who I am and what I can do, and accepting and valuing myself as a unique individual with my own values.

Ooh, I hear the sound of hairs bristling. I know, a huge and potentially tricky issue this one. I am NOT suggesting we all become islands, self obsessed and rigid in what we will and won’t do. Not good. I am however suggesting that we can start to create healthy boundaries only when we truly understand what it is we are trying to protect.

What do you know of your own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits?

What can you tolerate and accept, and what makes you uncomfortable and stressed?

Where do you stand on issues that matter to you, and therefore are prepared to protect?

I have been hugely challenged to think about my own boundaries as I am learning what self employment looks like. And I don’t just mean work boundaries, but I am thinking about my mental energy levels, emotional responses to my nearest-and-dearest, and where I expend my energy. And I will be exploring all these themes more in coming weeks, as this is a topic that comes up a lot in my work.

Creating boundaries starts with self awareness – what are you walling in and walling out?