Sanity Equals Limits and Boundaries

I once heard someone say "sanity equals limits and boundaries" and the concept has stuck with me ever since. There are a lot of useful ways to apply this philosophy to daily life.

To clarify, I use the word "limits" to apply to the inner self and "boundaries" to apply to others. For example, if you don't buy Girl Scout cookies to save yourself from the temptation of eating the whole box, that's a limit. If you tell a friend not to bring alcohol to your house, that's boundary. Limits address our own behavior while boundaries address to the behavior of others. One is measured inwardly and the other outwardly.

How is it true that "sanity equals limits and boundaries"? If the opposite of "sanity" is some form of poor mental or emotional health, then the concept has a lot of validity.

  • Depression is sadness without limits,
  • psychosis is fantasy without limits,
  • rage is anger without limits,
  • addiction is mood alteration without limits,
  • panic is anxiety without limits, and on and on.

Sometimes I am able to spot-check my mental and emotional health by examining the state of my limits and boundaries. Do I respect when I need to stop eating? Am I taking sufficient time for myself? Am I practicing my ability to say "no" gracefully? Am I doing an adequate job of disengaging from the destructive patterns of others?

The management of limits and boundaries is a life-long exercise and the results may ebb and flow from day to day.  It's important to remain flexible without being either too rigid on the one hand or too loose on the other.  The concept of a shoreline is a good analogy: although there is both a high and low tide they are not miles apart from each other.

What limits and boundaries are operating in your life? How many of them are conscious and how many just happen? It's a good idea to identify and monitor the various limits and boundaries that help you maintain a balanced sense of yourself, both as an individual and in relationship with others.  You'll find that it is a helpful way of assessing and managing your mental and emotional health.


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta counselor and psychotherapist for individuals and couples.  In addition to his general practice he has special skill in helping people address concerns about sexual behavior that violates relationship commitments, personal valyues and /or a sense of self-control



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