When you think about setting boundaries, what happens in your body? Do you notice a change in your heart rate? You may feel a weight in your chest or a pit in your stomach. Are you flooded with extra nervous energy or are you falling into a sleepy lull? If so, you aren’t alone, and you definitely aren’t overreacting.

Long ago, belonging was necessary for human survival. Living alone in the wild wasn’t possible, so being a valued member of a community was tantamount to existence. When our nervous systems are activated by the threat of letting someone down or losing someone’s acceptance, we experience the same symptoms as when our physical safety is threatened. The ability to please others is an evolutionary function in the human brain.

Although it was once necessary for survival, we no longer live in a world where being valued and accepted is the difference between life and death. Sure, being likable and courteous can make most things easier, but we have evolved as a species to the point where we no longer work only to survive, but also to thrive. We have come to a place where not setting boundaries is more harmful than setting them.

We may feel tempted to see this desire to thrive as an individualistic and selfish goal. In actuality, this thriving exists on a collective level in the modern world. We no longer live in relationships that are fundamentally for the sake of survival. We now have the opportunity to develop more meaningful and authentic connections that are about mutual respect. As a species, we have reached a higher level of awareness and existence.

So what does all of this mean for us? First of all, you are not alone if you feel like your nervous system isn’t cooperating when you try to set boundaries. Second, boundaries are a gift for both ourselves and others, allowing us deeper connection. Chances are, those who resist your boundaries or feel they are selfish may be heavily benefiting from your need to please.

The good news is that it’s more than possible to set and enforce boundaries with your loved ones. If you’d like support around setting boundaries this holiday season and beyond, consider joining our upcoming Boundary Setting Workshop!