Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys!
I was introduced to this phrase a couple of weeks ago, and I have been using the heck out of it! With my clients, in my own personal life – it just seems to be applicable to so many situations! Not my circus, not my monkeys is a Polish proverb (nie moj cyrk, nie moje malpy) that basically means, not my problem. How refreshing is that? It is without a doubt the hardest lesson I have had to learn in my life. As I’ve talked about before, I am a fixer. I think most therapists are – it’s what drives us to be therapists after all, to help other people solve their problems. But helping someone else to solve their problems is much different than solving someone else’s problems for them. And that’s hard. You want to help. You may know (or think you know) what would be the best solution. But you simply cannot want something for another being. They have to want it for themselves. And they have to be willing to work for what they want.
One of the biggest traps that therapists fall into is that of working harder than their clients. It leads to therapist burnout, resentment and can also contribute to secondary trauma if pushed too far. It is so incredibly difficult for a therapist to sit back and watch their client struggle. Yet, it is that very struggle that is going to help them come to the conclusion that they need to in order to best serve their life, their desires and their goals. I often talk to my clients about how I at times have to visualize a bubble that springs up around me when I need it to. It’s how therapists protect themselves and how they are able to detach (somewhat – we’re not perfect, being drawn into other people’s stuff is what led us to this profession). Reminding yourself that these aren’t your monkeys can serve as a visual reminder to provide some distance, while still being present and sharing in the other person’s journey with them.
But does this phrase only apply to therapists? Heck no! Everyone can benefit from it! I’ve used it at home when frustrated with my toddler (but he just starting acting like a monkey, so – win some, lose some), in line at the grocery store, while driving on the same roads with people who certainly never took any sort of driver’s education, whatsoever. It pops into my head sometimes when I’m reading my Facebook feed and I want to comment on something that I know I have no business sticking my nose into. I’ve taught it to my husband so he can use it when he gets overwhelmed at work. It’s a funny image, so it adds some lightheartedness to what can be a frustrating, overwhelming, fill-in-the-blank emotion situation.
The point is, it’s hard to pull away from the drama and not take in everything as your own. You have your own stuff to deal with, so pick your outside battles wisely. Do you really need to be involved in everything? Think of yourself as a bucket – you only have so much to give, and when it’s empty you can’t give anything useful to yourself or to others. If you need to adopt some of those monkeys on occasion that’s fine, that’s life. But decide how many you want, and think about what your circus will look like.