Not my monkeys.
There’s a delightful Polish saying that translates to, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Not only does it connect my Polish ancestry with my romantic notions of the circus—I used to make and perform with puppets, a practice I am planning on returning to—this proverb feels like a lighter and possibly more skillful way of saying, “That’s not my responsibility.”
Having spent the better part of this year developing my capacity to process my anger, being able to say, “No, thank you, that’s not for me” in a way that doesn’t feel heavy is a tiny victory that I am absolutely celebrating.
In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren speaks to both the healthy and unhealthy expressions of our feelings.
On anger, she writes, “Healthy anger sets your boundary and helps you engage more effectively because it allows you to relate authentically and respectfully.”
She then goes on to talk about why we’re not all one and how boundaries and self-preservation are actually prerequisites to nurturing greater peace and connection between people.
(I’ll admit, I am a Self-Preservation Enneagram Type 4 so this is music to my ears.)
As a long-time freelancer, I spent many years using anger as my primary boundary-setting tool. Not only was this unhealthy for me mentally and emotionally, it also cost me a lot of professional—and personal—relationships.
Learning to listen to my anger and get curious about what crossed boundary it’s trying to light up has been an uncomfortable and rewarding process.
Not only has it allowed me to show up and create better work while nurturing more supportive, sustainable relationships, it has also allowed me to be of greater service to my clients.
Every time I set a boundary, I add strength to the walls of the container that I’m creating with them.
It also gives me an opportunity to fill out the boundary I am asking to be respected in a way that helps my clients understand the love behind my decision.
Which is not to say that I don’t get pushback. In fact, I have found that the more level and clear I am when setting boundaries, the more my client’s monkeys act up.
Now, however, I am able to accept and maintain the boundaries I have put in place with none of the emotionally volatility and resentment from before.
Because regardless of their response, I am clear for myself that, while the circus might be mine, their monkeys most certainly are not.