Recently, I sent the old polish proverb, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” in a text message, to a close friend who was struggling to maintain her inner peace in the midst of chaos. I often recite this saying to myself as a simple reminder, that I don’t have to let the irrational behavior of others, pull me in or upset my peace of mind.
I know how easy it can be to get pulled in to other people’s drama. Especially, if it is our spouse or someone equally important to us. Most of us have unconscious, knee-jerk responses to what is happening around us. For example, if someone is venting about their problem, you might have a tendency to take it personally. Your automatic response may be to become defensive or try to fix whatever is wrong. If you respond this way and it leaves you feeling small, victimized or ashamed, it may be your inner three-year-old self reacting and not your adult self. Reacting from the child-like part of ourselves, is quite common, so don’t feel badly if this sounds like you.
If angry people always seem to bring out the “it’s my fault” or the “I have to fix it” response from you, and you want to break that habit, it is possible. One of the best ways, I’ve found to change the way I react to anger, is to focus not on the other person’s emotion, but on the words they are saying. That approach, helps to keep my emotions in check and helps me to listen more closely. If I can repeat what they said to me, using my own words, it helps the other person to feel that they were heard. Most of the time, that is all the other person wants from me. Another practice that has worked for me, is to give myself some time to process the issue, before I respond. By suspending the conversation and postponing my reply, I give myself the space to think more clearly, so I can respond more effectively.
Another scenario where it helps to remember the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” is when someone in your life is making decisions you don’t support. Sometimes, the people in our lives, make decisions that keep them stuck in self-defeating cycles or put them in situations, that from the outside, we can clearly see won’t be good for them in the long run. No matter how strongly you feel about it, if it doesn’t directly impact your quality of life, your health or your bank account, the best thing you can do is let it go. If you get worked up over other people’s decisions, it will only serve to keep you in a state of anxiety. It will not impact the outcome or the other person at all. If you insist on telling the other person what you think they should or should not do, you will probably destroy the relationship. So unless this is someone you do not want in your life, it is in your best interest, to find a way to release your need to control the situation. Let them make their own mistakes and be there to offer words of support and encouragement if things go badly. Who knows, what you presume to be an error in judgement, could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened for the other person.
Don’t assume that it is your responsibility to make an angry person happy or assume you know what is best for someone else. In relationships, just as in the game of tennis, it’s always best to stay on your side of the net.