HOW CAN A MONKEY HELP YOU BEAT STRESS?

How the simple sentence "don't pick up the monkey" changed my stress levels
Photo by Patrick Beznoska on Unsplash

COPING WITH DRAMA

Several weeks ago I wrote a post on Detachment that described the concept of stepping back from drama and creating healthy boundaries. I chose to write about it because 2017 had been an extremely stressful year for me - particularly in the area of my work environment. I had reached the point of needing to make some major changes to be able to stay in my job or alternatively, walking away and starting again.

WHEN THE FIXER NEEDS FIXING

I am a fixer - it comes from the whole "oldest child syndrome" idea where I need to be able to help and to put things in order. I like everyone to be happy, and I feel that I have enough life experience to be able to offer some suggestions or advice (when asked) that could help someone in a difficult situation. I was under the complete illusion that this person wanted to be helped and actually wanted to move forward.

Then I read an interesting article by Marc Chernoff that included this paragraph about the idea of saving certain (overly dramatic) people from themselves:

"Honestly, you can’t save some people from themselves, so don’t get sucked too deep into their drama. Those who make perpetual chaos of their lives won’t appreciate you interfering with the commotion they’ve created, anyway. They want your “poor baby” sympathy, but they don’t want to change. They don’t want their lives fixed by you. They don’t want their problems solved, their emotional addictions and distractions taken away, their stories resolved, or their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left? They don’t know and they aren’t ready to know yet. And it’s not your job to tell them."

TAKING A BREAK

Why hadn't this clicked for me before? Why was I trying to fix the unfixable or trying to rescue someone who didn't really want to be rescued? I needed to step back and reassess and fortunately Christmas and my annual leave gave me the perfect break to do just that.

I spent all of January in a lovely haze of vacation time. It was absolute bliss and made me appreciate how stressed I'd been and how messed up my head was over the whole thing. It was a whole month of being free from all of the emotional turmoil. To leave it all behind and to have a clear head that wasn't turning things over all the time. It gave me space to reconsider how I need to approach the year ahead and how I'd handle the interaction that was sure to start again in February.

MY STRESS BUSTER BREAK-THROUGH

The reason I mentioned my Detachment post is that one of the lovely people who took the time to comment on it was Jude (from the wonderfully named gideonsockpuppet blog). She shared a piece of advice that was short and succinct but perfect for what I needed to hear, and it was: "Don't Pick Up The Monkey". Those words have resonated with me for the last couple of months because they tie in so well with what Marc Chernoff was advising in regard to dealing with overly dramatic people.

my secret to busting stress - "don't pick up the monkey!" don't buy into other people's issues

It was such the perfect analogy for me because, if you don't pick up the monkey in the first place, then you avoid the pain that the encounter is sure to bring with it. No matter how needy, or how sweet, or how gentle the monkey might look, it will bring trouble with it because monkeys are synonymous with causing strife and mayhem. So, leave it alone! And the same goes for needy people - leave them alone!

CIRCUSES

I am a big fan of the saying "Not my circus, not my monkey" when it comes to other people's issues, but the trouble arises when I start making it my monkey by involving myself in something I need to stay clear of. So my big stress buster breakthrough for 2018 is to stay away from the circus and if I have to be exposed to the performance, then under NO circumstance am I to pick up that darn monkey!

not my circus, not my monkeys - in other words....not my problem!

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Do you have any other tips for me on how to avoid drama and stress? I hope this monkey analogy is something that strikes a chord with you too - we all need ways to deal with the circus don't we?

How the simple sentence "don't pick up the monkey" changed my stress levels

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35 comments

  1. It took me many years of therapy to stop getting involved in others drama. I was the oldest child in a very dysfunctional family and used to dealing with chaos. My therapist felt I was always involved in drama because that was what I knew how to handle. Many years later and lots of therapy I have learned how to deal with the calm.

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    1. My husband became a family counsellor later in life Victoria and I'm sure it's so he could help me sort all this stuff out. He's a youngest child and his world view is completely different to mine! Sometimes that's a problem but a lot of times it brings some perspective to my orderly fix-it mindset.

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  2. I love Jude's writing at 'Dr Sock Writes Here' as well. Jude is also a neighbor and I agree that she gives great advice. I am glad to hear that you are now 'avoiding the circus' and 'not picking up the monkey'!

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    1. Yes I love their stuff Donna and it was a very handy piece of advice that tied in very nicely with the stuff from Marc Chernoff. Sometimes you need to know when to leave people to their own consequences.

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  3. Oh Leanne! I think we are very much alike! I am a fixer and I am also the eldest child! I always seem to attract people with problems and/or drama. I'm always overly empathetic and get sucked in (and stressed and drained) by it all. I am learning though and I realise now that some people cannot be saved from themselves and it's not my job to try and do it. I will always be a caring person but I know now the type of person ... or the monkey ... to not pick up! ;-) #TeamLovinLife

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    1. I used to think that I wasn't particularly empathetic and maybe God was trying to teach me some grace by bringing these people into my world - now I realize that there is a difference between empathy and being drowned by the woes of people who don't seem to be able to help themselves - you can't fix people who don't want to be fixed - hence 'don't pick up the monkey' in the first place.

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  4. Oh my goodness - get that monkey off my back already. Seriously though, this rang way too many bells for me - as many of your posts do. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect that we were separated at birth. #teamlovinlife

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    1. I think the same thing when I read your posts Jo - we seem to be dealing with a lot of the same stuff atm aren't we? Hopefully we'll become super wise and be able to be a bit more discerning with how we spend our time and energy as the future unfolds!

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  5. Oh my goodness, do you have a drone hovering over my home? How did you KNOW what to say to me TODAY? I am the eldest child too, but seeing my only other sibling is 15 years younger, I didn't think this syndrome had affected me, but now I see I am not only the eldest, I am ALSO an only child. I can't see a problem without KNOWING it is up to me to fix, hence I am surrounded by needy people. They love me, because they don't need to sort out their own messes! HAH! Things are going to change around here! Thankful Thursday Week 10 and Ask Me a Question.

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    1. It's the mother hen syndrome Shirley - we just want to straighten everyone out and get it all tidy. Because we're organized and don't get dramatic we think we can help others to be the same way.....but some people are just destined to lurch from crisis to crisis and no matter how hard you try to bail them out, they just turn around and repeat the same problems over and over again - so tiring!

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  6. What a wonderful analogy and so true! With this analogy I am now going to be able to remember it and hopefully make my life a bit easier and let my kids work out their own stuff.

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    1. I think it helps to have a picture in your head sometimes Christine. I actually made a wallpaper on my laptop of one of the quotes to remind me for a few weeks - it made it sink in more!

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  7. What A Timely Message For Myself To Read!
    I'm The Eldest Of 5!
    It dawned on me a while ago, not to pick
    up the messes of what the others have laid down and made for themselves.
    It's still a work in progress for me!
    "Not Picking Up The Monkey" is a quote I will use over and over in my head.
    It's also freeing...as now I'm able to free myself up and look around her
    sincere situations in which I can be a blessing in to someone else!
    Thanks-A-Bunch Leanne!
    :)

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    1. Hi Amy - the eldest of five just blows my mind! We definitely have that practical mindset where we think we can help other people get their acts together - but sometimes you just have to leave people to their own devices - they don't want to change and they don't want to have orderly lives - they want to wallow and that's their choice and their consequences - tough lesson to learn tho!

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  8. Not my circus not my monkeys always makes me laugh - I also love the one where it IS my monkeys, but who cares!?! ;)

    As always your posts have such heart and make me think, Leanne. Hope you're well.

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    1. I always laugh at that quote "when you realize those are your monkeys...." fortunately it's usually someone else and their monkeys causing the problem - now I just sit back, eat popcorn and watch the show :)

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  9. I am exactly the same way Leanne...the fixer person. It's still hard for me not to be that way, but I'm starting to get better at it thanks to my hubby!!
    XOXO
    Jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

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    1. My husband tells me I can't fix everyone too Jodie - I guess it's something we need to be told a lot before we finally grasp the idea that not everyone is fixable.

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  10. That's been my go to for years! Not my monkeys, not my circus has saved me so many times!

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    1. Me too Rena - I read it a few years ago (on Pinterest of course!) and it just struck a chord with me. It allows me to not have to chase those monkeys around or try to round them up - they're someone else's problem!

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  11. No one can help people who don't want to help themselves. Great advice from Jude!

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    1. Why did it take me so many years and so much stress before I realized that simple answer Natalie? You're obviously more on the ball than I was :)

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  12. I've been blessed to not get too bogged down. I mean, I literally live in a huge cow pasture/paddock, I rarely see anybody but Hubby and love gardening, but I know that not everybody has been that blessed. I'm glad you are finally figuring the stress thing out. It makes life so much simpler.

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    1. I think distance definitely has its advantages Betty - cows make for a lot less drama than humans do!

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  13. I've been monkeying around with stress for too long and hate the circus, thanks for the wise words, Leanne, off to share. :)
    Dropped by from #BloggersPitStop but always glad to be here. :)
    Hope this weekend treats you kindly. :)

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    1. Me too Donna - I get sucked into picking up that pile of problems every time - at least I'm slowly learning to turn and walk away from drama that isn't mine to deal with. A few more years and I might have it down to a fine art!

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  14. I loved this Leanne. I am also guilty of getting into other people's drama, trying to advise them or save them from themselves. I do it MUCH less these days. I remind myself all the time, this is not YOUR problem. Not my monkey either!

    Also, just an FYI, I can't usually post on your blog with my wordpress blog ID. For some reason, it doesn't like my wordpress login, I think because liferedesign101 has numbers in it. It is no big deal, I am planning to change my blog over to my name soon anyway.

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    1. I'm learning that I'm not Dr Phil Michele - he gets paid to deal with people's issues and I don't! People actually go to him because they want to be helped - the people I get caught up with aren't prepared to change so I'm learning to let it go and leave them to it. PS: sorry about the WP comment thing - Blogger can be a bit fiddly with comments sometimes - grrrr

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  15. I hadn't heard the 'don't pick up the monkey' saying before, though a therapist did talk to me about the 'mad monkey mind' thing a few years ago and I think I wrote about it then.

    I'm struggling at work at the moment. The last couple of weeks have been horrendous and it's mostly because I'm just feeling let down by a heap of people and judged. No one is happy with one of the projects I'm working on (an office move) and I almost cried when I got a nice response to a all-staff email this week. Everyone's so negative that when someone responded to tell me how nice it's looking I almost burst into tears. (I'm used to people complaining about where they'll be sitting, how they'll be expected to work, the environment, the lack of lunch room, too few toilets, supervisors too far away, supervisors too close etc. This was all done and decided before I started and I don't have explanations for most of the decisions which is really difficult.) *sigh*

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    1. I could tell there were some issues going on in your life Deb because the tone of your posts have that underlying note to them of things not being great somewhere in the background. I'm sorry for all the whingers you're having to deal with - it's so easy to be the whiner and so hard to keep smiling when you're the one being whined at. It wouldn't be so bad if it was your decision they were annoyed about, but when you're just the messenger it really sucks. Hope things start looking up for you soon - bring on part-time hours again!

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  16. Hi Leanne I'm a fixer and find it so hard to walk away. I am always picking up the Monkey and haven't heard that saying before. Working in an environment like you are can be so, so stressful. I was like that in my last job before retiring, although in my case the woman was a bully but in the end I walked away from that and felt a load lifted. I'm so pleased you used the holiday break to mull over everything and now life is much easier on the work front.

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  17. At least we recognize that we are the fixers of the world Sue, and that's the first step in the process of figuring out who can be saved and who needs to be left to their own devices. People who don't know how to function without drama can't be fixed and it's such a relief when you finally figure that out and leave them to it.

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    1. Hi Leanne, I just wanted to pop back to say thank you for linking up at #overthemoon and you are one of my featured picks again this week. Way to go!

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  18. Great post! For me, keeping toxic relationships out of my life is one way to avoid the drama. I've also learned to stay off Twitter or not comment on certain social media topics.

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  19. Leanne, I had heard that phrase before (not my circus, not my monkey) but never quite understood it. Now I do! Thanks for that.

    I also love the longer quote about people who don't want to be changed. That's even more what I need .... and realize that if I don't want to hear about the negative swirl their life is in (again and again), I need to move on.

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