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  • Writer's pictureFiona Hewkin Counselling

Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys! Or Boundaries and How to Set Them

Updated: Feb 13

Healthy boundaries and how to set them

Boundaries: Not My Circus Not My Monkeys!

The saying "Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys" originates from Polish folklore and has become a popular phrase symbolizing the idea that we cannot control everything and everyone in our lives. Our circus refers to our personal space, and the monkeys represent the myriad of issues and drama that may arise. Embracing this mindset doesn't mean we're indifferent; rather, it encourages us to discern when to engage and when to take a step back.


Not my circus, not my monkeys can sound really rude at first glance. Actually, it’s a great way to describe boundaries.

Ok so we all want to be liked, as humans we have an innate need to be accepted. Trouble starts when the need for acceptance overrides the healthy boundaries we need and messes with our own wellbeing. When we constantly put other people first we are the ones that suffer.

Why are Boundaries Important?

Boundaries are a sign of self-respect; they are vital to having healthy relationships. They help with a healthy work-life balance and prevent burnout. They are essential to self-care.

The Friendly Approach to Boundaries:


Setting boundaries doesn't have to be a rigid or confrontational process. Instead, think of it as a compassionate act towards ourselves and others. Approaching it with a friendly demeanour fosters healthier relationships and allows us to navigate through life's challenges with a bit more grace.

What Happens When we don’t set Healthy Boundaries?

If we feel resentful or like we are being taken advantage of, it’s a clear sign we don’t have healthy boundaries. If we don’t have boundaries we can end up at the mercy of others. We might allow others to tell us how to think or what to feel

Always putting people first doesn’t make you a saint, it makes you a martyr

So, What do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?

Boundaries can take many forms. We can say “no” or “wait” They can also be really difficult! The first time a friend told me that “no, is a complete sentence” I thought that sounded SO rude.

Here is a list of what healthy boundaries might look like

· I can’t do that right now

· I have a right to my own feelings

· I can’t come but thank you for asking

· I’m uncomfortable discussing this, I’d like to stop

· I won’t be spoken to like this

· Thank you for sharing your advice, I will let you know when I have made a decision

· I can stay for half an hour

· I don’t respond to work emails at weekends

· I appreciate your opinion, but this is my life and my decision

· No thanks,

· No!

Boundaries can be tricky to navigate, but they're crucial for maintaining our mental and emotional well-being. Let's look at some practical tips and insights on how to set boundaries effectively without feeling guilty or overwhelmed.

  1. Know Yourself: Learn to understand your own needs, values and limits. Take time to think about what matters to you and what you are comfortable with

  2. Identify Your Monkeys: In this case monkeys are the people, issues and situations that drain your energy or cross your boundaries. Learn to recognise the monkeys in your life.

  3. Assertive Communication: This takes practice! Remember it is ok to say no without giving loads of reasons why.

  4. Clear Consequences: Boundaries without consequences are merely suggestions.

  5. Self compassion: Setting boundaries isn't about being selfish; it's an act of self-care and self-respect. Be kind to yourself throughout this process. It's okay to stumble or feel guilty initially, but remember that prioritising your well-being is not only acceptable but necessary

What's This Got to do with Monkeys?

Boundaries or not my circus, not my monkeys may seem really rude, but just think about it for a moment. If the drama your friend is trying to pull you into isn’t your problem, why go there? Not your circus. If your family member wants you to get into a bitch session about someone else in the family and that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, not your monkeys! One thing I am certain of is that other peoples monkeys are invariably badly behaved. There is no need to invite them in for tea. Give those badly behaved monkeys back!

a monkey with big eyes eating bits of grass



Dec 19, 2021

Brilliant Fi!! Boundaries are for so many, a hard one to call and the reasons can run deep but ultimately it gets easier the more self worth and self respect we develop. It’s a process of training and feels hard but good all at the same time!

I've enjoyed this x

Fiona Hewkin Counselling
Fiona Hewkin Counselling
Dec 20, 2021
Replying to

Hi Angie, you are right much easier to set boundaries when we have self respect and self worth. Thanks for being the first person to comment on the blog!

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