I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now. The words just are not wanting to come out in the way they normally do so stay with me, I promise this will be worth the read.
For most of my life I’ve used something called “social camouflage”. Meaning I’ve learned many ways to make other people think I “fit in” when the reality is that I don’t.
I’m not really that “Weird”, well I am and I’m not. By society’s standards, I do the things that are expected of me, and I follow the rules (mostly). The part that most people don’t get is the part that no one can really see.
You see in my head I’m never the same as the person I’ve shown you. Here on the pages that I’m writing YES, I’m being honest and true to myself and how I think. But in reality, when you meet me, I make myself fit you.
To the causal observer, I will look like I’m interested in your conversation. WHy? because I know how to mimic your body’s movements. Which when done correctly makes you feel more relaxed and likely to talk to me because it builds trust. Done wrong you’ll get creeped out and get away from me as fast as possible.
I know this because I’ve tested it.
You see I’m what they call a Chameleon. I can blend into my surroundings at any time. It’s a defense mechanism.
When I’m in a situation where you expect me to be social, I’m social. When I’m supposed to be quiet, I’m quiet. Often times I use how I speak, and dress to appear “less” threatening then many people have told me I can be.
You see I’m a strong personality, and along the road to growing up I was constantly told that strong women are scary (well they used a stronger word then that but you get the picture).
I’ve had it drilled into me that I need to adapt to what other people want/need in order to get love back.
I’ve had multiple boyfriends tell me that I’m intimidating, overwhelming, and over the top. Often times with a negative connotation attached.
I’ve had multiple people in my life tell me in non-verbal ways that their pain and suffering was more important than anything I could come up with. So I had to be less than myself in order to stay around them.
But I digress,
The Chameleon and Abuse
It is my personal observation that most people who have suffered from some kind of abuse tend to be chameleons to some degree or another.
We have been told that someone else’s emotions, thoughts, and view of the world is more important than ours for so long that it is difficult to know what our own thoughts and feelings are.
If we do experience a deep emotion, or strong thought often times it gets us in trouble. So we learn to blend it into the surroundings so the other person won’t see it.
After years of abuse many of us will stop recognizing our own emotions. We will simply react with a chameleon’s mask in place as a defense mechanism.
After all what is the point in having an emotion we are not able to recognize/deal with anyway.
For example, the year I got married (the first time) my Grandfather passed away from cancer. He was an absolutely AMAZING MAN. Loved him to pieces, as a kid he would take me in the tractor (we lived in the country), we got to help with chores around the farm, he played with us regularly.
And he even helped out with a Father’s day baseball tournament when my own Dad couldn’t make it back from work in time.
He spent time with us and made us feel like we were important to him because we were people.
Grandpa was a community staple in our little town. He passed away almost a month after I got married.
As my (now) ex husband and I drove out to the funeral I remember him grumping and complaining about how this was a total waste of time, and making him drive this far out of the city was wasting precious gas… the list went on and on.
But it was my Grandpa, someone who had helped me up when I had fallen down. Who had supported my singing, who had…well you get the idea. Just writing this is making me tear up. It was one of those times that I didn’t listen to the man beside me.
After the funeral had finished and we had gotten home, I hung the rose I gathered from his graveside, and I went about my regular day. I knew better than to let my ex see me cry. He would think I was weak and I would likely pay for it in some way.
The Problem with Camouflage
The big thing with camouflage is that it doesn’t actually change anything. It is just a surface cover up. Like putting on camouflage clothing all it does is give the appearance of blending in, it doesn’t actually make you fit the situation.
Looking back now, what happened was exactly what I needed. I denied the truth, I pushed the feelings of loss, abandonment, and emotional pain so far down I couldn’t see / feel / hear / or touch them. The problem with that is I ended up living a very superficial life for a while.
And in all likely hood it did afford me some protection, however when strong emotions like that are suppressed they always find a way to get out.
And mine resulted in a spectacular blow up, then for a couple of months I would “fit in” again. Then another blow up… the cycle would repeated over and over.
It became fodder for my ex to keep me under control. He didn’t know when I would have a break down so I had to stay home in case he couldn’t stop it. Or I was being so emotional right then that I couldn’t go do what ever it was I wanted because it was too risky to my health.
Eventually my “blending in” turned into “hiding at home”, & I wouldn’t go out.
Of course this led my ex to tell me all sorts of hateful things about how I was incapable of being trusted.…
I let it nearly destroy me before realizing that I needed to get help with something.
More recently (well after I’ve left my ex) I’ve learned more about my own emotions. My hope is that one day I won’t automatically suppress them any more. Though I do still struggle with that from time to time .
While I hope I’m never incapacitated by the emotions I feel, I do recognize now that my emotions run deep and strong.
Part of the reason I was able to separate from my ex was because of my relationship with my GrandFather. Among many other men (including my Uncles, Dad and Mr. B.) I’ve had some truly great role models of what a Man can be.
But there was a point where I was feeling like the plan I had to leave was not something I could do. I felt weak, and tiered, and I could see a long fight ahead of me.
When I looked up to ask God “Why me?” the first thing I saw was a dried up rose hanging from the ceiling. The words dried up in my throat. The tears started flowing, and my heart ached like it never had before.
Just thinking of this now, and writing such an intimate moment, it causes my heart and head to hurt.
I remember that no thoughts were in my head, the pain was so overwhelming and present I physically ached everywhere in my body.
I’m not certain how long I stayed there in that way. But when I finally came out of it and could pay attention to my surroundings I remember feeling my cat curled up by my feet purring and the skin on my arms was cold.
My shirt was wet with tears, and my heart ached like the day I heard of his passing.
Reality had hit me that I never had processed that pain. I had never let myself truly grieve because I was scared what the man I was with would say or do if I did. Instead I hid behind the camouflage that people expected to see and refused to give myself the time I needed to process it all. And honestly the intensity of the emotion was so strong in that moment, I feared I would never make it past it.
The rest of that week I can’t really remember. I felt raw, emotional, and numb all at the same time.
Camouflage protects us
There were times that week when I knew I was leaving, and I was so emotionally raw that I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the day.
But the camouflage that had suppressed my emotions previously kicked in and kept me functioning well enough to get by. Most people looking at me would not have known what I was dealing with or about to do.
I relied heavily on the camouflage to keep me safe especially at home, if my ex had figured out what was going on I’m not sure how he would have reacted.
It also gave me a space inside my own head to analyze the emotions I was dealing with as they came up. It helped me get past the meltdowns (at least temporarily) and doing the things I needed to do to have a future.
Processing Camouflaged Emotions.
I don’t recommend to anyone that you suppress emotions. They tend to come out in all sorts of unpredictable and rather destructive ways if you do.
Also when they do finally come out (and they will) it tends to be that much more intense to process.
For instance, if I had dealt with the grief mentioned above at the time of my Grandfathers passing I likely would not have had the absolute major meltdown that occurred shortly after Mr. B. & I started dating.
When I say they will come out, I mean it. The above grief came out alright, and it caused me no end of problems and pain in the way it came out or the intensity.
Imagine going grocery shopping, and seeing a GrandFather and GrandDaughter in the store. Then you realize someone is screaming at the top of their lungs at the 2 in what sounds like total pain…..when someone taps you on the shoulder you spin around and realize that not only are you the one screaming, but you just punched a store employee…. yup, not a fun situation to deal with. Of course I broke down bawling my eyes out right away too and couldn’t stop.
If you’ve hidden strong emotions under any form of camouflage, chances are you have stopped recognizing that particular emotion yourself.
The challenge will start with trying to identify what you are feeling and then from there what you are feeling it about. As much as I wish I could help you here, everyone is different and this process is going to be very personal to you.
What I do recommend though is that you find one (1) person you trust enough to help you with this. It needs to be someone you feel safe with, that you can discuss anything and everything with and not be judged by them.
I was extremely blessed to have Mr. B. around while I went through this. As much as there are some really amazing people in my life now, I don’t know that I could have trusted anyone else that could have come along the journey with me.
Even today, I still think about what happened around my GrandFather’s death and often times I’m start to cry. The emotions have not all left me, and I doubt they ever will. But I can now take them out and feel them intensely when I need to process another little piece of that grief.
However it took time, and a willingness to work through the emotions instead of running and hiding behind my camouflage in an attempt to escape them.
I’m 13 years past my GrandFather’s death and 7 years past leaving my ex and there are still days when I break down to the point I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. It’s at times like this when someone like Mr. B. is critical to helping me, sometimes it’s just a hug or he holds me, other times he lets me talk it out. But the more support you have in taking care of your self (mentally, emotionally, physically etc) the easier it becomes to process things like the intense emotions I have surrounding this situation.
Please know that you can handle this, if you’ve made it this far you have the courage and strength to continue on. The question is will you choose to take off the camouflage or will you stay where it’s comfortable and “safe” hiding from who you really are, and what you really feel?
One thing I do know, is that if I never started processing this emotion that I had been hiding I likely wouldn’t have gotten to a place in my life where I am more at peace with who I am.
I can and still do use the camouflage when I need it. However, as I’ve defined my core values I no longer feel the need to wear the camouflage all the time. And since I’ve started to trust myself more and more, I find I use it less and less.
I hope for your sake, and the world, that you choose to get back to being you. The world needs you after all, whether you belive it or not.