We pick up many different skills through out life, the chameleon’s ability to blend in and not be seen is just one of many. And while they mostly have beneficial side effects as we build our life some of them create challenges in our search to Self-Identify.
We all at some point in our lives strive to make the people around us happy, or at least happier. And often when we suffer through abuse we get good at suppressing ourselves to be something that pleases our abuser.
The ability to shift into a “new version” of yourself is very similar to a chameleon’s ability to change colours. It’s a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from harm. And for some of us it’s the only way we have survived.
But the longer we have spent suppressing ourselves the harder it is to identify who we are and express ourselves.
So often we have begun to express a sentiment we belive others expect, and then realize we don’t actually agree with it but are unable to correct ourselves.
And we start to resent this “persona” that we have now adopted.
This is the biggest struggle that I have had. I’ve been a bit of a chameleon all my life.
You see I’ve had this wonderful lady to learn from, she showed me many awesome changes in mood and momentum. And over time I learned very well how to read not only her, but other people around me because of it. I’ve always seen this as a blessing, that such a strong woman could be strong and still have such intense emotions.
When out dealing with other people this also gave me the advantage of being able to read and direct other people’s focus, I found it way to easy to pick fights or “set off” people. (I was a kid at the time so give me some slack here please, I hadn’t figured out the ethics yet)
Eventually I started to focus on the capacity to help others feel better about themselves.
While it earned me friends, and people liked me it also left me open to bullies who knew I wasn’t being authentic. They couldn’t pin point what I was up to, but they some how knew I would just “cave” to try and make them happy. I would give them what they wanted.
The hardest part going through High School was the lack of self identity. Now all kids go through this to a certain point. But when you are a teen actively suppressing yourself to make other teens happy…. and I was aware what I was doing it makes you a special kind of vulnerable.
I didn’t figure out how damaging and more vulnerable it made me untill much later.
Enter someone who says “I see you”, “I love you”.
And for a while life is great, life is wonderful. I felt like I could be myself, but didn’t realize I was still projecting the chameleon.
By the end of that relationship I felt broken, I had changed much about myself to fit his definition of who I was.
The things I used to enjoy were mere memories, the fun I had from life destroyed.
It has taken years since to find a sense of self that I am comfortable with.
And often I have struggled to self-identify when in the presence of someone with a strong personality. The first time I met my (now) husband, I was positively petrified of him!
He has this aura?! that says I-Know-Who-I-Am-and-I-See-your-truth. I almost crapped my pants, and got out of there as fast as I could.
You see chameleons use their blending abilities to avoid being seen. Often we are uncomfortable or feel threatened and feel the need to protect ourselves. But mostly this is a sign of a deeply insecure person. Don’t get me wrong, there are strong people out there who use the chameleon skills to good effect, and I aspire to one day do that. But those people knowingly put on a mask of chameleonhood, they don’t wear it all the time. And they never break their core values or beliefs for the sake of being a chameleon.
To be strong as a chameleon, you must first “Know Thyself” inside and out. You need to be real with your strengths and weaknesses, and your core values. Otherwise you will blend for the sake of fitting in or making someone else happy.
But often the chameleon comes out as a protective mask. It’s meant to save you from pain. It’s not coming from a place of strength, it’s coming from fear. And this is the state I was living in when I met Mr. B.
Needless to say he wasn’t having any of it. Just his mere presence caused my life to start changing. I saw someone who didn’t feel the need to make everyone around him happy. He didn’t need to bend to other people’s will to be content with himself. He was strong, respected, and well liked by the people around us.
It made me jealous, and I don’t know if he ever knew how much I watched how he acted. But when he was in the same room I couldn’t NOT be aware of him and how he presented himself.
He drove me nuts, and yet I admired him.
When he said no, it meant no.
When he said maybe…. he thought about it and gave a complete answer after careful evaluation. He never seemed to over commit to anything.
I’d seen this before many times in my Grandfather, my Dad’s Dad had this way with people. Everyone knew a handshake was as good as a signed deal, and he never went back on those. He saw people the way they were and accepted it, even when he didn’t agree.
Neither of them need other people to agree with them to feel confident in their values or value as a person. They already know their worth.
It was a reputation I was drawn to, the more I saw Mr. B. the more I looked at myself and realized how empty I was. How I had given away so much of my own value.
I had never defined my own core values, because I was so focused on changing to be what others needed. The chameleon had taken over.
So how do we break the cycle?
First, if you can I recommend finding someone like Mr. B. to spend time with
You don’t need to marry them. Just hang out & get to know them. Mr. B. was constantly calling me out on my BS, and at this stage you want & need that to help you define who you are.
My guy really doesn’t have a lot of patience for fake people, and blending comes across as fake in their world. If possible find a couple people like this and make them part of your core support network.
They will challenge you to get out of your comfort zone.
They will push your limits.
They will accept nothing less than your best.
People like this will earn your trust. And they won’t want to break it.
I know it’s hard to trust, and to feel safe, but if you genuinely find someone like this you can feel both if you choose to. And YES that is scarry as all heck.
Second, do the internal work to figure out your belief system.
Hanging out with someone who knows them self is great to get started, but you have to define your own values. Even if you are tempted to take on their’s DON’T! All that does is delay the work you need to do anyway.
Ask yourself the really hard questions. You have the choice here to keep hiding or to shine. And I know you can be an amazing person.
You are going to have to dig deep, and be patient with yourself.
It took me 3 years to realize I had never walked away from my faith. I would never have gotten there if I hadn’t done the work myself.
Third, start with small “non-blending” events around other people.
Pick something that is uncomfortable, but not a major issue for you.
For instance, I had been colouring my hair to a colour my abuser prefered but I didn’t really like. So I went and had the colour I wanted done. And yes when he berated me for not listening I asked him why it mattered so much? That was likely the first time I had stood up to him in a long time.
And you know what? Nothing majorly bad happened, it was a win for me.
Little wins will build to bigger wins over time. The point is to get that ball rolling so your confidence can build over time.
Forth, remind yourself of your values often.
Once you’ve figured out your beliefs write them down.
It’s crazy easy to fall back into being a chameleon, the only way you will stay out is if you constantly remind yourself.
- put them on your phone
- post them in your car
- have them on your computer
Where ever you feel safe to list them stick them there. I journal so I stuck them on a reference page in my journal as I figured them out, and then went back to read them as often as I could. (The journal went everywhere with me so I wasn’t at risk of anyone else seeing them either)
Fifth, build up to bigger and bigger moments when you stand up for yourself.
Please don’t do anything that will put yourself in harms way. However if you are having some success with standing firm in your values, then keep on doing that. It will build up your self-confidence as you go, and the little wins will help you build momentum.
Sixth, as you keep going forward check in with yourself and see if your values have changed at all.
We as people grow and develop, and so do our values and belief’s along side us. It’s important to maintain our curiosity about our own lives to ensure we are living as close to our truth as possible.
Seventh, enjoy the new outlook on life.
🙂 you had to know that would be there at some point right? As humans we do alot of work every day, growing, developing, exploring our curiosity. We also deserve to sit back and enjoy the wonder that is the life we are creating. Who knows, maybe the break you take will lead you in a new direction with even more to enjoy.
Eighth, have patience, rest and repeat as often as you feel led to.
In pursuit of the healing we are looking for, it is helpful if we practice what we discover. But as important as moving forward is, it is also important to be gentle with ourselves.
If we don’t take the time to rest and recoup we will burn out and return to our old ways.
Having a slip up (I do this more then I’d like to admit) will happen, please realize that it’s ok. You can get back into the process when you are ready. The journey to healing is not going to be a straight road. We will have bumps and pot holes along the way to work around, and with. But we can do it.
I’d love to hear from you about your journey, were you a chameleon? What has helped you to be more yourself?