The Costs of Chameleon Tendencies
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
I was honoured this week to hold space for a group of beautiful people embarking on the last leg of their journey to becoming Integral Master Coaches and I’m looking forward to mentoring them in these coming 7 months.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember when I first stepped into the classroom, doubting my right to be there. Who was I to think that I was wise and holy enough to guide another human through a deeply meaningful life change? I was certain that I didn’t belong there amongst classmates who seemed more knowledgeable, qualified and capable to do this important, tender work.
Picture me in that classroom, constantly scanning the people and the situation, trying to predict the right thing to say to ensure I’d be accepted.
It was excruciating and exhausting.
So, you can imagine how delightful it was to spend this past week sitting serenely and feeling my coaching expertise and artistry firmly in my bones. I am grateful to the former version of me that felt the excitement and fear… and walked toward the next chapter that was clearly calling me.
On Wednesday, I was struck as I listened to a man talk about this constant urge to blend in, even at the cost of his own values and ideas. And I got thinking about that Chameleon part of us who is so certain that we must not present who we really are.
Are you familiar with this aspect of yourself and how it shows up in habitual behaviour and recurring inner dialogue? It’s the part that thinks that blending in is more important than our truth. The Chameleon gives so so so much energy to squash down our opinions and dreams and substitute them with what seems more acceptable.
One of the misunderstandings I grew up with was that, in order to fit in, I needed to adapt, to change some thing about myself to be acceptable. I became very good at scanning people and situations and predicting what words or behaviour would be ok.
I was a slave to peer pressure in my teens. I followed the career direction advised by my teachers; I was interested but not passionate about it. At university in a male-dominated environment, I upped my drinking and tolerated sexism – all to be one of the boys. Later, at the commune, I rather blindly adopted left wing political ideals. The list goes on.
Through it all, I sensed that who I was, just me, wasn’t going to be enough to get me or keep me “in”. And so I adapted.
What have been you experiences of hiding your true nature? Does it feel like measuring each of your words or even tongue-tied as you search for how to say what you mean? Or is more like waiting for permission to express yourself, even apologizing for your way of doing things? Perhaps you feel an overall numbness and discontent from not being you. Or a combination of all these symptoms.
Ooof. I get it. I have lived with the distress of feeling that I’m not being who I really am. And I’m living it now, to a lesser degree.
What are the costs when we camouflage ourselves?
It’s exhausting. We are putting a great deal of energy into scanning and estimating the most acceptable response or behaviour. In truth, we may not even be aware that we are doing this – it has become so automatic – and we don’t realize how often we’re doing it (maybe constantly) or much energy it’s taking.
That’s energy being taken away from remembering who we are, being honest in our words and actions, and cultivating alignment between who we are on the inside and how we express ourselves in our daily lives. One only needs to watch someone who has reclaimed the freedom to be themselves to register their new energy and lightness.
People don’t get to see the real you. Our friends, relatives and colleagues see and love the modified version of us. They think they know us. They think we’re presenting ourselves truly, when we’re actually presenting ourselves “acceptably”.
The problem is that, in those moments when we are brave enough to speak our minds or assert our own way of doing things, and others are shocked, hurt, annoyed and/or confused. They may come to distrust us a little or doubt our integrity in the relationship. We may unwittingly be causing them to move a little away from us, even though our deepest desire is to feel accepted. Such frustrating irony.
And then, the cycle is reactivated. Our belief that being ourselves is a bad thing is reinforced. Told you so. Around we go… back to the camouflaged Chameleon.
We don’t feel understood. We walk around with a whole inner landscape – ideas, perspectives, dreams - that we haven’t shared, not even with those close to us.
For me, this has been a source of great pain. I have a deep longing to be seen and appreciated. At the same time, I have had a habit of hiding my true self and going along with the suggestions and opinions of others. And so I have often found myself deeply disappointed that even my best friends don’t seem to really understand me. It’s not logical that I feel so wounded that they don’t see the parts of me that I haven’t shown. Therein lies the pain of Chameleon’s way.
I came to see that the risks of being me were actually less than the ever-alert-for-danger parts of me were reporting. I came into contact with the benefits of honest self-expression: the relief and freedom of doing my life my way; the beauty of being connected to what’s most important; and the deep peace of holding myself in dignity.
It’s an ongoing process, for sure. Recently, I have been revealing what has felt like the most private part of me: my spiritual beliefs and practices. Again, I encounter my own resistance and fear. And again, my deep desire to be understood rises to the top.
We lose touch with our inner self. It becomes more difficult to be connected with what we really think and what’s really important to us.
One of my clients described it this way: “My knowing of myself sank lower and lower in me until I couldn’t retrieve it.” The man I spoke of earlier said that his Chameleon behaviour had gradually hijacked his sense of himself.
What words would you use?
Unable to access your truth.
Having lost or forgotten the most precious thing.
In our striving to be something different, we fail to love what we are. We berate ourselves for not being able to do what seems so basic to the human journey - expressing our unique selves. We doubt ourselves and our right to be here. We criticize, dislike, disapprove and reject. And we are blind to our beauty and super-powers.
On good days, hopefully, we remember that we are beings of light and love. We know that we are divine and perfect. We are wise and grounded, led by spirit.
But still, we want more depth, more truth and more connection. And such is this dissatisfaction that we fall again into disliking ourselves and grasping for what we’re seemingly missing.
We do not bring our gifts fully into the light. What does this statement evoke in you? Frustration? Grief? Panic? Anger?
We are unique combinations of magic and stardust. We are each meant to fill a unique space in this world, here and now. We each have a special kind of light that is needed in this tapestry we are weaving together. What does it mean in the bigger picture when we blend in, dial it down and withhold?
In this chapter of my life, I am acutely aware that it’s time to be of service, deep service, to the positive development of life on earth. I believe in peace. I can see a beautiful future for our great grandchildren. When I dim my light and keep my truth tucked away, I rob the future of my wisdom, my perspective and the gifts I have to share with them. I can feel such an ache in my heart as I write it. I know in every fibre of my being that the real “me” is what’s wanted.
Yes, the Chameleon is a tricky aspect that many of us carry. My invitation to you is to explore this way of being – gently and compassionately, please – and see what beliefs and behaviors are ready to be shaken free at this time.
What would that open up for you?
Please reach out to me if you’re stuck in a certain spot, need ideas for how to release these old habits or want a practice to build your capacity to be with others, not blending in but standing in your space in your own unique way, being fully you.
With you on the journey,