Are You a Chameleon?

Via Sara Avery
on Oct 24, 2012
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Do you alter yourself to fit in with your surroundings?

I remember one evening during high school like it was yesterday. I had invited friends over and once they arrived, I found myself unable to talk.

I just stayed in the kitchen cooking chili while they socialized. I wasn’t sure which person to be—the person I was with my parents or the person I was with my friends. These “two people” were far enough apart (or so I thought) that I was scared to wreck my image with either group.

Over time, I started to call myself a chameleon.

I could stand outside a metaphorical room with 20 people in it, figure out what each of them wanted me to be, and make myself into the perfect conglomeration of that. This unconscious strategy did its job pretty well. Most of the time, I could get everyone’s approval. Even this uncomfortable high school evening didn’t deter me. This remained a major part of my social mechanics until I was about 30.

As you can imagine, being everything to everyone left little time or energy to figure out who I really was.

Around the age of 30, I really started to question, for instance, why I had become a professional violinist. I do like classical music a lot, and there are things I enjoyed about that career, but they were far outweighed by things I didn’t like. I didn’t enjoy most of the three to seven hours a day I spent alone in a practice room for a couple of decades, for instance. It finally dawned on me that music had been the perfect approval-getting engine for me. If I played well, approval came pouring in from my parents, my teachers, symphony conductors, and audiences. When I really weighed it, I found that most of why I put myself through the rigors of becoming a professional musician (very similar to becoming an Olympic gymnast or figure skater) was for approval, not because it fed my own soul.

This “I’ll be anything you want me to be” thing didn’t really fit with what I thought I believed on a rational level, even. I remember once calling someone a “blank slate.” I imagined that she lived her life saying, “Please just write on me, tell me what I believe!” I cringe to think about that, because to a large degree, I was that same blank slate (with a good dash of meanness and lack of self-awareness thrown in!).

So, if being a chameleon didn’t fit with the way I thought life should be, why was I doing it all the time?

I learned that it went way back to early childhood. Long before we can even think, we develop our survival mechanisms from the way we fit best within our families. By the young age of two and a half, we’ve put into place our sense of self, which is the way we feel that we need to be in order to survive well. Since our thinking brain wasn’t operating yet, we can’t evaluate whether those survival mechanisms make sense, or not. This is just how it is to be human. After age two and a half, the sense of self becomes the generating force behind all of our moments, so we just keep ending up in situations that feel the same as we felt early on. For some of us, getting approval by being whatever those around us wanted us to be became a major part of the sense of self, and voila! A chameleon is born!

There is a group of questions that I contemplated to start moving out of chameleon-hood, and I have my clients work with these same questions:

  • What really matters to me?
  • Who am I really?
  • Can I have and express what matters to me, or does it feel that something bad will occur if I do that?

These are usually perplexing questions for chameleons. I remember feeling like I almost couldn’t comprehend the question, “What really matters to me?” As if it were a foreign language.

I hear similar responses from my clients all the time. Since our survival mechanisms are just that—how we feel we have to be to survive—it can feel unsafe to even know or express what matters to us, which may seem ridiculous on a rational level. The part of our brain that stores the sense of self stays that two-year-old that is incapable of rational thought, so it just clings to whatever survival mechanism it absorbed, and we keep feeling like we have to stay chameleons to stay alive.

Moving out of this survival mechanism brought about an ability to first know what mattered to me and then begin to express it. Often, (because this is how energy works) as I or clients have started to feel comfortable with who we are, others just automatically begin to invite us to express ourselves in a new ways. Recovering chameleons commonly find themselves expressing their deepest desires and thoughts for the first time openly. It can be a bit shocking, honestly, but in a good way.

Does this ring a bell for you? The questions above are usually a good test.

If you find yourself answering, “I don’t know,” to the first two and perhaps feeling a bit queasy at the idea of openly expressing what really matters to you, you might also be a chameleon. You’re here to express your uniqueness, so I hope you’ll join those of us who are throwing off our chameleon suits and share who you really are with the world. Please leave your thoughts or questions in the comments and if you’ve found this helpful, use the buttons below to share with other possible chameleons.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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About Sara Avery

Sara Avery’s passion is helping people uncover the energy that creates their story and the uniqueness of who they really are. In 2001, she transitioned from her first career as an orchestral violinist to guiding people through the deep transformation of Quanta Change. Quanta Change identifies Learned Distress (the feeling that “there is something wrong with me” absorbed in the womb and early in life) as the source of non-well-being. This unique process works with your brain during sleep to permanently remove layers of Learned Distress, allowing your natural well-being to become the source from which your life is generated. Sara’s clients discover a new ease and joy in life that they’ve never experienced—in emotional, spiritual, and physical realms. One client said, “I’ve been seeking for 40 years, and this is by far the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” Learn more on her website or read more from Sara on her blog. Or, connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.


8 Responses to “Are You a Chameleon?”

  1. Mind Dumpster says:

    I have the same experience as you. I'm a chameleon too. I used to do things because I think those things would please my parents, friends, family. But I stopped doing that now. I have started doing things that please me. I stop worrying about how other people would react to my actions. Though I can't really change the effects of being a chameleon almost all my life, now I feel more free to make my own decisions.

  2. Sara_Avery says:

    Thanks for your comments and for sharing your experience!

  3. Pumpkin Seed says:

    This is too funny for comfort. My mom has called me a chameleon for years. And it DOES make me queasy to think about what matters most to me! It's been a large struggle for me after the breakup of my engagement. I worry about how to be, without my significant other, in a room of our mutual friends. Now that I'm not chameleoned to him, is the me I've become going to get approval from my friends? It's a wildly difficult concept to wrap my head around, but a work in progress.

  4. Sara_Avery says:

    Oh, boy, do I know all about that queasiness. And, it takes so much energy to always have to be reinventing yourself for what you think the people around you want. Wishing you the very best in finding the way to just be who you really are! Thanks very much for sharing your experience.

  5. Andrew says:

    I've called myself a chameleon for ages without truly thinking about it. With the exception that I tend to also find what people want and sometimes decide to do the opposite to see what happens depending on my mood. Not sure what twist that adds to my crazy psychological make up. I am for sure a mess! I've been recently asking myself the same questions you posted and its confusing to not know what I like or want but it's a process and not a quick (or easy) one apparently. I really enjoyed your story and thoughts. Spoke to exactly the way I've felt a lot lately. Thanks (:

  6. Sara_Avery says:

    Hey Andrew, I think we're probably all psychological messes… welcome to the club! 🙂 I hope that you keep asking those questions. This issue of discovering what really matters to us and then letting ourselves have it is really important, and one I talk about probably 75% of the time in my practice. Sometimes, the "S word" (selfish) will rear its ugly head, but the truth is that connecting with what really matters to us is how we connect with our core and our deepest intentions, so it's really important and healthy to do so. Wishing you well on your journey of discovery!

  7. karen says:

    i am going to be 50 and have always been what others want me to be. I recently connected with an old boyfriend thankfully out of state as friends but I see myself falling into the trap again. I want to learn and discover who I am outside of others but I don't even know where to start…

  8. Sara_Avery says:

    Hi Karen,
    I'm sorry that I'm just now seeing your comments a few days after you posted them. I don't have any quick answers for you. The work that I do is what has helped me move out of being a chameleon, which is why I wanted to help others do the same. I'm certainly happy to answer more questions about Quanta Change if you want to pursue deeper work on this. But, I do think it starts with really asking yourself what really matters to you and pursuing for yourself the possibility that it might be completely good for you to really want and have what matters to you.
    Wishing you all the best!