Has anyone ever accused you of being a chameleon, as if that’s a bad thing? Picking and choosing what sides of your personality to show or conceal depending on whom you’re with doesn’t have to mean that you’re dishonest. In fact, being a human chameleon is perfectly normal. It’s flying false colors that will get you into trouble, especially if you’re fooling even yourself.
Calling someone a chameleon is intended to be a criticism, but it should be a compliment. When referring to a person, dictionaries tend to define a chameleon as an inconstant or fickle person. Well, who can be constant in our rapidly changing, attention-deficit world? And why not be fickle? To be fickle is to change easily–Should that be so bad? Isn’t the ability to change or adapt easily an advantage? This criticism grew out of a grave misconception that chameleons, both reptile and human, change their colors to falsely blend in with their surroundings so as to conceal who and what they really are. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Chameleon lizards have their own set of color patterns that have nothing to do with their environment. Multiple skin colors are how they communicate, and change depending on their mood–displaying different colors to reflect anger, fear, calm, romantic intensions and more. They actually have 4 layers of skin containing color cells, each layer with its own color properties that respond differently to hormonal and nerve impulses to create the color patterns you see. Changing colors is how they reveal what they are truly feeling and not designed to blend into their surroundings. They are the opposite of deceptive. Actually, more often than not their colors make them stand out from their surroundings. So, you see, to be a chameleon is to actually reveal your true self to the world, not the other way around.
Where people get suspicious and hurt is not when you are being a chameleon, but when you are flying false colors. The concept of showing true colors comes from naval history when a ship would fly a false flag showing the colors of its adversary to lure in an enemy ship, then drop the false flag and fly its true colors as it attacked the unsuspecting vessel. People want to see your true colors, because they fear you are luring them into a false sense of security, tricking them into believing you share their values and loyalties until you show your “true” colors and ultimately hurt them somehow. The accusation is that you are not being genuine.
Yet, having multiple shades to your personality makes you complex, not deceptive. Do you have to be just one way, like just one thing, present yourself just one way? Why would you want to be the same way all the time and with everyone? Adaptation is key to effective communication and bonding. When you want to fit in and get along with a person or certain group of people, it’s natural to express those facets of your personality that complement theirs. You are not being like them, you are like them. Or so you think. Sometimes, you can mirror the behavior and values or beliefs of others in an effort to be like them, because you are not genuinely like them, but you want to be.
Wanting to be liked is a natural desire, but sometimes you can fool yourself into thinking you’re showing your true colors when, in fact, you’re trying to be someone you’re not to avoid rejection. Asking yourself a few question can help you determine whether or not you really are being genuine or if you’re trying too hard to be liked. Do you scrutinize others to gauge what they might want from you before you speak? Do you act according to how you think you are expected to act so you’ll be approved of? Do you adjust your behavior, your vocabulary, your mannerisms, to mirror those around you? Do you pretend to believe things or agree with things that you really don’t just to fit in or not make waves? Do you wait to find out what others think before you give your own opinion?
Trying to adapt yourself to the people around you is called impression management. Studies have shown that those who are most adept at making a good first impression often have the hardest time creating stable and satisfying intimate relationships. Such people have a vague sense of who they are instead of a clearly defined self-image. They are motivated more by their desire to bond with another for the sake of bonding, not because of a genuine compatibility. Eventually, the relationship fails, because the original connection was based on shadow and not substance. On the other hand, these same studies show the opposite is true, too, that those who are too rigid and never adjust their behaviors to fit more smoothly into a group also have difficulty establishing relationships, creating barriers that prevent bonding.
It’s a good thing to be socially aware and adventurous, but not to the point of losing all sense of yourself. It’s also okay to have a strong sense of self, but not at the cost of walling yourself off from others and being unable to connect.
So, be a chameleon! Express the spectacular variety of colors that make you who you are, just be sure to sort out your true colors from the false.