Monday, July 9, 2012

Chameleon Syndrome?

Identity can be a slippery thing for all of us, but it is especially difficult for highly sensitive people (hsp's). Hsp's (highly sensitive people) have an innate "chameleon" reflex, subconsciously morphing into whoever or whatever the strongest personality needs or environment calls for. The result is a fluctuating, unstable picture of who we are!

I am thinking, if we can become aware of the phenomena we will learn to sense when we begin to drift with it. Perhaps, the sooner we spot ourselves drifting the quicker we can come back to our personal emotional base line.

To give you an idea of what I mean. My husband and I were invited to come to Canada on loan from Elijah House Ministires, USA to help train some Canadian counselors. The currency exchange was keeping some folks from receiving the help they needed. I determined that I was not going to pick up a Canadian accent since we would only be there a couple years. I worked hard to not say "eh?" But after being there only two months it slipped out effortlessly and appropriately. I finally gave up. It took too much energy to monitor every word. The Canadian "eh?" is with me still. This was not imitation or mimicking. I sort of absorb the sound and now years later thinking about friends there will bring out the accent effortlessly.

Another example is our youngest daughter, a burden bearer through and through. I always knew who she had been playing with by her behavior when she came home. For about a half hour she "was" her friend. She used her expressions, inflections and vocabulary--even the acting out behavior was the same. One particular friend had a rather "sailor-esq" vocabulary and was emotionally and verbally abusive toward her mother. We would quickly have a little sit down talk.

  • Were you playing with ***?
  • Yes.
  • Were she and her mommy having an argument?
  • Uh, huh.
  • Well, Sweetie, you and I aren't angry with each other are we?
  • No.
  • Well, then you don't need to act toward me like your friend does toward her mommy. In this house, we don't say mean things to each other. We don't use those kinds of words. They just are not appropriate. I know *** says those things, but our family doesn't. How about we pray for her and her mommy and ask Jesus to help their home become more peaceful and happy.
Within a half hour of prayer she had returned to her sunny self and left the "Salty Sally" persona behind! She had found her way back to her joy base. By herself she could not sort out the difference between her own emotions and those of her friend, but with help she could shortly return to her emotional default, her own emotional baseline that was true of her. Without such help it took much longer for her to return to her self. Without help at all a person can become lost to self and have no sense of who they are.

Like a house, our identity needs a "true" foundation. A house that is a few degrees off plumb at the foundation will be several degrees off at the roofline. The walls of our house will not be straight up and down--the house will lean. They will not be as sturdy or dependable in a storm as straight walls are.  Our self-image can also become skewed when we are given a picture of ourselves which is not true; which prevents us from living life with joy and confidence. Life can batter and then we crumble because we are not as "study" as we might otherwise be.

In the next few blogs I want to share some of how our identity is formed with an eye to identifying what is either missing or in need of repair. Share with us, if you will, ways you see yourself morphing into either people or your environment.

Blessings, Carol


  1. As a teenager, I used to try on personalities like coats. If I got tired of myself, I'd try on another. Which led to much confusion when I later became a Christian and started looking for what my "calling" might be. I could see myself in almost any ministry out there... but I definitely was not happy with them all. Finding my true self took years.

    Such a thought-provoking post, Carol... I like this kind.

  2. I am so glad you found your true self. It was definitely worth the effort! I was sort of like you. I complained to God that He gave me too much, why couldn't there be just one thing I did better than all the rest? I finally picked teacher and if that was not what He wanted me to be, He would have to tell me and since He wasn't saying anything....and I went for it!

  3. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, chameleon is defined as ‘any of a family of chiefly arboreal Old World lizards with prehensile tail, independently movable eyeballs, and usually ability to change the color of the skin.’ That describes me perfectly! Recently, I attended the work related training with an acquaintance. In the midst of the training, I began to feel anxious, not knowing why. Later, I realized I was actually synchronizing the same acquaintance’s anxiety. During a 15 minute break, I had my private moment in a restroom, distancing myself from the person’s anxiety. Consequently, I felt more relaxed – and confident afterward. It surely take self discipline to remember that being a family member of these Old World lizards is not necessarily a curse.

    1. You gave me such a chuckle with your description of the chameleon! Guess I was zeroing in on the color change and forgetting about our many other features. But, yes, it is a distinct discipline to remember that we are a family member of Old World lizards and that is/can be a blessing! (Still smiling!)

  4. See, this is why I love your blog, Carol. Thank you!