I have recently discovered that a little chameleon lives inside me. She is great at tuning in to others, but she worries too much what others think. When she gets unclear and uncertain or nervous and self-conscious, she changes her color--sometimes several times--in order to feel safe and accepted. The chameleon fears criticism and is often unnerved if someone does not like her, sensitive creature that she is.
This chameleon, you see, has been with me since my early days on the playground at recess, and maybe even before that. She has been my protector in many ways, shielding me from potential hurt. But she is awfully tired these days and she has been asking me for a break. I think I am finally ready to give her a vacation (she's requested Mexico).
Do you ever feel one of these uber-adaptive reptiles crawling around inside of your mind?
In my journey to understand this ever-changing lizard, I looked to Wikipedia for some insight. According to Wikipedia, a chameleon's instinct to change color isn't just for camouflage:
"Some (but not all) chameleon species are able to change their skin colours. Different chameleon species are able to change different colours which can include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, yellow and turquoise. Recent research indicates that they do not typically change their colour for reasons of camouflage, but instead use colour changes as a method of communication, including to make themselves more attractive to potential mates."
Ah, so chameleons do as we do: they change themselves not to hide, but to be more pleasing to others! To varying degrees, I think we all possess this desire to be loved: we want to be accepted and even admired by others.
But how do we stay true to ourselves as we engage with this acceptance? And when is being just yourself--in your natural hue, so to speak--good enough? What happens when we choose true authenticity over the exhausting task of trying to please everyone?
And the big, mega, super-duper question becomes: who is my authentic self, anyway? Yikes. Seems a bit unmanageable, doesn't it? What I do know is that I can feel it when my authentic self is not very present. When my nerves take over, the authentic self gets foggy, ghostly, like it's been drugged.
Tonight I resurrected a poem I wrote in graduate school that speaks to the way the chameleon can take over, hiding the authentic self in layers of social constructs and shoulds.
It happens to you on occasion.
The Angel of the House approaches,
tangles your composure into a web of endless
yes’s and sure’s. Strings rise up
from the corners of your lips, produce
the smiles of clowns and dolls. Strings
pull at your limbs. I watch you lift
pots and pans you rarely do
and you can’t help it if you suddenly feel
outside yourself, commanded perhaps
by some force passed down generations:
your grandmother’s hand-woven potholders
and recipes for baked goods sold at bazaars
and county fairs. This is not your world.
No need to compare anymore. Don’t pretend
to love my Girl Scout craft day and talk
of matching dishes at bridal showers. I know you,
like me, would rather sit in the corner petting the dog.
I have never wanted this: your limbs attached
to strings, bent like sad stalks,
controlled like a puppet as I first noticed at four
when I swiped my hand over your head
checking for strings, when the expression
of false happiness hung from your cheeks
and I asked, “Where is my real mommy?”
Where is the real you? Is she standing tall and clearly visible, or is she hiding in the shadows with the chameleon?
Think of times in your life when you felt you stepped out of your authentic self, even for a little moment, in order to conform to someone or something else. We all do this--and it is necessary. In order to be empathetic creatures, we must step into another person's reality and live there for a while in order to show compassion. Think of a time, though, when this chameleon-like behavior exhausted you and did not necessarily serve the person or situation for the better. Expose the chameleon through writing as I have done with this blog post. Give it a name and a personality. Explore how you interact with this lizard of the rainbow. How does it help you and when does it leave you feeling strained?
Image credit: http://www.chameleonproject.net/asabutcher/index.html