Confessions of a Chameleon Going from Pretty on the Outside, to Alive and Vibrant on the Inside
What is a Chameleon?
Chameleons are beautiful lizards that change their coloring to blend into any environment for safety. However, in this article, I am referring to the human chameleon who blends into the environment for safety.
I work with so many professional women who are chameleons. They think their key to success is pleasing others, blending into the environment to gain the approval of people they consider important. Unfortunately, these smart professional women get so focused on maintaining a connection to others that they lose the connection to themselves and then start to wonder, “Who am I?”
This is what I hear my professional chameleon clients complain about:
I’m doing everything “right,” but I feel empty and I think, “What about me?!”
I’m working so hard to please everyone else, but my relationships still feel unsatisfying.
I don’t say what I really want to say because it would be “too dangerous.”
I keep having chronic physical issues that won’t go away, no matter how hard I try.
I can relate. I am a consummate chameleon. Just like those pretty lizards, I look good from the outside and stay safe. Really. I’m an Olympic athlete. I was a Boeing 777 flight test engineer who worked with tough, macho, male engineers. I have a MBA and was a manager at a top-five consulting firm. The lizards and I, we look good and stay safe.
Growing up, I was intimidated by the big, angry person in my house. So I decided, “You know, it’s just safer if I do and become what he wants me to.” So that’s what I did, over and over and over again. I got so stuck in that mode that until way into adulthood I could become whatever you (the person I made important) needed me to be. While that looked good on the outside and kept me safe, on the inside I was scared and desperate to belong and to have you like and approve of me. So much so that I would sacrifice what I wanted, just to please you. That is, until a few years ago.
When I was struggling with making some decisions in my life, I started working with a life coach. She asked me to check in with my body to see how I felt about each option regarding my decisions. I dutifully tried it, but was confused. I couldn’t tell how I was feeling!
I realized that I’d become habitually disconnected from my body and my emotions. This, by the way, was what made it possible for me to tolerate, and even thrive, in situations that were so “not me.” Really? Eighty male, macho engineers? Please. I was so focused on creating harmony through my outsides that, after a while, I stopped knowing what I felt or wanted about a topic – especially if it involved other people.
This disconnection from my body and emotions, I believe, also started to manifest as physical symptoms, such as a chronic back injury, digestive issues, allergies, and skin problems.
I see this same thing going on with clients I work with. But, hey, there’s hope!
My coach told me – and I’m here to tell you – that the key is to connect back with what you’ve disconnected from: your body, your emotions, and your wants, and use them as your guide. Sounds crazy, right? But it works. I know, because I had to learn to do it myself!
So, let’s get started.
One: Get Grounded in Your Body
I never knew what people meant when they said to get grounded. What I’ve learned is that it means taking time to slow down and turn inward, to remove distractions and connect to yourself, internally, inside this body we’re often mad at or disappointed in because it isn’t operating right or looking good enough.
Second, Become a Scientist and Track What You Feel
Rather than staying on autopilot during your day, notice how your body responds as you change environments. Track yourself like a scientist. Is your energy open and flowing or constricted and tight? Do you want to turn away and leave or lean in and listen? Do you feel like your cup is brimming over with too much stimuli? Are you feeling depressed or lethargic, not wanting to get out of bed?
As you notice your energy, begin to notice what you’re thinking. Most chameleons I work with tend to get stuck in the belief that “I don’t have a choice.” We tend to think, “I have to go to the meeting/make his dinner/pick up the kids,” when we don’t want to do it at all. Doing things we don’t want to do brings our energy to a screeching halt.
While we do have responsibilities, we often put limits on how those responsibilities can be met. Sure, we all have to pay our taxes, but we still have a choice as to when! Have you ever heard of filing an extension? I’m just sayin’…
Third: Dare to Speak Up
This is probably one of the trickiest aspects for master chameleons. We’re so used to blending into the environment that we truly believe we can’t disagree or say no. It seems easy for other people, but, for us, it seems impossible, too dangerous, terrifying. We feel compelled to go along, telling ourselves that we must.
Well, ladies (and gents), I tell you that it is possible to speak up. In fact, once you start connecting more with your body, your emotions, and your wants, you’re going to want to speak up and stay aligned with yourself versus sacrificing yourself only to get along – because if you don’t speak up, you’ll just go numb again.
So, I suggest making friends with that scary two-letter word: N-O. I know, it sounds so threatening, but you can practice trying it out in low-stress environments. Try saying:
“No, thank you.”
“No, that’s not a fit for me.”
“No, I disagree.”
“No, I want to do something else.”
Once you own that word, your life will begin to shift. Clients I’ve worked with who regularly ground in their body, track what they feel, and dare to speak up begin to feel alive again.
Yes, your life might go a bit bumpy in the beginning. You’re finally showing up about what you really feel, think, and want, which is different from what you’ve been doing. People will be surprised, and yes, resistant, because you’ve trained them to expect something else.
When you shift and make connecting with your own body, emotions, and wants more important, your life will change. You’ll feel more alive.
My professional chameleons have shifted their relationships – by leaving a relationship that isn’t working or by having more fun together. They’ve shifted their work – by working with more passion and aliveness or by starting their own company. They’ve experienced improved health. One woman’s decade-long chronic illness all but disappeared nine months into this process.
Every person will go through their own process, but I guarantee that if you take the time to connect to your body, emotions, and wants, to track your body and your emotions, and to dare to speak up, you’re going to feel more alive and aligned with yourself. That may mean that you’re sometimes more misaligned with your environment, but, heck, whose life are you living anyway?
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
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