In defense of the social chameleon

Urban Dictionary’s top definition of a social chameleon is:

Someone who changes the way they interact with people depending on who they’re with. (Thanks Boone Wheeler)

If you are not a social chameleon, yourself, then surely you have crossed paths with someone who is. We have all had that friend who seems “different” around certain people from the way he or she behaves around us. This frustrates and confuses us. It can seem dishonest and inauthentic. It causes us to question our nature, his or her nature, and the nature of our relationship.

 I am a social chameleon… and I’m sick of catching a bad rap.

The way I see it, there are three types of us. There are the people who are unsure of themselves, the people who intentionally behave in an unnatural way to achieve their corresponding goals, and the people who selectively express inherent characteristics depending on the situation. I happen to share tendencies with all three types.

First, let’s talk about the people who are unsure of themselves. And by those people, I mean all of us. No matter how strong we think our self-identity is, how can we ever be sure of anything? Our survival depends on us being adaptive. We are programmed to change, just as everything around us is. A fixed point of view and way of being will only constrain us. When someone is exploring all that they are and behaving accordingly, we should respect their honesty and strength.

The second category of chameleons I referenced are the ones who change their behavior, in a way that is counterintuitive to them, in order to achieve a certain goal. I sometimes fit into this category as well. The idea for this post came to me during a journal entry as I was questioning the authenticity of my behavior. I have been doing a lot of learning and making a lot of changes recently. In light of this, I have been experiencing some criticism from those closest to me. They are unfamiliar with my behavior and they see my changes as phony. Sometimes they are! But phony is not always bad. It is not my natural reaction to always take the high road. I have to work at my responses every single day in order to achieve the goal of harmony in my relationships. It is not my natural goal to only surround myself with uplifting people. I have programmed myself to occasionally crave chaos and to enjoy the challenge of helping those who does not want to be helped. I have to fight this natural urge and behave counterintuitively in order to achieve the goal of self-progression. I can give you a hundred more examples but the moral of the story is that being phony is often an essential part of changing our habits for the better. If you are thinking, “but the social chameleon I know is not fake because they want to be better”, then I have a response for you too. We are all resourceful in our own ways. Before assigning judgment, ask yourself how you might do the same thing and approach your relationship with understanding.

Finally, there is the group of us that shows some of our personality to some people and other parts to others. This type of social chameleon gets it. We are multidimensional, conscious, responsive, resourceful, and reciprocal. If you know someone like this, you should learn from them. He or she has had enough experiences to be able to connect with a variety of people and also has enough awareness to know when to share what. This special collection of people is also respectful enough to know when not to share certain things. We are great at reading others, reading situations, and responding to energy. For this type of person, being a social chameleon will prove to be a great strength.


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