The Self-Made Prison of The Social Chameleon

I’ve always been quick to flash an agreeable smile and slow to speak the coarseness of my truth.

Until the last few years, I never understood why that might be the biggest obstacle holding me back in life, as well as a major cause for repetitive cycles of depression, and a distant, fundamental sense of loneliness in the background of my reality.

As a kid, I chose to learn that I who I was – what I really thought and felt – would not be loved and accepted; that I was essentially “wrong” or “bad” in some way, and I had to do or be what I sensed other people would approve of.

Quick to goof-off and discharge flashes of rage, I simply couldn’t seem to help getting in trouble with the almighty gods and authority figures that towered over me at all times. Not to mention that I was raised in the moral climate of the catholic church, which certainly didn’t help alleviate any guilt that I felt for the mere fact that I existed in the first place.

To cope with that shame and toxic anxiety, as well as meet my needs for love and acceptance, I shackled my anger and took up the racket of “social chameleon”. By adapting my psychology and behaviour to those around me, I could be seen as a “good boy”, avoid conflict and keep things smooth.

I began to covertly control my environment by managing other people’s perceptions of me. I would misrepresent, or simply outright withhold, the truth of a situation and my interior life.

Pretty soon, I was unconsciously calculating how I could gain someone’s approval and avoid their disapproval. While this adaptation can actually show up as a strength of mine (for example: mirroring is a key principle in Neuro-Linguistic Programming for building rapport with someone, but is done intentionally rather than automatically), it’s ultimately a coping mechanism that no longer served my growth or relationships, and had become the biggest saboteur of my success.

You can only get so far in life walking on eggshells as a reflector for other people’s emotions and preferences, because you’ll always subtly be at the affect of your environment rather than a cause within it.

One of the primary lessons I’ve been learning in the past year is: if I don’t step into the discomfort of upsetting people once in a while – through the worry of always saying and doing what’s “appropriate” – then I’m not being fully authentic. And if I’m not being authentic, I’ll never fully actualize my unique potential as a man, step out and claim the life I want to live, or experience love and happiness to their fullest depths.

Because if I’m always relating to the world through a mask made from shards of a mirror, how could I ever feel truly seen and known by others?

And through the domestication of my wilder energies – like anger – I was disconnected from my fuel and passion. I wasn’t able to set healthy boundaries with others, or express my disappointment, hurt and resentment. Instead, I would withdraw and become silent, or spiritually “process” them away as a fiction created by my ego.

I was clipping my own balls.

“Be yourself” is simultaneously the most uselessly frustrating, yet brilliantly simple advice we can ever receive.

The problem is that a crucial part is always left out of the equation. The phrase suggests that we can make the free choice in a single moment to be effortlessly authentic. But there is no “ON” switch for your true self. It’s something you choose to cultivate through a process of exploration, discovery and practice – a becoming.

And yogis, let’s suspend the spiritual debate about the perils of words like “becoming” and “finding” when it comes to the conversation of tapping the ultimate truth of who we really are. This isn’t in the context of a higher, cosmic, non-dual Self with a capital “S”.

I’m talking about this temporary, animated sack of blood-and-guts; the thing that has a drivers license, gets emotional, has dreams and aspirations, takes shits, and has to communicate their slanted version of reality with other dysfunctional, imperfect human beings.

This kind of authenticity isn’t about feeling at one with some impersonal intelligent force behind the veil of physical matter. It’s about becoming a scientist of how you show up in life, with eyes wide open. It is recognizing the masks you choose to wear and having the integrity to take responsibility for them and the courage to choose differently.

Until the chameleon begins to practice this, they will never satisfy their hunger for love, because they won’t have the capacity for the most essential quality that breeds it: vulnerability.

Vulnerability necessitates authenticity. And vulnerability is risk.

It is a removing of our character armour; a surrender of psychological defences; bearing the raw truth of your interior life and, without augmentation, saying and revealing the things about you that you’re afraid will cause someone to retract their energy and approval, and tarnish the “good” or “desirable” image that you want them to have of you in their mind.

By giving up the compulsion to adapt and be accepted, and allowing yourself to rock the boat from time to time, you become liberated from an ethereal straight jacket of your own making.

You allow yourself to be who and what you really are, and therefore allow people to the opportunity to see, know, love and appreciate the real you, not some composite reflection stitched together with fear and desperation.

Simply put, you let people in, instead of subtly keeping them at a distance by being something other than yourself.

As my mother always tried to tell me countless times: “the truth will set you free.”

If you often feel detached, lonely and confused, ask yourself:

Do I give all of me in my relationships, or just the pieces I think they would approve of?

Where, or with who, am I holding back, afraid to reveal my opinions, thoughts and feelings, for fear of rejection and loss of connection?

Why else am I afraid to get intimately close with other people?

And what is that costing me?

As a chameleon, this is the hardest and most important work you’ll ever do: to become yourself.

Because that means you have to give up your core adaptive strategy in life – shape-shifting – which is the axis of your ego system, and stand boldly naked before the judging eyes and minds of the world.

This may lead to breakups with lovers and friends. But it also means that, over time, the authenticity of your personal gravity will have you surrounded by those who have been attracted to your true essence, rather than your mask.

You will endure rejection. You will not be liked by everyone. For every fan there will also be a critic. But don’t let that unavoidable fact keep you trapped in the stifled prison of agonizing mediocrity, like a butterfly afraid to crack the casing of the chrysalis.

Relax your shoulders and reveal yourself.

Speak up, speak out, and understand that this journey will be uncomfortable, messy, terrifying and even gut-shreddingly painful at times. But it will also be exhilarating and fulfilling beyond your wildest imagination.

This is the path I choose. Because when I come to my final breaths, I’ll be able to drape a hand over my testicles and break a gentle smile, knowing that – for better or worse – I took the only road worth taking.

[feature img credit: http://karatron.deviantart.com]

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