Personality chameleon.

Psychology-related discussions or questions that don't fit neatly into any other forum.

Postby violetpez » Fri Nov 23, 2007 6:50 pm

Hey everyone. I'm a 15-year-old girl, a high school freshie, and ever since school started back in September I've been having a pretty big problem. (Actually, it was like this all through middle school too, but it wasn't as much of an incredibly annoying obstacle.)

I act differently around different people.

I'm sure everyone's experienced this to some point--around your boss you're like a model employee, around your best friend you loosen up, maybe around new people you act a little tense. But all those things can be explained (you want to make a good impression to your boss, your best friend knows you better than anyone, etc). But with me? Here's an idea:

When I'm alone with my best friend, I'm myself. Okay, that makes sense.

When I'm alone with close friend #1, I sound intelligent, collected and confident. I'm also a little aloof and prone to sarcasm. Though this doesn't exactly match my true personality, I don't feel like I'm acting.

When I'm alone with close friend #2, who I once saved from suicide, I try my best to sound collected and confident, to make her laugh, and I do. But I feel like I'm trying to hard, acting just a little, and at some points I can become clingy or annoying. Which is definitely not me. (I see no reason for this.)

With friend #1, I'm pretty much just a more boring version of myself. I can't think of anything to say, and I usually end up feeling like I'm acting. (I see no reason for this.)

With friend #2, I'm crazy, out-of-control, and ridiculously funny. Good, except that I also sound whiny and immature. Not me. With her, I feel awkward as hell inside my own skin. With friend #3, I feel confident and clever. Though this is good, I'm still... not myself. (I cannot think of an explanation for this.)

With person #1, I feel awkward and stupid, like a scared little girl, which is not me at all. With person #2, I sound arrogant and condescending, which is not me at all. (Once again...)

With groups of friends, I feel overly loud and annoying, like I'm trying too hard. I try to sound collected and calm, but instead I end up sounding and feeling hyper and all over the place. I feel fake. This is definitely the worst--it's during these times that I lose sight of who I am completely, even though the real me is still inside my head going, "why are you acting like this?!" My only other option is to focus completely on not sounding stupid and to shut down completely. (?????)

And here's the kicker--around guys I like, I act like myself. (Probably the most confusing of them all.)

What is wrong with me? I wouldn't even mind acting differently around people I don't know as well, if I could just stop having 35 personalities in one day. Is there anything I can do?
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Postby JAKJRF » Fri Nov 23, 2007 10:16 pm

Hi violetpez

People who own the chameleon effect, can be very nice to be around. This short article explains much of that nice; We're All Copycats. The article says "the chameleon effect happens naturally and frequently, because we feel a rapport with people who mimic our moves." It goes on to say; "In another study of the chameleon effect, Chartrand and Bargh found that students who rated high on empathy were more likely to imitate others. ' Those who pay more attention mimic more,' says Chartrand—and make more friends in the process".

And to show just how effective the chameleon effect is check this early article from Wired on Artificial Intelligence; AI Seduces Stanford Students. It says “psychologists and salesmen call it the ‘chameleon effect’: People are perceived as more honest and likeable if they subtly mimic the body language of the person they're speaking with. Now scientists have demonstrated that computers can exploit the same phenomenon, but with greater success and on a larger scale”.

On a personal note, the chameleon personality can easily become part of your coping strategy that helps cope with anxieties and fears and over sensitive empathy; a sort of defense mechanism. And as told above, it is effective as others like to be emulated and correct about their expectations. However the chameleon personality, as we pretend for others, can become a habit. This coping strategy may feel natural but it can be self-defeating.

My guess, based on your post, is that you are very intelligent and self-aware. My suggestion is for you to thoroughly understand the chameleon effect and move it away from a habit, and into your tools of social interaction. It is a good skill and can be called upon when appropriate.
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Postby violetpez » Sat Nov 24, 2007 12:22 am

Hmm, maybe "chameleon" isn't the right word for my problem. I can tell you that I definitely do not mimic the person I am with. Actually, in a few cases I find myself becoming their exact opposite (with a calm person I become overly loud; with a giggly person I become too serious).

It's more of a "I can't be myself" problem... except that it's not rooted in self-esteem issues, or at least I can't figure how it could be. I've never been shy, and I'm a firm believer in "real friends love you for who you are."

I really do love who I am as a person, inside and out... the real me is outgoing and witty and optimistic. (I know because I'm a total introvert, and that's who I am after few hours alone or when I'm with my best friend.) If I could just be her 24/7, instead of all these other people!!

Being like this really doesn't help me in anything I do. Actually, it stops me from making friends and having fun in life... I can't stand it.
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Postby Annie7788 » Sat Nov 24, 2007 12:55 am

I think we're all a bit like this. Different people affect us in different ways. I mean if I am with people I feel good with I will be confident and outgoing. If I am with people who I know are judgemental I will be more quiet and withdrawn.

What I've found in life is that everyone has a different level of energy and we interract best with people who are on a similar energy level. When I hang out with loud overbearing people they burn me out. I feel like I have to keep up. When I am with someone too quiet, I start getting sick of the sound of my own voice. I tend to avoid spending too much time with anyone who makes me feel out of balance. I've worked out that it's not me, it's them.

You just need to find more friends that you feel comfortable with and who don't drain you or make you feel you need to put on an act. We have to be fake to a certain extent in the world, but its nice to have a group with whom you can just be you. Like your best friend. Once you start being yourself with more than just one person, you will start to feel more stable with other people. Like Jak says, it's a useful skill you can call on in life. It also means you tune into people's moods and feelings and that is also a useful trait when it comes to getting people on your side.
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Postby 4Mind4Life » Sat Nov 24, 2007 4:02 am

violetpez wrote:Hey everyone. I'm a 15-year-old girl, a high school freshie, and ever since school started back in September I've been having a pretty big problem. (Actually, it was like this all through middle school too, but it wasn't as much of an incredibly annoying obstacle.)

I act differently around different people.

I'm sure everyone's experienced this to some point--around your boss you're like a model employee, around your best friend you loosen up, maybe around new people you act a little tense. But all those things can be explained (you want to make a good impression to your boss, your best friend knows you better than anyone, etc). But with me? Here's an idea:

When I'm alone with my best friend, I'm myself. Okay, that makes sense.

When I'm alone with close friend #1, I sound intelligent, collected and confident. I'm also a little aloof and prone to sarcasm. Though this doesn't exactly match my true personality, I don't feel like I'm acting.

When I'm alone with close friend #2, who I once saved from suicide, I try my best to sound collected and confident, to make her laugh, and I do. But I feel like I'm trying to hard, acting just a little, and at some points I can become clingy or annoying. Which is definitely not me. (I see no reason for this.)

With friend #1, I'm pretty much just a more boring version of myself. I can't think of anything to say, and I usually end up feeling like I'm acting. (I see no reason for this.)

With friend #2, I'm crazy, out-of-control, and ridiculously funny. Good, except that I also sound whiny and immature. Not me. With her, I feel awkward as hell inside my own skin. With friend #3, I feel confident and clever. Though this is good, I'm still... not myself. (I cannot think of an explanation for this.)

With person #1, I feel awkward and stupid, like a scared little girl, which is not me at all. With person #2, I sound arrogant and condescending, which is not me at all. (Once again...)

With groups of friends, I feel overly loud and annoying, like I'm trying too hard. I try to sound collected and calm, but instead I end up sounding and feeling hyper and all over the place. I feel fake. This is definitely the worst--it's during these times that I lose sight of who I am completely, even though the real me is still inside my head going, "why are you acting like this?!" My only other option is to focus completely on not sounding stupid and to shut down completely. (?????)

And here's the kicker--around guys I like, I act like myself. (Probably the most confusing of them all.)

What is wrong with me? I wouldn't even mind acting differently around people I don't know as well, if I could just stop having 35 personalities in one day. Is there anything I can do?


Almost everyone acts differently around different people in different situations....this is normal. If what you want to do is always stay true to yourself -- then develop the courage to be yourself. What triggers most people to act differently is fear. They are afraid that others will not like their true self or personality so they mask it by acting differently. If you want to find out who you truly are, I suggest mediation. Nothing is wrong with you...once you become comfortable with yourself around others, this will no longer affect you.

Best wishes!

http://www.4mind4life.com/blog
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