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Here's another image for you guy ...

Posted Apr 29 2009 10:46pm

Here's another image for you guys, or rather an occurrence that I bet will seem familiar to many of you: the Chameleon Phenomenon.

You know how a chameleon, if he's in a room by himself, looks exactly like himself? And, as an adaptive strategy, he can change how he looks to exactly match anyone that comes into that room?

The psychological equivalent of that happens all the time for people who suffer from eating disorders, and it can help explain why sufferers don't feel all that comfortable around other people, why they can become completely exhausted when around others, and why they feel their sense of who they are changes all the time.

So, how does this look? And what can we do to help it happen less (and eventually not at all).

The Chameleon Phenomenon can happen in subtle and not so subtle ways. Here's a couple of examples:
- Someone who has an ED has a particular opinion about something. When he/she's alone, she's pretty darn clear about how she feels and what she thinks about it. But when she goes out with friends, they start discussing the issue, she observes that they have different opinions than she does, she suddenly finds herself agreeing with everything they say (even though 2 minutes earlier she thought something quite different).
- Someone who is shy and likes to spend time alone agrees to go to a party with friends. While there, she acts very extroverted and as if she parties all the time. Before she leaves, she even invites herself over for the next night. She gets home and wonders why on earth the words, "so, see you tomorrow night?" came out of her mouth; she'd rather hide under a rock than go back there the next night.
- Someone who avoids scary movies finds herself saying to a group of her friends who all are about to buy movie tickets to a horror film, "Oh, yeah, that sounds like a great thing for us to see."

Now, we should be careful about discerning what is really the Chameleon Phenomenon and what is not. For instance, it is possible for someone to have a strong opinion and then go on to revise it after chatting with others who have differing ideas. And it's possible for someone who dislikes parties to fake her way through one pretending she's having fun- and it's also possible for her to maybe even have  some fun despite the fact that she doesn't generally like parties.

The Chameleon Phenomenon is happening when, suddenly and seemingly randomly, someone changes her thoughts, beliefs, feelings, actions... As in, the minute she walks through the door she seems, to one degree or another, a different person.

There are two levels of the Chameleon Phenomenon. The first is where the person is aware she's changing her "skin color" to match that of her surroundings. The second is where she changes her color and has little or no conscious awareness of what she's doing or done. Both are problematic; the second tends to make people feel "crazier" and more "freaked out."

In level one, the sufferer has the benefit of knowing that she's faking it in a way- she's aware she's not staying wholly true to herself. It still feels awful, but there is something she can hold onto- some piece of herself that isn't changing color. In level two, the sufferer consciously believes, at least to a great degree, that she truly holds these new views, beliefs, feelings, etc. Consequently, she can begin to wonder why she "changes my mind so much" and "why I"m so indecisive." Being in a situation with a variety of people can be extra overwhelming because the "color changing" occurs so frequently, rapidly, and dramatically.

Now, what do we do about this? Well, I'm going to save the bulk of that for tomorrow (so I can make a concerted effort to achieve my bedtime goal- which I have been lousy at lately- more proof of how diligently we have to practice and stay on top of changes we want to make for ourselves! If I lessen my attentiveness to my bedtime goal of 10pm for any amount of time I start slipping and staying up later and later; then I have to return my attention to the task and refocus... very much a work in progress. Those of you who have been reading this blog since it's beginning about a year ago know how long a project my 10pm bedtime has been!).

But here is where we should start with what to do: noticing the Chameleon Phenomenon- if it happens, when it happens, how often, which level... anything you can observe. Don't try to change it, just notice. We'll talk about the changing it part later :)

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