Chameleons don’t have boundaries. Chameleons change colors to adapt to their environment. In fact, it is the lighting on their skin that darkens or lightens depending on their level of stress, mood, and temperature. When feeling threatened, chameleons become invisible to blend in with the environment. In humans, when this is your go-to response, you may be reenacting a traumatic reaction to dealing with a stressful situation with others. When you agree with everyone else’s likes and dislikes to avoid further altercations, you forgo your self-worth and intuition. This type of people-pleasing occurs in all types of relationships, from friendships, romantic relationships, parenting, and work-related situations.
The never-ending cycle of thoughts includes, “ I think I would like that, but if they prefer something else, it’s okay, I could go either way with it.” “Oh, they seem to be getting angry, I am starting to feel uncomfortable, did I do something wrong?” “Maybe if I go along with their plan, it’s okay if that isn’t what I want, but as long as they are okay, we will all be okay, and besides, I love them, so it’s worth it.” “How come they are still asking for more? It’s like nothing I do is ever good enough. Maybe I need to try harder next time. I feel so bad that they are angry.”
Porcupines have poor boundaries. Porcupines have soft hair and sharp quills on their back that lay flat unless they feel threatened and those quills shoot right up. If we think of the human version of the porcupine, it’s the one who has lax boundaries and only yells “ENOUGH!!” when it’s too late. Super cute and cuddly on the front end and pretty ruthless when their personal space is threatened. People who tend to be like porcupines have poor boundaries, feel like they are never good enough, and keep trying to take care of everyone until they are emotionally, physically, mentally depleted.
The never-ending cycle of thoughts includes, “I am not doing enough.” “I am so tired, but I should keep at it because it makes them happy.” “ Why do I feel so alone and why won’t anyone help me?” “Please just leave me alone! I need a moment to breathe! I am only one person!” “ Oh shit, I am traumatizing them. I am just like my mother!” “ I am so sorry for losing my cool, let’s cuddle, I will try to do better next time.” I would say that many moms feel this way- trying to be the all-encompassing picture-perfect mother (who never shows up in the photographs because she is always taking them) until she is flat out burnt-out.
Both the chameleon and porcupine act to save peace and keep everyone okay. They are resilient individuals who think about the greater good. The problem in their equation is that they tend to forget about the most important in their greater good- themselves. That’s why it always backfires. Many times people try to do the opposite of what they had growing up to avoid the pain they experienced. The paradox of it all is that they replay the same scenario anyway and only when they begin to process this in therapy, do they realize how they consistently replay these relationship patterns with their most significant others. If you find yourself identifying with either animal, you’re not alone and I’m here to help.