Borderline Personality Disorder and ‘The Chameleon Effect’

ChameleonOne of the biggest and most challenging aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is often ‘The Chameleon Effect’ – or ‘mirroring’. This is the constant, unconscious change in the person’s ‘self’, as they struggle to fit in with their environment, or the people around them. It is, essentially, a fluctuating identity. It is the manifestation of a basic inability or difficulty in establishing a stable sense of self.

The presence of The Chameleon is often one of the main obstacles to effective initial treatment and diagnosis of BPD, as it affects the interaction between patient and doctor, and can mask the disorder itself. It also affects and masks the way in which BPD intersects with other disorders that may have developed in connection with it – creating a complex web of behaviours that can be hard to untangle. The irony is that, without diagnosis and treatment, most are unaware of The Chameleon, and it is only through awareness that The Chameleon can be managed.

Though I was diagnosed some time ago, and am now (relatively) successful at managing my BPD, I am only recently getting to know my Chameleon. BPD and its insidious brethren are ugly, unpleasant and unsettling things to deal with and perhaps it is the case that my mind slowly processes them at a pace it knows to be comfortable and realistic for me. Accepting the fact of BPD is one thing, but admitting to the presence of The Chameleon truly slices to the core of all of that pain and insecurity – all of which is like pouring acid on an already gaping wound, for an emotionally dysregulated Borderline.

Now that I am acknowledging the presence of my Chameleon, I am beginning to wonder if this is actually the key to everything. The whole kit and caboodle. The crux of the issue. From what I can see, everything stems from this lack of a stable self. People with Borderline Personality Disorder instinctively ‘mirror’ to fit in, because without that behaviour, we have no idea what will happen. We have little or no sense of our own identity, so we can’t know if that will be acceptable to others. Without acceptance by others, we risk abandonment, which is often an intense fear for Borderlines. Why do we have this intense fear of abandonment? Because if we are abandoned, we have nobody to ‘mirror’. The fear of abandonment is a fear of being alone. It is terrifying to be left alone with yourself, when you don’t know who yourself is.

Imagine being entirely alone, looking into a mirror, and seeing a total stranger. Or, worse still, seeing nobody at all. There is no ‘you’. That’s kind of horrifying, right? So you’ll go to great lengths to avoid that situation, because, as an emotionally dysregulated person who experiences feelings in extremes, that situation will put you headfirst into a tailspin.

Now, I feel as though I have almost finished this monster of a jigsaw puzzle. I am close to seeing the big, completed picture. Perhaps this explains the terrifying, recurring, childhood nightmares featuring facelessness. It explains the debilitating childhood fear of being alone – so intense it caused hallucinations (externalisation of anxiety). It helps explain why, as an adult, I regularly experience severe dissociation. It explains further why the coping mechanisms that have developed over time – such as OCD – mainly serve as attempts to exert control over external daily life, as internally there is chaos.

It also explains why I am regarded by others as something of a ‘social butterfly’, constantly flitting from group to group, person to person, being different things to different people, as required. It explains my inability to say “no”. It explains why my persona changes depending on whom I interact with – even down to my accent and mannerisms. These are not conscious behaviours, but I have become more aware of them over time. I have begun to catch my Chameleon in action.

This is all good progress for me, as it is soothing to have explanations and answers. But mostly, it provides hope for lasting recovery. If the central problem is an unstable sense of self, the answer must be to build a more stable one. I just have to figure out how. I believe I have started to lay the foundations, and I am incredibly lucky to have people in my life that are willing and able to see beyond my Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m under no illusions, however – this is a chronic illness and I will never be free of it. But I can have enough awareness to keep it at a low, manageable level. The next step is to continue working towards a stable self that I can have confidence in. Only then can I can tame my Chameleon.

Have I finally reached the pot of explanation at the end of my enormous psychological rainbow? I’m not entirely sure, but the ground certainly seems to be solidifying beneath my feet.

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  1. One last comment Sarah, then I must say farewell. In order to save the inner child, the one hiding in the dark, only you as your older self can reach her. You have to save your self, yourself. She will listen only to you. She will understand no one else.

  2. I am lucky in a way with my over analyzing need to know why to anything answer’s prevent fear, and gifted in the ability to be self aware. before even my Borderline diagnosis, the concept of my social chameleon was made as an issue my last partner who had ASD greatly envied. I recognized justifiable reasoning for need to have a survival mechanism and being starved constantly for social interaction attention affection and for my brain to be used at all. so i would mold myself to fit. i always find alpha type people in groups and model them in a submissive way so to be in a neutral line of interaction not full control but enough to be respected and needed and useful to said social group. i did not know this was related to my border line issues even after i got the label, i just assumed it was more related to my Adhd issues as it was social and i have not been educated in my borderline mostly just made conclusions because it has very little support here. Why it was of interest to me tonight was i did not understand my weird need to be in relationship after relationship i assumed that was an attachment issue due to my “daddy issues” but tou found the words i only felt as i have recently become single after a 6 year long dv relationship i refused to leave to realize i have no damn idea who i am because i changed myself and modeled for every man around me that i thought i had lost who i was but in trying to find who i was these last few days i couldnt find anything of myself that was my own anywhere but what i mean is thank you very much for your perfect expression and insight

    • Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment. I am glad you found something useful, and I wish you luck in your continued recovery.

      Very best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

    • I must say I relate to this alot and in particular have been told especially recently that I act differently around certain people and often I don’t know I’m doing it until someone points it out then I freak out wishing I wasn’t like that. It’s causing arguments between me and one of my loved ones in particular. Is there any advice you can offer so that I can stop doing it?

      • Hi Rhoda, thanks for your comment. I would say that being aware of it and recognising when you’re doing it is half the process. Once you spot it within your own behaviour, you can have more control – you can try to identify patterns and triggers and begin to address those. All of these things are better achieved with the help of a mental health professional, because then you can identify those things safely, and at a healthy pace. I wish you luck with it, and thanks again for reading. Best wishes, Sarah Myles.

  3. Thank You for this post. I have been trying to give a name to my personality disorder. After reading this post, Now I know. I was starting to think there is no such condtion. My peronality gets eaily influenced. From the way I talk, behave, laugh, write, speak. Every little thing changes as the people around me change and It was scary I felt I had no identity. Whenever I looked it online I found nothing related to my condition. I will have to see a doctor I guess. To get a control over this. Thank you once again for this post.

    • Thank you for reading and reaching out. I’m glad you found something helpful in this piece. I would say that this particular aspect of the disorder is not exclusive to BPD, and can be part of a number of equally treatable personality disorders – so I would absolutely recommend seeking the advice of a mental health professional if you are concerned.
      I wish you the best of luck with your recovery.
      Best regards,
      Sarah Myles

  4. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing these words. My spirit rings in knowing how true to the core this is and in the journey that BPD is. Thank you ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  5. At 32 I’m no longer having this problem. Ive gotten to know and like myself pretty well by spending lots of time alone and meditating. Im a gorgeous, youthful, voluptuous, very intelligent feisty latina escort that is humorous and loves to sing spanish karaoke and dance soca. At times impatient and temperamental but never for long. Often warmhearted. Brave. Extremely good taste in fashion and make up and terrible at all things relationships. Unapologetic manhater. I could go on. But nonetheless i wouldn’t have it any other way:) spend lots of time alone for a couple years and you will truly get to know and love who you are.

    • Good to hear you found a strategy that works for you. We all find our own way, ultimately, but the key is to remember that recovery is possible – so thank you for sharing your story.
      Best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

  6. In the last several months, I’ve been feeling the classic “mid-life crisis” type feelings. I really thought it would never happen to me. In reading this article, I must say that I’m convinced I have BPD. I’ve always gloated to my closest friends about how I could mimic the person I’m speaking with in order to invite optimal responses from them…in a retail setting. But I’ve never admitted to anyone that I actually do this with everyone, in any given setting, for the most part. (There is a small sense of self.) Even my own husband of 16 years is currently mystified about my character and claims I’m bat-shit crazy. I verbally abuse him in return. Chameleon. And believe it or not, I recently and very subconsciously acquired a veiled chameleon as a pet, and I travel with him all the time now. (I travel a lot for business.) I claim he has “life lessons” to teach, but whenever I say this to people, they look at me all confused and I drop the subject–turn my colors back into what they are wearing, saying, feeling, conversing, vibing, whatever. So, thank you for this. I feel now I can further my journey in forgiving myself for some choices I’ve made in the past, and I feel like I can be more aware of this condition as I make decisions now and tomorrow and the next day and until it becomes habit. In all sincerity, thank you.

  7. Its amazing… It is terrifying to be left alone with yourself, when you don’t know who yourself is… I was there, in that situation many times, looking at myself at the mirror and not being able to recognize myself, I thought it was me just being crazy but now I see how other people feel it too, I’m starting to be aware of my chameleon, I realized I was borderline a little too late perhaps, but I learn everyday a little bit more, I also suffer PTSD and struggle with that too, but knowing where the root is makes me feel somehow relief, this is a very helpful information, thank you

    • Thank you for getting in touch – I’m glad you found the piece helpful. There is a lot of power in awareness, so it’s good to hear that you are finding some relief. All the best for 2017!

      Thanks for reading,
      Sarah Myles

  8. Thank you. I’ve known about my chameleon behavior but never knew it was a real thing. In reading your article I now have the ability to start identifying why and who I really am. It’s empowering to actually identify it and know that it’s not just me I actually question if it’s a disorder or a learned behavior for me in childhood now I’ll seek help to find out the real me and hopefully stabilize my life so people can know I’m more genuine. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thank you for your comment – I’m glad the piece was helpful for you. It means a lot to me when others are able to connect with what I’m writing about – it helps me too!

      So, thanks for taking the time to reach out, and thanks for reading. Good luck with your continued recovery.

      Best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

    • I’ve been reading these replies and yours struck a cord of truth for me. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching–not so that I can “name” my behavior and label it as a disorder but to discover the birth of it so that I can start to rectify my reactions to similar situations. Not dealing with the constant temptations to push back my feelings and emotions and slip into whatever needs to be done in order to “fix” situations has left me not knowing who I really am. But I’m choosing a different course of revelation–If God is my true creator, then it makes sense to me to pray to Him to reveal to me who He created me to be and help me to quit apologizing for it.

      • Hi Christine, thank you for your comment.

        Absolutely. I’m not religious myself, but everybody needs to walk their own path – if this is the path that brings you peace and comfort, then i wish you all the very best with your continued journey to recovery.

        Thanks for reading!
        Best wishes,
        Sarah Myles

  9. I’m so glad I came across this post, and more than glad that I came across all these comments. It’s so comforting knowing that you aren’t alone with this disorder. I was diagnosed about a year ago and ever since I’ve been on the road to recovery.

    The chameleon effect has been something that has effected me alot. I’ve managed to form a completely new identity over the past few years that doesn’t resemble the version of who I was before. This new version is forever changing, my accents, the way I walk, talk, my interests, my dress sense, it’s got to the point where I’ve had to isolate myself to find myself and come face to face with who I truly am. It’s terrifying though. It feels like I’m playing dress up. When a glimpse of the real me shows I feel embarrassed. It’s like i’m obsessed with reinventing myself so I can become the loveable child that I feel I never was.

    Even though that version of me was abused as a kid, I’m gradually teaching myself that that version didn’t deserve to get abused, and that I can bring that version back as a fully grown adult who is now in control, and that my personality had no part to play in how I was treated.

    Before I came across this chameleon effect blog I labelled it my inner child. Loved this and will continue to work on this chameleon effect so being me becomes automatic.
    Thank you 🙂

    • Thank you so much for reading, for getting in touch, and for contributing to the brilliant range of comments these lovely readers have created. I agree – it is so comforting to know that there are others experiencing the same thing, regardless of where they are on their road to recovery.

      I’m glad to hear that your recovery is progressing nicely, and I wish you all the best for the future.

      Warmest wishes,
      Sarah Myles

  10. Reading this literally stopped me in my tracks! It was almost as if I had written it myself. I only came across this because I googled, ‘chameleon disorder’. Ididn’t even know it was an actual thing. I was just trying to figure myself out. I have always described myself as a chameleon, which most people see as a good thing, being able to read people and adjusting my personality accordingly. People have even commented on how I pick up accents when I travel. Just recently I have realized that this may be a bigger problem than I ever thought. I have never had the opportunity to be alone much. So I always had someone to, ‘chameleon’ off of. My youngest child of four just recently moved out and after being a mom for 27 years there are days when I find myself alone at home and I almost feel like my brain is short circuiting, like a robot waiting for a command, because as I’m starting to realize, I don’t really know who I am, do I don’t know how to be who I am. Reading this had given me a little comfort though. It helps knowing that I am not the only one like this.

    • Thank you for sharing your story here – it is always fascinating to hear the way other people describe it, and the circumstances under which they have come to understand their chameleon. It certainly is comforting to find that there are other people experiencing similar sensations, but I also find it heartening to hear how it touches people in very different ways, and manifests specifically for individual people.

      I think for most people, it can be very scary to initially realise that they have no real sense of self. We ultimately need to find the approach that works for us, in moving forward, and that approach may differ from that used by everyone else. I do believe, however, that there is benefit to thinking of that scary initial time as a ‘power position’ – because it is from this position that we are finally armed with true understanding, and the tools to re-build in an effective way. From this position, we have the power to feel better.

      I wish you all the best in these endeavours. Thank you for reading and, again, thank you very much for taking the time to reach out.
      Very best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

  11. Thank you! Finally I know that I am NOT the only chameleon on the planet. The truth will set me free. Now I can be treated with the hope of healing and being able to manage my BPD. Eternally grateful.

  12. Remembering that being a chameleon is normal for people. We all want to fit in and mirror our friends and co workers. BPD tends to take this to extremes due to the unstable sense of self.

    • Thank you for you comment, and for taking the time to read. Yes, I agree – it is human nature to want to fit in. However, I think I make it clear in this post that we are specifically discussing the ‘Chameleon’ and ‘mirroring’ within the context of BPD and instability of self and, therefore, the extreme end of the scale.

      Best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment. That’s a good question, and I don’t have a definitive answer – as in this piece of work, I can only speak from personal experience as I’m not a medical professional. I guess the mirroring behaviour still continues in that situation. The point is that a person with a BPD chameleon isn’t an automaton that only responds to external stimuli they can copy. We all have our own, natural ways of being. It’s just that, in BPD, we are more disconnected from them and more keen to switch them out for those of the person we’re interacting with – because it’s about acceptance, the avoidance of rejection, and the avoidance of looking inside ourselves.

      Those are my thoughts. What do you think happens?

      Thanks for reading!
      Best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

  13. I stumpled across this writing, and by the end of it I was in tears. It was like reading about all the things that are ‘wrong’ with me, with the explanation as to why. No doctor will help me, I’m basically too intelligent for them to take a 2nd look at me and consider there’s an underlying issue. I will focus on finding a stable self now, thanks to this post. Thank you!

    • Hi Alice,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m glad to hear that you found comfort in this piece – it really does mean a lot to know that it helps other people.
      Best wishes for your continued recovery.
      Sarah Myles

  14. U have nailed it. That’s the exact situation I am facing. Am too in the same juncture right now. ‘hope’ is the only word I have along with constantly finding myself (self image).

    Any words of advice or help will be greatly appreciated…!!!

    Thank you. God bless

    • Thank you – I’m glad you found it helpful.

      My only advice is to do things at your own pace, in your own time. We all want to feel better, but it’s not a race – and the steadier we pace ourselves, the more likely it is that our progress will be relatively stable, and possible to maintain. I always make a point of acknowledging and celebrating every step forward I make – no matter how small. This, in itself, helps to build a more solid sense of self, because we are then seeking only the approval of ourselves, rather than looking to those around us. Soon enough, we go from, “I’ve had a good day,” to, “I’ve had a good week!”

      It’s a lot of hard work, and requires a great deal of patience. It’s never cured, but we can manage it by combining self-awareness with motivation to get the BPD under control. The goal, realistically, is to simply have more good days than bad. I’m now five years down the line, and there are still challenging phases, and times when I just can’t keep the balance. I have BPD ‘flare-ups’, and I still, sometimes, struggle with my Chameleon. But I now know I can look it right in the face, and tell it to get back in its box – because I know where it comes from and that understanding means the power belongs to me, not it.

      That’s the route that I found helpful – but everyone is different. I guess it depends on your own experiences, and circumstances. Having hope is a great place to start, though, and is an important resource for when you need to remind yourself that feeling better is absolutely within your reach.

      I wish you the very best of luck, and am grateful to you for reading and getting in touch.

      Warmest regards,
      Sarah Myles

  15. Can I just say thank you I’ve become more aware of this in my life. I’ve always known it was there but I struggled to put a name to it and because of it flew under the radar like you said in an example of mimicking a doctor, you sort of become a social butterfly, but you know the truth. So again thanks for this article. I hope for an update.

    • Thank you, Laura – I appreciate you getting in touch, and I’m glad you found the piece useful. I’ll be putting some more BPD-related stuff up soon.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.
      Best regards,
      Sarah Myles

  16. Reading this I realise my anxiety of social situations, is that of fear of being seen for how much I do care but can’t show it, turn to drink for the confidence only to bring out the anger of the blame game that people don’t see it.
    I’m starting to realise they do I just leave them before they leave me.
    Ive started to realise it’s time to stop running from myself I’m not an alcoholic but to the outside it looks like it..
    I’m a roller coaster but I’m sick of driving myself to the bottom.
    Trouble is this is today who will I be tomorrow, I hate going to sleep for not knowing and I can’t because my brains always going with adhd driving it like a machine.
    Another reason for drinking but it only brings out the depression the next day or fires my impulsive actions.
    I want to work I’m good at many things but lack the social skills to maintain a job.
    I know the social chameleon well when I think about it.

  17. I was once diagnosed with bpd… it has been some time since I have lost control to the point I was in a tail spin where up was dog and down was cat. I have addressed my issues and worked hard on them. I am in a place that I accept them and know to stay away from situations that ignite them. But what I am finding is that, I have become a recluse. I know that social situations and the many “friends” i would interact with lead me to either do things that mentally or literally get me in trouble. A lot of this is due to the Chameleon. When I notice myself and mannerisms change it really hurts me inside to know that I am so lost about who I am and what I stand for that I have to mirror others for some sign of a personality. It hurts to think that for me to just mantain effectively I have to avoid living. It is not all glass half empty though; being removed from life some has it drawbacks but the lack of the crushing lows is certainly not missed in any way shape or form. Is maintaining all this life holds from here on? Do these feelings go away? Am I always hiding in plain site?

    • Thank you for your message, and I’m sorry to hear that you are experiencing these difficulties.

      As I am not a mental health professional, I can only speak from my own, personal experience of Borderline Personality Disorder and my own Chameleon. Your description sounds very familiar to me. I have certainly experienced periods of being a recluse – when social interaction was far too dangerous for my emotional stability. That was during intense crisis, and around the time of my diagnosis. I still experience phases of this now, but to a much lesser degree.

      Looking at it honestly, isolating oneself is essentially avoidance and, while there are times when this is a necessary course of action, as part of our self-care, avoidance alone is not an effective way of creating sustained recovery. This requires balance between self-care, and safely challenging oneself, which is best done under the guidance of a mental health professional, at first. I took this route, and so I can say that, for me, this has led to a situation where I can confidently engage socially more often than not. It’s almost a process of re-training, and this is something I did with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and wider psychotherapy. Gradually, the suppression of those Chameleon instincts becomes automatic, and our sense of self becomes more stable.

      Again, this is just my experience. I realise that everyone is different, and what works for me may not have the same effect for others. I do hope you begin to feel better, though, and just know that it is possible to live a full life while managing BPD and the Chameleon effectively.

      Thank you for reaching out, and best wishes for the future.
      Sarah Myles

  18. Thank you for your blog. I am 39 years old and have been slowly becoming aware of my own chameleon. It was told to me by a co-worker; as I change modes dramatically for my job, freinds and situations. They view it as a intelligent and smart; but your article is the first I have considered that it is part of a bigger issue, an unhealthy one (I do come from an abusive childhood). Thank you so much..

    • Thank you for getting in touch, Richard, and I’m glad you found the post useful.

      I would always recommend that, if you are concerned there may be larger issues, get in touch with a mental health professional for further guidance. Awareness is key, though, so I would also recommend taking a moment to acknowledge that progress – because it is by no means easy.

      I wish you the very best for the future, and thank you for reading.

      Best regards,
      Sarah Myles

  19. As all the others have said, thank you so much.
    I feel like it just might help me to post a bit here.
    I’ve been becoming more and more aware of myself over the past couple of years. From when I was a kid, what I mainly remember is being rejected, being alone, and if I was with someone, they usually left. I never really belonged. I guess, from here, is where my issue stems. I never had a chance to develop a true personality– I ended up mimicking to belong, from an extremely young age.
    Now, I’m improving. I’m currently in a more active social environment that allows me to explore my interests and dislikes. I also have a relatively solid social group. I’m recognizing that I’m developing a personality.
    However, and maybe this can help someone else too, I am also so so so insecure about this new personality.
    E.g. one huge part of it, is I guess being kind and empathetic. This kind of stems from the BPD too I guess (being overly-kind to be accepted, maybe?). But I recognize that this is actually me.
    But again, over the past year or a half, this is what was bothering me the most. It’s just been my main insecurity, for reasons too long to write here.

    So, for anyone here who is going through this process of discovering themselves, they probably feel insecure as well, but honestly, guys, all of you, and I should listen to myself too:
    You can do it. Deep down, you are real. Don’t be afraid to explore yourself, and never, ever, reject yourself. True self-worth comes from within, don’t deprive yourself of it.

    Again, thank you for writing a post such as this, which many can identify with. ❤

    • Thank you for these comments – I very much appreciate you sharing your story here. I’m glad that this article resonated with you, and that you found some comfort in it.

      Best of luck with your continued recovery, and thanks again for taking the time to get in touch.
      Kind regards,
      Sarah Myles

  20. I just listen to the good things I say. And then I hear them more often. And maybe I don’t have a cut and dry personality. Maybe I always have to be objective, and maybe I do mirror people. I think I am a combination of everything. I can’t forget. Not anything. Nightmares. Past relationships. But I am a social butterfly. I do like most people. I try very hard. May be I hear voices or maybe I already finished the book while others may have forgot all ab it. I don’t think I have a disorder. I think I am who I am because that’s who I’ve always been. Have control and let others have control. Practice. Practice. Practice. You will hear you even if you heat all the other voices, too. And ask questions, but I’m sure you do, because that’s how you learn. I’m rambling. You’re fine.

    • Thank you for getting in touch, Margaret – although, with all due respect, I find your comments to be very dismissive.

      You have listed many aspects of yourself and your behaviours – thank you for sharing – and state that you do not think you have a disorder. That may well be true – perhaps you do not have a disorder. I’m not a doctor, and we have never met. I, on the other hand, do have a medically diagnosed disorder – Borderline Personality Disorder – which I have worked very hard to deal with. As you will have read from the other comments on this article, this space is frequented by all kinds of people at various different stages in the process of dealing with many different things – their experiences are all valid and important, whether or not you recognise parts of yourself here and are able to manage.

      Though I don’t know you, your comments (“I am who I am because that’s who I’ve always been”) give the impression that you have a relatively secure sense of self. I’m happy for you in this, but would hope that you can allow for the fact that other people might have a different experience – which is no failing on their part. People, and their lives and histories, are complex and different, and everyone has to find their own way – diagnosed or not.

      “You’re fine.” Am I? How do you know that? Because you assume that I am experiencing the same thing as you are, to exactly the same degree? Today, I am relatively okay – but could I have said the same five years ago, when I required the help of the Mental Health Crisis Team for a sustained period of time? No, I couldn’t. And the work I do now, and on here, is with the intention of avoiding that in the future.

      I am curious about two things, though. Firstly, if you are so comfortable with the way in which you deal with things, and specifically with the fact that you mirror people, why are you reading articles about it on the internet? If you “don’t think you have a disorder,” why click on an article with this very specific, BPD-related title at all? Secondly, if you don’t think you have a disorder, why are you so comfortable telling someone who categorically does (whom you have never met) that they’re “fine”?

      In summary, nowhere in this article does it state that the Chameleon Effect is solely an aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder – in fact, it says very clearly that this behaviour is common to many different types of mental health problem – and is also found in people with no mental health problem at all. This article does not suggest that, just because you mirror people, it means you have BPD. What it does say, is that when the Chameleon Effect is present in BPD, it is usually the result of a shifting, unstable sense of self – which is a core element of the illness.

      I hope that clarifies this topic for you. I also hope it makes the point that, if you read an article written by someone with a BPD diagnosis, detailing their personal experience and sharing their thoughts on the sometimes terrifying process of recovery, it is very dismissive – and rude – to send them a comment that essentially says, “I do some of these things and I just get on with it. You’re fine.”

      Kind regards,
      Sarah Myles

  21. I’ve always been a chameleon. Ever since I was a young child, I wondered how I was supposed to behave or act, in any given social situation I was in, and learning to copy people who seemed to have it down pat. My ex wife always said I seemed like a social butterfly and chameleon, so why do you not like crowds, she would wonder. Wasn’t til my late 40s I realized I was BPD. I think I don’t like crowds because I get inundated with too much of the energy emanating from everyone, possibly. Anyway, right now it seems like it might be fun to be an actor.

    • Yes – that’s exactly it! Social butterfly, but crowds are just exhausting – either because of the The Chameleon, or due to trying to control The Chameleon and stay self-aware. It takes days to work up to being in a crowd, and days to recover. It totally wipes me out, even now.

      Thanks for sharing your experience – and thanks for reading 🙂

      Best wishes,
      Sarah Myles

      • You seem to know the etiology of borderline very well.

        Maybe you can relate to this: Shopping at the grocery store. Lots of people around. You feel wound-up, out-of-touch with your emotions, your shoulders and chest are tense. You don’t want to look at anyone. You see somebody attractive nearby and look anyway. Suddenly the emptiness appears out of nowhere and you sink into it. Now you’re in a negative place for the rest of the day.

        That happens to me frequently and I don’t understand it.

      • I must apologise, as I have only just spotted this comment – though it was posted three months ago. There was no notification for some reason.

        I can see how this scenario would be problematic for a number of reasons. BPD tends to cause emotional spirals – both negative and positive – so if something that has a negative association occurs, it can stick there, like a stone in your shoe, for a long time. This is going to be amplified when it is something that also pushes other BPD buttons. Spotting somebody attractive in a grocery store is one such scenario, because it involves social interaction with a stranger, and taps into every personal insecurity. Your Chameleon instinctively wants to mirror them, but you don’t know anything about them – so you are lost in your own fluctuating sense of identity. You instinctively fear rejection, so you look away – because it is easier not to engage. But, then you are filled with regret for a missed opportunity, on top of feeling that you have remained in the pattern of behaviour that you feel is unhealthy.

        In my experience, the key is to emotionally drill down (when safe to do so, under supervision of a trained professional) until you can find the cause of that fluctuating sense of identity. It is a core feature of BPD, and intersects with almost every other aspect of the diagnosis. Understand that, and managing those negative spirals becomes much easier.

        Thank you for sharing that and, again, my apologies for taking so long to respond.

        Best wishes,
        Sarah Myles

  22. I am absolutely in tears reading this. Well to be honest, I have been crying since 4am this morning. I have known for a long time now that I am Classic Chameleon and I know exactly how and when it started. In very early childhood. I had a wonderful father, but a tyrannical mother, who by the way I absolutely loved with all my heart and since she died 13 years ago, I have lost the one person I spent my life trying to please. It has only been in the last three years however that I have become more aware of my issues. I now live alone and have no idea how to behave with myself because I have nobody to ‘copy’. I don’t interact with people if I can help it because it’s just too hard and I absolutely trust no-one. I don’t even know why I decided to post on here. Desperate I guess. No offence! Tried to get an appointment at GPs this morning but all appointments taken 😭. I will try again tomorrow. Thank you for your posts. Good to know it’s a thing and I am not just completely mad as a box of frogs 🐸

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for reading and for reaching out to share your thoughts. I’m really glad that this post was able to bring you some comfort in knowing that others share your experience. While it’s a difficult thing to talk about, and to confront within ourselves, it is that shared openness that helps us all – including me.

      I’m pleased to hear you are trying to reach your GP, as I would always recommend the assistance of a medical professional. In my experience, seeking this help at the right time – when you are prepared and ready to address the issue – significantly increases the efficacy. I’m sure, with the help of your GP, you’ll be on the road to management and sustained recovery soon enough.

      I wish you all the best.

      Warm regards,
      Sarah Myles

  23. This answered my question perfectly thank you. Been diagnosed bpd 5 years now and always had this problem. Problens living with this are so enormous. Not a wonder we often want to give up trying in life completely. ~~

  24. Wow I can so relate to all that!
    How have you got help and are there any groups or books that can help?.
    Thankyou for writing this.

    • Hi Annie,

      Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment. I’m glad you found this piece helpful.

      In terms of getting help, my husband took me to my GP during a severe BPD crisis, and I was immediately able to access support through the NHS – including a team of mental health professionals, and intensive one-to-one psychotherapy sessions. Through this treatment, I learned more about the co-morbid conditions that intersect within my diagnosis, including the Chameleon Effect.

      In terms of books, I highly recommend: , since Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is appropriate for a number of mental health issues – not just BPD – and the Chameleon Effect is not limited to BPD either.

      Hope that helps, too, and thanks again for getting in touch.

      Best regards,
      Sarah Myles

  25. i literally never comment on online articles however this one is different. i need to say thank you for writing this because it feels like i wrote it myself. it is both terrifying and comforting to know that this is something that other people struggle with and that this is a disorder that i have been going through. again thank you.

    • Hi Nicholas,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment – it really does mean a lot when people reach out about this subject. I’m glad to know you found some comfort in it.
      I wish you all the best.
      Warmest regards,
      Sarah Myles

  26. Thank you for writing this because it rang a bell. One difference is that I am not scared of being alone. In fact I am way more comfortable with me than I am with other people. Because with other people I cannot really guess who am I gonna be but I know exactly who I’ll be when I am with me, on my own.

    • Thank you for you comment – that’s an interesting point. At the time of writing the post, I has just come to understand the Chameleon, and still felt that fear but now, some years down the line, I feel the same way you do – more comfortable with myself than others. This post was written at the point of realisation, if that makes sense.

      I think that coming to understand the Chameleon and how it had caused a lot of the issues I experienced with my BPD allowed to me see it rationally and understand why everything was always so emotionally exhausting for me. The understanding made the fear dissipate. That understanding about my sense of self has been a big part of my recovery thus far.

      So, now that I have figured out my whole sense of self thing, and the Chameleon, I find it easier to be home alone (or with my husband and kids) than to be in social situations. But the understanding helps me go into social situations fully informed, and on guard for my Chameleon rearing its head.

      Hope that makes sense. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to get in touch – I’m glad it resonated with you.
      Best regards,
      Sarah Myles

  27. The fact that you are a writer suggests you are a visual subliminal distraction victim. If this is true your psychiatric symptoms can be stopped without treatment or after effects.

    • While I appreciate your interest, I think I’ll go with the diagnostic conclusions of the many qualified medical professionals that have spent a great deal of time with me, on a one-to-one basis.

      The nature of my mental health problem is not in question. Further, I am not a “victim” and, to be perfectly frank, I find this comment to be a highly irresponsible attempt to draw traffic to your own website from a place where people are discussing their very real experiences with mental illness.

      Thanks for reading.

  28. Hi SJ,
    I read your article, and I found something similar with me. I have Bipolar Disorder with Borderline Personality Disorder. My chamelon effect happened while I was watching “Paradise Hotel – Sweden” I saw a girl and I kinda effected. (I am a gay person). I copied the way she is sitting, smoking, smiling, even blinking her eyes. I will talk this issue with my doctor, but I am scared this chamelon effect will be permanent.
    At least I am glad I am not alone when I read your text.
    Thanks a lot.

  29. […] quite right either. If I had to give a description of my personality, I would say I am a chameleon (not to be confused with an individual who mimics another’s behaviors as part of a mental disor…). I adapt to my surroundings. I don’t change to fit in, but know when to be serious, when to […]

  30. thank you so much for writing this. i’ve never found a way to explain this better then you have. when i’d tell people about how i felt, they’d usually talk about social anxiety and it was hard to connect my fear of abandonment to my fear of being alone. reading your comments about a lack of identity and lack of self explained basically exactly how i felt and my issue with being alone. when i’m not around other people, i don’t know how to act or think. my identity or organic self (if i even have one) is so repressed that i don’t know where to start when i try to unpack it. even when looking for my inner child or answering questions that are supposed to make connections, all my answers lead to the same things. i’ve found that i can’t describe things about myself unless something else tells me im a certain way. i realized i like debating and socialising, as well as analysing people and going in deeper because of astrology. i’ve realized i cope by constantly looking for adreneline rushes and looking for fun things due to the ennagram type. looking at different personality types and discribers help me say everything that resonates, but organically i haven’t been able to look back onto who i believe i truly am. i believe due to my relationship with my family as a child, i’d get shamed every time i’d stop masking my personality. and i think that caused me to become so ashamed of it that in my mind i demolished it completely. i would start basing my personality off of people i liked and found that other people liked. i would use my ability to analyze to become the “perfect” person for people i meet.

    i think this might be one of the reasons why rejection and people leaving me affects me more. demolishing my personality killed me as a kid, forcing me to be swallowed by my intense emotions and overwhelming family. i think because of that, rejection and abandonment from other people hurts so much more. there are still parts of my sense of self i can’t control, although i can’t pinpoint whatever that is. and i believe that when you’ve formed who you are to fit certain peoples likes and dislikes, its so much harder when they still reject you. it’s almost like reassurance that you and your personality are unloveable. even with my best efforts of becoming close and changing who i am completely for everybody else, they still won’t like me. and it feels like i’ll never be good enough, no matter how many personalities i create i still am the mean, annoying, sensitive, unloveable child. so i believe one of the reasons why rejection can be so hard for people without a sense of self is because it shows that even after disolving your entire being, you are still unloveable.

    another thing that people don’t comment on that much is the social anxiety that comes along with it. i don’t know if this is just me, but i can’t trust people to truly like me, as i don’t like myself. the idea of someone i don’t like not liking me organically doesn’t bother me. but my mom set in my head that its a chain reaction, and just a little action can cause you to end up alone.

    and the thing about being alone is the nothingness. i always thought i couldnt meditate, couldnt sleep, and couldnt wait alone due to adhd. however, i realized it’s a bit bigger then that. when im by myself, not talking to someone or doing something that is at least slightly mind consuming, i have to chose to face the nothingness that is within me. i can feel the child inside of me that ive beaten down and shamed for their personality, but its so far gone now. i don’t understand how to find it. and even when i do, i don’t know if im ready to accept it. understanding that i shouldnt have been treated that way, and that my inner child does deserve and is worthy of love. and that people will like me for who i really am. and once i become comfortable with that, i dont know how to bring myself out. and find out who i actually am, and become comfortable to who i am really

    i’m not diagnosed with bpd, ive been told i fit every diagnostic criteria fully but i’m only 15 and was told i’m too young, unless i get sent to the hospital for some reason. everything i see on bpd does feel extremely validating though, and i feel accepted and like i can actually work on healing everything ive been so ashamed of.

    thank you again so much for this article and all the comments.

    • Hi Emily, Thank you for taking the time to reach out. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling, but I’m glad you were able to find useful information in my work. I would always say that it’s very important to seek help from mental health professionals. It is the case that personality disorders are rarely diagnosed in teenagers because the ‘personality’ is essentially ‘still forming,’ but it is always worthwhile reaching out for professional support if needed. Recovery is possible, and I wish you the best of luck as you continue to make great progress. Best wishes, Sarah Myles

    • A diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder comes from a medical professional therefore, if a person has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, it’s because they have sought medical help, because something is wrong.

      If you have read the piece upon which you are commenting, you would understand that Borderline Personality Disorder is a deeply unpleasant, problematic, and often terrifying condition, which is why it is important to understand pathways to recovery.

      If you do not have Borderline Personality Disorder then this piece, titled ‘Borderline Personality Disorder and the Chameleon Effect,’ may not apply to you – but thanks for reading anyway.

  31. I’m on the opposite side of this my partner has BPD. The lack of trust, the mirroring behavior(the sweet kindness he shows me like my favorite cookies or flowers he also thinks are his daughters as well). paranoid behavior like people are looking at you strangely or talking about him, reckless behaviors. The chaos inside the person the BPD overflows outside although the person doesn’t think it does. And until the person with BPD works on it, everyone around them suffer the chaos, the layers and layers of chaos. And the thing is the person with BPD will never truly even understand the other person and their suffering. I feel for BPD but the suffering doesn’t stop there, the manipulation, the subtle control they try and exert causes a great deal of damage. I’m lucky I live apart from this person and can create firm boundaries to protect myself. Best of continued health to you and all those effected by BPD and their loved ones effected by BPD

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