An INFJ’s Social After Effect
Have you ever gone out with friends or met someone new, felt like you had a great conversation and then afterwards, when you were alone and reflecting on the encounter experienced an unexplainable wave of guilt?
You are not alone. Many INFJs and empaths suffer from this unpleasant phenomenon. It is so common that I have begun referring to it as Chameleon Guilt.
Before understanding Chameleon Guilt, you need to take a moment to understand the Chameleon Effect. If you haven’t all ready, head over and take a look at this article. It summarizes this effect, explaining why we seem to outwardly fit in with any group or individual, even those we seem to have nothing in common with, and sometimes may even test a different personality type.
The Chameleon Effect causes us to absorb the other individual’s personality. But in order to do this, we simultaneously reject our own. In order to behave as they do or like the things they like, we lose our behaviors and our likes in that moment.
The encounter feels positive and seems to go well because we have sent our extroverted Feeling (Fe) function into overdrive to ensure the other person feels comfortable, causing us to feel comfortable. It appears to be a win-win.
But then, all alone afterwards, we see and reflect and regain our sense of self. We abandon the temporarily absorbed personality and shift back into our own, much like a chameleon changing colors in the comfort of their familiar environment. As this happens, we feel guilty. We feel guilty for abandoning ourselves and guilty for deceiving another. Even if our deception was not purposeful, we still feel guilty for not being authentic.
Intuitives and empaths crave truth. We crave authenticity in others. We strongly dislike being deceived or manipulated. So when we recognize that we have engaged in this behavior, we feel guilty.
Why do we do it?
If we pride ourselves on being honest and preach authenticity, why do we engage in the Chameleon Effect? Why do we abandon our true selves in order to fit the mold of those around us?
It is important to note that this behavior is usually habitual or subconscious. Few INFJs leave their home thinking, “I am going to be a chameleon today!” And this behavior is hardly ever out of malicious intent. We are not seeking to deceive anyone.
Humans love to be comfortable. We consciously and subconsciously avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable. INFJs love to see those around them content and we love to feel good too. By slipping into the Chameleon Effect, heavily tapping into our Fe function, we seek to make those around us feel comfortable. The best way to do this, is to meet them with familiarity, not rocking the boat with anything different or conflicting to their world.
By making them feel comfortable, we feel good in return. We think we are doing the right thing in the moment because everyone feels happy.
But the reality is that the happiness brought about is superficial and fleeting. In our efforts to keep those around us comfortable, what we are actually doing is taking responsibility for their emotions. We are hijacking their emotional state by altering the reality of ourselves in order to get the response we want.
In short, we are manipulating them.
Again, this is never our intent. We do not seek to maliciously manipulate anyone around us, and yet this is precisely what is occurring. We change ourselves to make the other person respond in a particular way.
This is a result of poor boundaries. We are not holding our own boundaries by allowing ourselves to abandon our personal truth, whether on a small scale or larger scale. We are also violating their boundaries by not offering them our authenticity and respecting their right to choose their emotions.
How do we fix it?
The only way to stop the Chameleon Guilt is to stop the Chameleon Effect.
No one wants to feel guilty. No one wants to manipulate. In the moment, it may feel inevitable. This is something you have probably struggled with for quite some time and this chameleon-like interaction with others has become an involuntary habit.
But it is possible to shift away from this. The first step is to recognize what is occurring. Offer yourself compassion as you notice why this behavior is not ideal. Remind yourself that your intentions were positive. You wanted to make others feel good, and who doesn’t want that? This habitual way of interacting with others comes from a benevolent root.
Now that you have recognized it, you need to begin establishing and holding boundaries. Boundaries take time to build and years of practice to master. But as you implement them and hold them, you will see your interactions with others change dramatically.
Finally, practice. Practice, practice, practice. When you slip up, notice it and when possible, correct it. Over time you will become more and more authentic with those around you, causing the Chameleon Effect to slip away. Each time you stand firmer in your truth and respect the emotional boundaries of those around you, it will get easier.
As the Chameleon Effect fades away, so too will the Chameleon Guilt.