Emotional Chameleon or naturally empathetic?

By David Joel Miller MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Emotional chameleon.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Do you soak up other’s emotions like a sponge?

If you find that the way you feel changes when you are around certain people you may be an emotional chameleon.

Emotional chameleons have difficulty identifying what they feel and as a result, they are at risk to assume the feelings of those they are around. They were feeling fine when they entered the classroom but within a few minutes, they have adopted the sad feelings as well as the behaviors of someone who came to class depressed.

We are all affected by the feelings of others around us but the emotional chameleon is unaware that they are changing emotional states throughout the day as they move around others and adopt the feelings of those around them.

Be careful who you hang with, you might catch their emotions as well as their behaviors.

Some people are naturally empathetic. That is not the same thing as an emotional chameleon. The empathetic person can see and sense what others around them are feeling. The can understand what that person is feeling and behave appropriately.

Some people just are not good at empathy. Someone comes up to you and there are in tears, you might ask what is wrong. They tell you that a family member just died.

Someone with low empathy might make a joke about the funeral home should be running a two for the price of one sale with all the deaths going around. A more empathetic person might respond with some conversation about how this person was handling the loss and how can we all be supportive. The emotional chameleon will start crying and tell this person all about the deaths in their family going back to the turn of the century.

Counselors are trained to be empathetic, that skill of being with the other person, and picking up on how they must be feeling. Humans have mirror neurons that help us understand what the other person must be feeling. This helps us to behave appropriately and promotes social connection if you pay attention to the other.

The empathetic person can understand what the other person is feeling without being swept away by the feelings.

Not so for the emotional chameleon. They quickly take on the feelings of others. It is as if they have no feelings of their own and they need to absorb other’s emotions to know how and what to feel.

If you find that you are particularly sensitive to other’s feelings there are several things that you can do to keep yourself grounded and avoid emotional contagion.

Learn to identify what you feel and distinguish this from what others around you are feeling. This process of work with feelings begins by noticing that you are feeling something, find the place in your body that you feel this thing. Next, identify that feeling. This means studying feelings and developing a vocabulary to identify them when you have them. Lastly, learn to vary your responses and behavior depending on what feeling you are having.

Having strengthened your own feelings system you will be at less risk of catching someone else’s emotion. The more you know about your feelings the better you will be at being empathetic and understanding what others are feeling without having to catch your feelings from others in order to feel.

This also allows you to be with someone who is having a negative feeling without having to take that feeling as your own and take it home with you.

Are you high in natural empathy or are you an emotional chameleon who is at risk to catch another feeling from someone else every time you change locations?

David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

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4 thoughts on “Emotional Chameleon or naturally empathetic?

  1. Pingback: Learning to say NO | counselorssoapbox

  2. Oh Lordy! This one is easy. I am that dreaded chameleon. Yikes, if you’re sad I’m sad. If you’re on a high, I’m on a high. Problemo with this…I have been bitten so many times. People have played on that side and taken me for money, more than once. Once bitten twice shy rule didn’t seem to work on me. Now though, I try really really hard to ground myself and not to get too involved. This is what I found worked for me. Feel for them but Don’t Get Involved!! Hugs, David! …Paula xxx


    • Keep working on this. You strike me as someone who cares, even if you try not to, and that makes it hard for you to not join in others feelings. Learn to focus on what you feel and what you want and let others meet your needs some of the time. Best wishes.


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