What is Your Camouflage?


What do you do when you feel afraid or uncertain?

It’s totally normal to try to protect ourselves when we feel vulnerable. We all have patterns and habits we go into—some more helpful than others. We may also find ourselves taking on a role or persona that feels safe.

Are you the helpful one?

…the funny one?

…the smart one?

…the strong one?

…the stoic one?

…the good one?

…the cynical one?

…the spontaneous one?

…the naive one?

…the quiet one?

…the angry one?

…the cheerful one?

We’re not bad or wrong for putting on camouflage. It’s normal to protect ourselves if we feel threatened. Knowing how we act when we feel vulnerable can help us recognize when fear is taking charge.

Our camouflage can become so automatic that we start protecting ourselves before we even realize we feel the need for protection. If we’re not paying attention, those defensive ways of being can seem like who we are. Awareness lets us discern what is a real threat and what is just uncomfortable.

Noticing our camouflaging behaviors can prompt us to ask what doesn’t feel safe. We can choose which aspects of ourselves we most want to lean into as we navigate the current situation instead of defaulting to the ones that feel the safest. We can decide which risks are worth taking and what is a sign that it’s time to walk away.

Consider the difference between when you’re feeling most fully yourself and when you’re protecting yourself in some way. Are there any personas or flavors of camouflage that you take on when you feel vulnerable?

We can’t categorize certain identities or ways of being as protective. Just because something is sometimes used defensively doesn’t mean it is always a form of camouflage. The personas we adopt to avoid feeling vulnerable are often also part of who we are when we feel most grounded and safe.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Are you the funny one—making people laugh in even the most serious situations?

Where is this helpful?

Perhaps bringing laughter and levity draws people together and reminds you to look for the good so you don’t feel overwhelmed and alone in the hard stuff.

Where is this limiting?

Perhaps you laugh off any slight or criticism so no one will see how much it hurts. Maybe your humor comes at the expense of others, providing the group with someone else to pick on.

Are you the helpful one—trying to take care of everyone else?

Where is this helpful?

Perhaps your helpfulness is a doorway to deeper connection. Maybe you feel most alive and joyful when supporting others.

Where is this limiting?

Perhaps your helpfulness is a way to try to make sure you are needed, to earn a place in others' lives. Maybe you fear that if you ever need help instead of providing help, then you won’t be worth the bother. Maybe, whether or not you’re aware of it, helping others gives you a sense of control over them.

Are you the strong one—appearing unruffled by even the most difficult situations, holding it together so others can fall apart?

Where is this helpful?

Perhaps you are calm and clear-headed in stressful situations, able to figure out what needs to be done and make sure it happens while being a grounding presence for those around you.

Where is this limiting?

Perhaps being strong is a way to avoid feeling sadness, fear, or pain. Maybe being the strong one leaves you trying to carry everyone’s burdens alone.

Even the most helpful aspects of ourselves can be used as a form of camouflage when we feel vulnerable. We might turn to different camouflage with different people or in different situations.

Some of my go-tos are the helpful one, the good one, the quiet one, and sometimes even the cynical one. A few of the others also make an appearance from time to time.

What are your forms of camouflage? Where are they a helpful piece of who you are? Where can they be limiting when used defensively?