Can a constant need to fit in sabotage real bonding?

how to accept yourselfWhat is bonding? You know when it happens, but it’s hard to describe it with words.

As I was writing this article, my efforts to put it into words repeatedly pulled my mind back to the moments when I felt it most strongly. I’m talking about those special moments where you feel comfortable in your own skin while fully connecting with another human being.

For many of us, it’s feeling comfortable in our own skin that is the problem. We can do it while alone, but we find it more difficult when trying to relate to other people. We are the social chameleons. Without even trying to we shift and change to connect and blend in with the people around us. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is the ability to bring joy to other people and build relationships quickly. The curse is the long-time investment required before someone has been with us long enough to realize who we really are. They have to spend a lot of time watching us shift with different colors in different situations before they are able to see the full rainbow that captures the essence of who we really are.

The title of this article is actually somewhat misleading. It’s misleading because many people shift their colors naturally and automatically, not because of a constant need to fit in.

You are not needy, just adaptable. In fact, you might think of this interpersonal characteristic as an indication that someone is selfish. You work to allow other people to feel comfortable. You do so not to manipulate them, but as a knee-jerk response that stems from a genuine desire to make other people feel at ease.

As a dating coach, one of my goals is to remove barriers that might prevent deep romantic bonding with an ideal partner. Some of the sweetest women I know get snapped up out of the dating market slower than counterparts with less desirable qualities. I believe the reason sometimes has to do with the longer time frame required before a man feels like he is connecting with the real woman behind what he perceives as shifting social masks. A man may fail to recognize that she is not wearing a variety of different social masks to keep him at bay, but rather demonstrating the full variety of her true colors.

I don’t have any magical solutions for this problem, but I do have a few tips that you might keep in mind if you are a person with the gift of fitting in.

Here are a few tips:

1.Share the fact that you have a natural chameleon instinct. Share this information with him early on so that he feels like an insider, free to comment on the shifting personalities he sees emerging in different social situations.

2.Find an appropriate time to communicate something to this effect: “One of the reasons I choose to spend time with you is because you bring out my favorite aspects of my own personality. You bring out the best in me, which enhances the value of our relationship. All versions of me are real, but I consciously seek to express some aspects of my personality more than others. At this moment, you are a part of that plan.”

3.If you feel it’s appropriate in your particular situation, do some internal work to overcome social perfectionism. Don’t try to please all people all the time. This requires compassion toward yourself on a daily basis. Practicing compassion in this context means forgiving yourself for not being able to please everyone as you pursue the values and goals that are most important to you.

how to accept yourselfHumans are incredibly complex and varied. Learning about yourself has incredible power for unleashing your most productive and passionate pursuit of all life has to offer. But don’t let learning take the place of the most important thing, loving yourself and others. Love yourself fully for who you are right now. Don’t wait until you fix a certain habit or adjust for a particular personality trait. Accepting and embracing yourself brings a kind of freedom you can feel in your bones. Full self-acceptance takes courage, but it’s worth it.

Wishing you the best in love and life,

James Bauer

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18 thoughts on “Can a constant need to fit in sabotage real bonding?

  1. Caroline said:

    My husband had an affair 3 years ago I think the contact finished up during the summer but now I think he sent her a card for Christmas and I have a feeling she text bad because he is very distance for the last few days and cross I said this to him but he said there was nothing wrong with him we have went nowhere since Christmas I am so hurt I spent last few days crying at some stage of the day

    • Lena said:


      I am so sympathetic to you in your sorrow. Cheating hurts a lot. I lost my first marriage because my husband started cheating on me, while I was taking care of 2 little boys of ours. I tried to save the marriage, because of our children, and it did not work out. My husband left us two years later, and never returned. I was remarried and raised my children without their father. But looking back now, I would rather have my first family and never divorced the boy’s father. I think it would be better for all of us. Now my boys are grown up men, 30 and 27 y.o. and stay in touch with their father, and he seams to be happy to spend more time with them occasionally, more now, than when they were little.

      What I am trying to say here, is that cheating is very bad, but if you love you husband and have kids with him, it would be definitely better, I think, to work on saving your marriage, then on opposite result. Think about it one more time, before you decide what to do with your life.

      I wish you all the best and God’s help and guideness of your heart.

  2. Cheryl said:

    Beautifully written!

  3. Lynn said:

    I have an unusual situation, well, at least I think it’s unusual. It’s a pattern in me that others misjudge. First, I’m an outgoing introvert–I get my energy “charge” from quiet solitude but have no problem being very social as I burn down that energy. But when I’m more reflective, I’m quiet. I’m also an empath with an amazing ability to feel another person’s feelings, and a deep desire to do so (not sure why). And, I’m a very intuitive person; as an INFJ that’s no surprise.

    The problem is, people sometimes take me as holding my cards too close to the vest, when in fact it just takes me awhile to know someone to be able to reveal who I really am. Because I’m such a good listener, men I date sometimes see me as the person they “overshare” their personal stuff (history, baggage, etc) with. And still, sometimes I just have the need to be still, or quiet (when I’m not in an outgoing mood) which sometimes gives people the feeling I’m aloof. Argh!

    So as my own personality changes throughout the day, and especially as I go on dates via online dating, how do I put my best foot forward without being phony just because I might be in a more quiet mood and wanting to listen? Do I tell my date (a recent date actually told me within 10 minutes of meeting me I seemed to hold my cards close to my vest, which hurt) hey I’m in a quiet mood and I’d rather a low-key evening of quiet conversation?

    With online dating your only get one shot to make a first impression and that seems to be eluding me at times, not always, but at times.

    I’d appreciate any advice you might have. I just don’t open up and everyone seems to be in such a hurry. Same for sex, which I also don’t rush into.


    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Lynn. You are an insightful person. I’d say the next step is to determine what kind of man you would prefer to be with. Do you want someone who has shifting needs (and a quite mode) like you? Or would you prefer to be with a guy is always “on” with a preference for constant contact?

      If it’s not the latter, then being who you are on a first date is a good thing. It will repel the wrong kind of guy and attract the right kind of guy. If your really do want to always put your more extraverted side forward (and reveal your quiet side later) then focus on learning ways to influence your own mood states so you can stack your day with activities or thoughts that help you charge up so you are ready to be more lively when it’s time for the date.


      • Lynn said:

        First, thank you for responding to my comment. Your simple question made it easier for me to think about the kind of man I’d be more compatible with. It’s great advice, thank you!

        I never really thought to ask the question, would I rather be with someone who, like me, needs some quiet time vs. being with an always on kind of man. Most definitely, it’s the former, without a doubt.

        Looking back, I can actually now recall 1st date instances where I was quieter and I must have repelled the guy ๐Ÿ˜‰ which was a good thing at the time even though I didn’t see it that way. I can’t really take being with always on people…..I’ve had those kinds of relatives spend a weekend with me and I ran to the local store (alone) to buy more snacks just to get away from their intense “always on” personalities. That’s pretty funny, and yet, a true story. I just can’t take that level of intensity.

        Second, I love your advice in which you state we should share our chameleon nature early with a man. That kind of “permission” never occurred to me. And yet, I can see why to a man who might otherwise rush to judgment this could be seen as a welcomed approach: “she’s got the self-awareness to let me in with a sneak peak of her fluid personality, and the self-confidence…..hmmmm, maybe I shouldn’t rush to judgment.” That whole concept is very powerful. I’ve often felt I was dismissed too soon. And, it will make me look at men differently on 1st dates knowing they, too, can be adaptive chameleons just like me.

        Finally, the notion that self-acceptance takes courage, and you can’t really worry about pleasing everyone, really hit home with me. What that says is that anyone can sabotage their dating life by trying too hard to be someone they’re not, because it only delays the amount of time it takes to connect with the “real you.” Although it seems obvious to me now, having re-read this post a few times now, authenticity should actually speed up the bonding process with compatible men, while at the same time speeding up the “screening” process with incompatible men. What a concept!

        This was a really timely topic for me. There’s so much in this short post, it packs quite a punch in its brevity. Thank you.

      • Kathryn said:

        Yes, beautifully written! As another INFJ, I relate totally… and so glad to know that being the “adaptive chameleon” is likely part of who we INFJs are! That is a welcome revelation to me, as it is something I have struggled with and criticized myself for, since my teens. I’m 60! Better late… ๐Ÿ’œ

      • Lena said:

        May I ask you, what this INFJ means?

        Thank you,

  4. Kim said:

    I really loved the part where you talked about not waiting until you fix a habit or adjust a personality trait. You are right on…thanks for the reminder:)

  5. JJ said:

    James, I have enormous respect for you and your brilliant, well-considered advice and high regard for women. I am grateful to have gleaned so much invaluable information from your writing and always look forward to reading your insightful articles. In my experience, I have found that people-pleasing and the wearing of masks is generally a result of insecurity, lack of self-esteem or self-confidence (or, occasionally, the tool of a hidden or false personality, such as a sociopath or game-player), and never an ingredient for long-term intimacy, whether in a platonic friendship or a romantic relationship. Having a strong compassionate nature is best not confused with people-pleasing. People-pleasing is about trying to be accepted and liked, quite different from compassion. (And I loved that you mentioned self-compassion as something that must be developed.) One of the most attractive aspects of a woman is her vulnerable self-confidence and authenticity. A man has a need to feel secure in his relationship with a woman — secure enough so that he feels safe enough to be vulnerable and genuine. A man’s primary relationship may be the only place where he has the freedom to express his fears and emotions, and simply not have to perform. It is very difficult to feel safe or secure when one never knows who the real person is under the mask, or, indeed, which IS the mask. Men often will not hang around long enough to find out.

    I’m curious: what are your thoughts on this?

    • James Bauer said:

      Those are good insights. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that. You obviously gave this a lot of thought and your comments bring clarity for the rest of us. Thanks!


      • JJ said:

        Thank you, James. You always enlighten and bring clarity to all of us, your readers. Thank you for your brilliant insights and information. I have learned a great deal from you.

      • James Bauer said:

        I appreciate that.

  6. Lisa said:

    Thank you for addressing this problem. I am a total people pleaser. I feel so guilty that I drop everything when someone needs me and then I resent it because I didn’t set some boundaries and I get upset if the favor isn’t returned when I need them. I’m working on this though.

  7. Jacky said:

    I attract just about all men to me, if we have similar goals, body type etc, the problem is that I don’t find the connection they so desperately desire reflected in their wants and needs. So does this make me so vulnerable and real that they connect easily and why do I find it hard to feel the one thing I desperately desire, It honestly puts me off of dating as I really struggle with the expectations that seem to overwhelm me, or I have little or no attraction to them.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hey Jacky. That’s a very good question, but one better suited to private coaching. There are too many exploratory questions I would need to ask you before I could offer useful feedback on this one.

  8. Madeleine said:

    I have never been able to put into words this phenomenon about myself which worried me. Thank you so much. You really are gifted( saying that cos mean it))

    Thank you James v much


  9. Bobbie said:

    Great article, and perfect for me! I have always been a “pleaser,” and it does indeed become a problem. If I adjust or shift, as you put it, I can seem to have had an enjoyable time, but am relieved when the social occasion ends. It is exhausting to be this way, and then if I don’t want to spend more time with this group, it is confusing to the guy I am with. I have heard my past date say,”but I thought you had a fun time with them.” It is difficult to say, “I was just being polite, and I was bored and did not enjoy myself enough to spend more time with them.” This is how I was raised…maybe it is a subconscious Southern trait. I didn’t think of this as anything but trying to be polite! Now, as I look back, this has been a problem for me. Thank you for addressing this!

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