Timothy M. Tays, PhD

Dr. Tays is is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He specializes in treating anxiety disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety, trauma, phobias, obsessive-compulsive, etc.) and mood disorders (e.g., depression, bipolar, etc.). He also treats adjustment disorders, stress, and chronic impression management (i.e., “The Chameleon Complex”).

Dr. Tays uses cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy (CBT), which is particularly effective and long lasting. But he also integrates interpersonal psychology and commonsense to join with, and understand, his clients. He provides an empathetic and thoughtful approach to treatment, and collaborates with clients to attain quick symptom relief, empowering clients to maintain well-being long after treatment ends. When indicated, he consults with other therapists, and collaborates with psychiatrists providing pharmacological treatment.

The Chameleon Complex

People who behave like chameleons tend to look good but feel bad. They are chronically stressed, sad, and anxious. They are lonely in their marriage and disconnected in their other relationships. They know something is wrong, but have no idea what it might be. They fear, “If you really knew me you wouldn’t like me.”

Chameleons often behave so plastic, shallow, and two-dimensional that it is like witnessing an act. People wonder, Who is this person really? Why isn’t there any connection? There’s always this…distance. Everybody knows a chameleon, but not everybody recognizes it when he or she is one.

Chameleons believe if they were more perfect they would feel better, people would like them more, and they would not be hurt again. They try to become attractive in a way they did not believe they were as children. They feel shame, so they alter their true “color” to protect themselves, and attempt to control the image others have of them (i.e., impression manage). The payoff is feeling safe; the cost is lonesome suffering even while in a crowd—often even while surrounded by safe, loving people who wish to connect more deeply with them.

We are all chameleon-like. We behave differently around different people and while in different roles to fulfill our responsibilities; this is necessary and normal. But when we behave this way with everyone, then nobody truly knows us. There is little emotional intimacy, and that can feel really bad.

However, there is help. It seems counter-intuitive that the best way to deal with “The Chameleon Complex” is to stop covering shame but to uncover it. Many people need to learn how to let down their guard around safe people in order to reveal more of their authentic self, and to keep up their guard when the situation demands it—and to know the difference. Very quickly connection will result, and loneliness, sadness, and worry fades.