As a young actress immersed in full time classes and auditioning in Hollywood for many years the constant effects of studying and taking on disturbing character personalities in plays, movies and TV shows often affected me. It was personally draining particularly after performances. It would take me several hours after a show or play wrapped to even go to bed and feel like myself again. Lots of times I’d head to the beach to just sit and unwind. Mark Seton, a researcher at the University of Sydney in the Theater Performance Department calls it “post-dramatic stress disorder.” He said, “Actors may often have prolong addictive, codependent and, potentially, destructive habits of the characters they have embodied.”

Neuroscientist, Christian Jarrett, has done research and written on how theatrical acting changes an actor’s brain when they are studying and taking on a character’s persona on stage or in movies and TV series. He cites in his study that even his research volunteers, who weren’t professional actors, but who just spent time thinking about another person intensely, saw and felt their personalities change.

Who we hang with matters. 

As we choose to connect with others even online and might not be physically meeting or hanging out with them, their thinking still affects our thoughts and choices. It is why social media platforms have groups so that we can all keep thinking the same thoughts. Suddenly those who have immersed themselves in these groups find they are making choices on what the group wants and chooses and not what they might choose for themselves. It is a way terrorist groups have recruited others to join them for acts of terrorism. 

We often don’t stop to think that our intense interactions with a group, or as we spend hours on social media, on video games twitching or even when we binge watch a TV series, that these associations, real and unreal, can affect us. But the intensity of our focus in these mediums greatly affects personalities and life choices. It’s why we especially need to not only monitor our intake but that of our children. When children are exposed to mean spirited kids, who are making bad choices on media, it teaches them how to speak and act like bullies. They have seen it performed and often then re-play this behavior in their playtimes. Even when children watch others (including animated characters) shooting “bad guys” (as my 3-year-old grandchild calls them) for hours on video games it will affect a child’s personality and who he wants to emulate. Adults are not excluded from this and as they watch a character for six or eight hours in a TV series kill people and get away with stealing, taking drugs, or engaging in sexual perversion research shows that it affects them. It breaks down their ability to choose good moral behaviors. Their ability to choose right from wrong becomes bendable and is weakened.

We are called to imitate Christ.

What would Jesus do? We’ve seen the coffee mug, t-shirt and bracelet but do we really do it?

The apostle Paul in, Roman’s 12:2 (TPT), tells us to “Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.” The only way to imitate Christ and see our lives totally transformed into a contented and beautiful life is to be engaged with God regularly. We need to hang out with God. Scientific research reveals when we only engage with Him one to three times a week it won’t change our behavior. 

Think about how many hours a day you spend on media, entertainment, playing video games or physically engaged in a sport or a chosen hobby and how much time you spend with God. Maybe it’s time to reexamine how you are spending your time? We know that the friends we associate with will affect us, but are you thinking about your online associations? How much time are you spending with people who are going nowhere or with reading and watching worldviews that are leading you away from the heart and mind of God? Even more damaging they may be actually changing your personality and weakening your ability to choose God’s wisdom and perfect path for you. 

Are you willing to be a Jesus chameleon? 

Knowing that we are so impacted by direct associations with others, even for short amounts of time, can enlighten us on making better choices and making significant changes to our lives. We can take control instead of letting others control us and who we want to imitate. When we engage with God, we change our inner soul which allows others to see God reflected in how we act and the choices we make. 

The COVID pandemic pushed all of us to self-isolate from our normal associations and communities. In a sense, the quarantine gave us a way to break away from relationships that may have been negatively controlling and dominating our lives. The forced isolation from our normal associations has provided us with an opportunity to examine some of our bad relationships and enabled us to withdraw from them more easily. The pandemic helped us clear our plate and make a clean start. Like an addict immerging from rehab, we can be more aware of people and influences that have taken control of lives and choose to disengage. 

I challenge you to think. As things begin to open back up and as we resume normal routines, choose to refuse to return to bad associations and to take a stand on what you will focus on online and with your media and entertainment selections and how much time you will engage with them and how much time you will engage with God. 

Choose differently and be a reflection of Love.