“You are not what you look like … “

not all wounds(With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing graphic!)

I feel like I’m going out on the skinny branches with this blog.  I’ve been deeply shifted by my introduction to Brene Brown’s impressive studies on ‘the power of vulnerability’ and Glennon Doyle Melton’s brave commitment to ‘shameless truth-telling and hope spreading’.  As a result, I am inspired to admit that I’ve been hiding my authentic Self behind a shiny facade of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing (but only for most of my life).  It turned out that I got to grow up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (so to speak) and, since then, I have invested considerable effort and significant energy into ensuring my dignity and character were, as much as humanly possible, safely beyond reproach.

Nonetheless, despite my very best efforts to out-run my past and confirm my worth, I’ve been described as “fake” (Ouch).  I’ve also had people tell me (yes, right to my face):

·         “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate”(painful) …

·         “I don’t know you and I don’t think I want to” (excruciating)…

·         “I didn’t think I could ever be friends with someone like you” (encouraging-ish) …

·         “You are not what you look like” (criticism or compliment … ??).

Lately, I’ve been secretly flirting with what life would be like if I accepted Glennon’s scary invitation to “drop the cape” and meet her on the messy side of life. You know … actually risk letting people see the less thanI’ve got it got-it-all-together’ me.  But, honestly, since  I am a counselor, I SHOULD have it all together if I am going to presume I might support others in doing so, right?

So, the other day at work, while exchanging pleasantries over our coffee, a most lovely colleague of mine unsuspectingly asked about how it is that I always look so ‘put together’.  In that moment, I heard that small, still voice within me wildly proclaiming  “here’s a chance to ‘drop the cape’ Karen”.  Dang it!  I guess I should have expected that the Universe/God would lovingly conspire to help me grow into the next best expression of who I wanted to be in the world.

Anyway, with my consciousness frantically grasping for courage, I responded by saying “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes” … apparently she did.  Hoping she’d change her mind, I repeated “Really?”  She said “really”.  So … to the best of my anxious mind’s recollection, I think I said something like:

I’m honestly just trying to out-run the ‘better-thans’.    My father was an alcoholic who struggled very unsuccessfully to keep us all from sinking.  My mom was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) – and became addicted to several prescription drugs (with all the shenanigans that THAT involves).  Both of them were doing and saying things that shamed and humiliated me as a child … often.  After my parents divorced, I was raised on welfare and ended up in foster care three times.  Most distressingly … I felt like my friends and their parents were watching (and judging) the entire debacle called my childhood.

Kids can be honest (OK, maybe even mean) … so I intuitively sensed the good parents liked to keep their children away from troubled families like mine. Clearly, I had no way to save face when the police arrived at at my house or when my mom landed in the loony bin (both more than once).  It just stung too much to actually admit it, so I put a perpetual smile on my face and committed to never let them see me hurting. I resolved to someday become someone I could be proud of … someone like my amazing classmates Susan or Janice or Margo.  These girls were never ever mean to me, not even a little bit … but I always felt incredibly ‘less than’ in their presence.  They were kind, smart, athletic, beautiful AND rich (at least from where I was looking!). They were everything I ever wanted to be …

Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that if I looked and acted like them, then maybe no one would be the wiser about my shoddy roots.  So, I began dressing immaculately, behaving impeccably and earning straight ‘A’s … clear through to my Masters Degree.  Perhaps unconsciously, I figured that with perfection and performance I could fly under the radar and avoid any chance of further shame and/or humiliation.

So, as I honestly shared with my coworker, the truth of the matter is this … appearing “put together” was simply my fear-based and well-intended attempt to feel safe … to measure up, to be liked and to feel accepted.

But here’s the thing. I still got those kind of comments (like those listed above) that belied my ongoing attempts to carve out a safe place to dwell.  It wasn’t until I did some deep inner work through Debbie Ford’s Courage Coaching Program that I realized the ugly truth of it all. It turns out that in my sincere effort to escape and out-run the shame I felt in the presence of those ‘better-thans’ … I was unwittingly showing up just like like a ‘better-than’.  I had become what I most feared.   ARGHHHHH.   I was completely gob-smacked to know that in my protective effort to escape feeling ‘less-than’  … other people might be experiencing me as attempting to be ‘better than’ they were.  Eeeek … no wonder I got those kind of comments!  Whoa …  I felt sickened to the core with this painful awareness.

So, here I am on the skinny branches …with my protective cape tossed to the ground. I am publicly acknowledging that the real reason I have been inclined to appear ‘put together’ is because I am scared spit-less not to.  I am terrified that you might get a glimpse of the REAL me … a shame-filled girl who just doesn’t feel worthy of your admiration or respect.  Yep … this is the me most people don’t ever get to see.  Aside from my best girlfriends,  my husband and my precious community of certified integrative coaches, no one really gets to see the part of me that is wounded and hiding – hoping no one will look beyond the facade (on one hand) … BUT … (on the other hand) needing  desperately for  someone to consider that terrified little gal as someone worthy of their love and acceptance.

While it is hard to admit,  I hope I can stay this brave…. and … keep letting people meet the REAL messy me.  I hope so, because in all honesty, I truly have been fake.  I’ve been hiding behind my cape of perfection and performance and people-pleasing.   It is absolutely true,  I admit it  ….  I am not what I look like.

Yikes … maybe all those ‘better-thans’ from my past weren’t either.  Not all wounds are so obvious …

With heartfelt humility, Karen


25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CoachBarbie
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 08:26:05

    Karen – I love your writing and the way you model what it’s like to take that first step toward dropping the cape. I took a look around your blog and the various posts … one incredibly authentic thing that seems to be missing is YOUR NAME! Even the “ABOUT” section seems to be missing YOU in all your amazing authentic beauty. Let us see more of you … both inside and outside!



    • miraclesinc
      Jul 09, 2013 @ 11:52:57

      Oh my …good call Barbie! It was certainly not intentional, but … we know how sneaky resistance can be! I will see if I can edit my posts to include my name. I should also include my info in ‘About”. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

      Also … thank you for your kind support. Your feedback, suggestions and loving heart are do deeply appreciated as I dangle precariously in this unfamiliar and uncomfortable place of vulnerability …
      Much love,



  2. Debora Bradley
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 13:46:07

    I love your heartfelt writings. And as you share your ‘true self’ in your writings: your history, your fears and your present awareness; my heart opens wider and so shall the reader. We are all guilty of having judged others and our self (it is part of being human). When one shares their own “if you really knew me” story with others outside of our coaching community, you are spreading your wings to be free; to be whole and to supporting others to do the same; it truly is the work of Debbie Ford! And this was a GIANT STEP FORWARD for you to share your heart. As Debbie has said, ” The greatest act of courage is to bring love where there is none and to bring confidence where we feel insecure. That is the love that we’ve all been waiting for. And that is the LOVE that is you. I love the authentic imperfect, messy you! We are not just in the world; the world is in us. ” I am that messy imperfection, too!” Continue to connect to your BRAVE WARRIOR OF LOVE, I respect you and I am inspired by your writings. I look forward to more of YOUR PRESENCE (your true self) on this site as you continue to be you! I am so proud of you… Love, Debora



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 09, 2013 @ 16:04:10

      Deborah … thank you for your generous loving heart. Vulnerability and I have never spent much REAL time together in PUBLIC … so your words are very deeply appreciated! I needed your nudge, your reminder that as we speak up, we honor Debbie Ford and all that she invited us to stand for and model. Thank you for encouraging me to spread my wings further…your heartfelt reflections feel like a loving gust of wind beneath those wings. I am so grateful for your strong and wise presence in my circle … ❤



  3. Deb Moran
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 18:29:03

    Beautiful Blog Karen, I can relate to all of what you wrote about. I am a recovering addict and that comes with a lot of shame and hiding. Thank for your vulnerabilities It sure make you perfect inside and out. That is why you will be a great coach & counselor, I love a Hero story like yours,
    And thank goodness for the wrong side of the tracks otherwise you would not be who you!



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 09, 2013 @ 19:47:24

      Thank you, thank you, thank you Deb! Your comments are like a warm, comforting balm to me in this fragile, vulnerable space. Let’s join hands and walk out of our shame together … I’ve heard it said that the power of 1=1 does NOT=2 … but is rather like 11 (one beside one!). Thank you for being beside me … for sharing your support … for your encouraging perspective! Warmest hugs to you!!



  4. Thomas Kevin Dolan Coaching
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 18:56:40

    From one shame-filled girl (cuz that’s what I meant to be a gay little boy) I thank you for your authenticity. You inspire me to actually look for the skinny branch or even the one a part of me knows will break. Messy is today’s gorgeous, it always has been. I’m so proud of the declaration you’ve just breathed into the Universe & I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve unleashed. I love you…



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 09, 2013 @ 19:43:14

      Thomas … your compassionate heart brings tears to my eyes … good tears … the good kind of tears that unconditional love and acceptance bring. Your support is so more meaningful than you might recognize. Thank you for your voice … two shame filled girls could be a such a beautiful messy gorgeous force to be reckoned with! Loving you deeply TKD … ❤



  5. Joan
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 23:06:54

    I sobbed big crocodile tears as a read this blog. I hurt deeply for two girls who grew up together who both came from dysfunction and who both felt that they were unworthy. We have been friends for half a century and in many ways we walked such similar paths and in many ways kept much of it hidden. Although you knew my step father was an alcoholic what you didn’t know was my mother was also diagnosed with mental illness. My mother was not diagnosed until much later in life after I had been diagnosed with a brain injury from her repeated beatings. My mother was diagnosed as a fairly severe sociopath and I was her target. So please let me share this with you my friend. I too took that cape off. I took it off a few years ago, and looking back I ask myself why I carried that heavy thing around for so long??? I am in a place now where I can look at the part of my life and say “thank you”. I believe that the universe brings us all things, including our challenges, for a reason. I know that those experiences in my childhood made me a much better parent and a much better counselor. The experiences of my childhood followed up by 2 abusive marriages have allowed me to relate to and help 100’s of people. I promise you, it will be easier and easier to leave that cape off and let people see the “messy” you, the “real” you. With each day you will feel lighter and lighter because that cape was getting heavier and heavier with each passing year. Welcome to this wonderful new world my friend! You are going to love it! Love Joan xoxo



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 10, 2013 @ 16:59:40

      Oh my …thank you, my friend, for your honest and meaningful sharing. The Universe put us on this path together very early on … I am so glad we can continue to hold hands – only now without hiding our shame and denying our worth.

      I am so deeply sorry for what you had to endure. I felt the coldness in your mom’s heart … but of course, I thought it was her judgment/indictment of me! Little did I really know … 😦

      Thank you, Joan, for being a beautiful blessing amongst the challenges on my path. Isn’t it something that we have not only survived, but really thrived despite it all.

      Thank you again for ‘being here’ now … for your authenticity, wisdom and love. I am excited to join you on the messy side … capes dropped, hearts open …

      Loving you from the deepest place,



  6. coachbeyond
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 00:44:54

    Wow Karen, I feel such love and compassion for the ‘REAL’ you- or rather the authentically expressed you…She is so beautiful. What you had to face as a young child could be the exact ingredients you need to help others in similar situations find their centre, their sense of self. But you know this, of course. Congratulations for taking this next brave step in your evolution!



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 10, 2013 @ 17:03:29

      Thank you Phillippa … it is so very true that my previous lived experiences are tremendous gifts when I am working with others.

      Your support and encouragement is being held with exceptional gratitude … maybe more than you might ever realize …

      Thank you for reaching out and touching my heart,



  7. catelabarrecoach
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 01:06:03

    Karen, I starred your blog to read “later” which just arrived in the middle of the night. I have chills on a sticky, sultry night from your blog. Thank you for your authenticity and vulnerability. It is this that makes you much more beautiful than your “put together” outer self. I can think of no better counselor or coach than one who has been put through childhood trials and is courageous enough to share about it so honestly. You inspire me. Loving you.



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 10, 2013 @ 17:06:43

      Thank you Cate. I am still in need of loving reminders like yours that anyone could actually love or respect me when I show them what is hiding under my ‘put-togetherness’. Your generous posting invites me to embrace the beauty of that aspect …
      Thank you for being with me now.
      Luv Karen



  8. Sharon Lanser
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 11:50:46

    My dearest friend and sister….I have just awoken and as always excitedly reading your latest quip planning that it would give me that special boost that you always give me. Because that is what you do Karen Lanser, you give people a boost. I will be honest….I was horrified! Firstly to know that you had been through what truly must have been devastating to a small child and I think I can understand devastation from a small child’s mind and I clearly had no knowledge. If I EVER for a moment thought that I could have assisted in making you feel like you had more worth than what you thought you were valued at, I would have taken that opportunity at a moments notice. Well, a couple of things that I would like to cover so that it is clearly understood and you can never and should NEVER think that you are from the bad side of the tracks…are you kidding me! If you had not endured the painful past that you had you would not be the spectacular person that you are today. The one that does try to treat everyone with respect and integrity because you had been shown the ugly side of human nature. Many of us have received the “Your not what you look like” comments and you have always been the most gracious and found kindness in that person…still. Humans can be very hurtful…we just start practicing when we are children.
    You are …”better than” …Better than most! Thank god for people like you, people that take the time to explain rather than judge. Take the time to visit, care, and have compassion. Better than…the women and men that are trying to be the best and will make judgement upon another to make themselves feel better. Karen you have achieved your goal…you are spectacular! You have to make no excuses to anyone. It is great that you have decided to open your heart to let us all see what has made you the amazing person that you are today. It is always a great achievement to allow others in to your personal spaces in your heart so that we can grow and feel great about who we are. For those that are suffering, it gives them understanding and permission to know that they are not alone and that everyone has past that could use some evaluating. Remembering that our past is not what makes us but what shows us what is possible and what needs to be forgiven so that we can move forward with confidence and love.
    You my friend, have been a huge source of growth for me. When I met you as a small child, I always wanted to grow up to be just like you! So…In hindsight. had you not shown your “put together” side of your persona, that small girl might not have tried so hard. You are someone that deserves many peoples Love, respect and admiration! You are appreciated and admired!
    A gentle reminder that we all have capes so that we can hide the hurt. Even with all your flaws(as you put it) …the “real you” is spectacular!



    • Karen Lanser
      Jul 10, 2013 @ 17:22:09

      Oh my gosh … where would I be without you in my corner! Thank you for sharing your heartfelt perspective. It is so amazing to hear … I am trying to let it land.

      I am feeling your love, deeply and fully. I only wish I had seen myself through your eyes … I am deeply humbled.

      Thank you for seeing the very best in me … and … for so generously and kindly gifting me with your loving perceptions wrapped in such protective and supportive energy.

      I am so,so, so, so grateful for your love!
      XOXO Karen



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  12. amommasview
    May 15, 2016 @ 06:00:14

    I think in most cases we are not what we seem like to others. Not only because we might try to hide a side but also because people like to see us the way they want to see us and not the way we actually are. You know what I mean? A very insightful post! I know I’m repeating myself: Thanks for sharing it on the meet & greet! It’s one reason I love the blogger meet & greets so much! All the fantastic posts that get shared and I get to read 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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