“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

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The pains of our past …

~ Skruffi ~

If you can imagine, this gorgeous cat had been abandoned and abused and was near death when we rescued her over 10 years ago. We didn’t think she would make it through the night, but she defied the odds. We called her scruffy (because she was so horribly beat up), but watching her thrive despite her dire circumstances, we decided to spell it ‘Skruffi’ because it seemed to better honor her incredible inner beauty and determined spirit.

Although she has physically healed, the painful experiences of Skruffi’s past left her very scarred and emotionally wounded. Although we adore her, she cannot let us ‘hold’ her.  She so fears being controlled by anyone else, that she robs herself of the joy I am trying to share with her when I pick her up to cuddle her.  I only want to love her and please her … and she could enjoy it so much … but she denies herself the joy I am offering to her.  But she has no idea …

As we say in the coaching/counselling realm,  Skruffi is in her ‘story’ … the story of an abusive past that tells her the world is not safe. She brings that story to her now … to our home. It is not the reality here, but she can’t see that …  so, instead, she confirms and recreates her own perceptions that the world is not nurturing, by bringing her fears from the past into this moment.  She is not able to allow the love and affection that is available in this moment to nurture her … which it would … if she could let it.  I have often wished she would TRUST me just long enough to enjoy the love and nurture I am offering her … but she can’t let herself.  What an insidious cycle!  

If Skruffi could be conscious of her position in time (i.e. not subconsciously imposing her past upon her present), then in the moment that I would pick her up and bring her close to my heart, she would be able to remind herself that it was “not safe” then, but this is now … and now IS safe.  She could then open herself up to reap more love and affection than she could ever imagine.  But she cannot because she is not conscious of her own perceptions. She is living in a past reality … an illusion of current danger … a story of  “I am not safe”. 

And … as humans, we get caught by the pains of our past just as unwittingly!  We need to be vigilant about the notions we are entertaining and notice when they take us out of NOW and back to an unfavorable THEN.  Personally, I have a lot in common with Skruffi.  Given my parent’s inability to meet my needs due to their own struggles, my upbringing did not feel particularly secure.  It was fraught with experiences where I felt rejected, neglected and abandoned.  I interpreted it all to mean “I don’t matter”.  So, NOW, whenever I perceive anything that looks, feels, sounds, seems like any of THAT energy, it can take me right out of NOW and back to the painful emotions attached to THEN. For example, if my husband forgot to take out the garbage, it’s not that ‘he just forgot’ … it’s that ‘he doesn’t really care about me’.  When I am ‘in my story’, the pains of my past hijack the innocence of the present moment.  Just like with Skruffi.

But paradoxically … I must also acknowledge that my “I don’t matter” story subconsciously inspires me to seek ways to prove that my presence on the planet does matter.  The ‘gift’ of this story is my unfaltering desire to make a difference in the world.  It propels me to create social change, to help others, to leave the world a better place because I walked the planet.  It fueled my desire to become a counselor and life coach … to start my own business … to bright my corner of the world and to help shift fearful perspectives by writing blogs like this.  So, in addition to managing the pain my story sparks, I must also give thanks for it.

In the final analysis, the pains of our past come bearing both gifts and challenges.  Gifts  … when we can consciously find ways to use them, rather than them subconsciously controlling us. What if  we chose to use our triggers to remind us that we have momentarily fallen into the PAST, and looked at them as wake -up calls trying to get us back on track to the PRESENT?

With gratitude for my story … and  …  ongoing efforts to stay out of it, Karen


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