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  • Writer's picturePenny Muller

Vulnerability and Emotional Truth

Vulnerability allows for compassion and helps us to release shame

I had an interesting conversation last night that inspired me to explore the value of vulnerability. My belief is that some self-help material, particularly from the 80s, focused on the idea of self-mastery in the way of a ''fake it until you make it'' approach, where it was advised that we demonstrate outward confidence in a big way before we have acquired it internally. Although there is some merit in this, and I apply it myself in some situations, this idea that it is not advisable to show emotional truth to others with the belief it will undermine their respect for us, also created barriers between people and prevented them from connecting on deeper levels. Concealing our true states of being adds to the belief that they are inherently shameful. As we are all on individual journeys, and in the process of learning and growing at our own pace, there is no need to ever feel shame. Shame is a damaging state as it contributes to isolation and loneliness, so any process that assist us with releasing shame must be valuable. I will explain here why vulnerability can be the antidote to shame and how this can help us in moving forward.

Being highly sensitive, I found it very difficult to hide my emotional state, however, at a young age, I developed the belief that I should try to. For years, I had ensured never to show emotion at work, as this was a situation in which I felt I had to demonstrate competence and emotional stability so I could instill confidence in others. Concealing the truth becomes like a volcano, simmering under the surface, that must eventually erupt and overflow. This happened to me. One day at work, under pressure from a disagreement with my colleagues, I started crying and I couldn't stop. My boss was hugging me and smiling, as she recognised that I desperately needed to release long-held emotions. My coworkers apologised and begged me to stop crying. From that moment, and for the next four years until I moved state, we became close friends and allies, as they came to understand my values and preferred ways of working. Rather than undermining their confidence in me, because this was genuine emotion and not emotional manipulation, this experience created respect, as they then understood how much I cared about my work and how much pressure I was feeling to do the best job I could.

I can't remember when I started playing the piano at church, but it was probably aged ten or eleven. I never reached the point where I could play the piano without my hands shaking profusely. Like an emotional release, this was a physical response that I didn't know how to control. Although intensely shy, I played the piano at many different church halls, and for concerts and exams until I was eighteen. There would never have been a performance in which the audience was unaware of my nervousness. Similarly, since I started performing as a singer at age sixteen, I have been visibly nervous for almost all performances. For years, I would run out of breath in the first line, not knowing how to remain calm and take a full breath before beginning the piece. Often, nerves have caused me to forget words or whole lines, and in these situations, I endeavoured to regain my composure and continue. It is only very recently that I have been able to perform without visible nervousness. This was great training in allowing vulnerability. If in our efforts to hide our vulnerability, we avoid experiences that are calling to us, we may not reach the point where we can enjoy an experience with confidence.

In all situations in which I performed, those watching knew that I was somewhere on my journey of learning and developing my skills as a performer. I have no doubt that they had compassion for my vulnerability, knowing that when we reach beyond our comfort zone, we all experience trepidation and nervousness. No doubt they wanted to encourage me in my journey, knowing that this encouragement would assist me in developing confidence as time went on. When I perform at vocal workshops at Opera Queensland, everybody is nervous. We all express our nerves and support each other in extending our comfort zones. Sometimes people become emotional. Singing can make us feel very vulnerable, particularly if we struggle to separate the act of singing from our self-identity. Even competitions can be supportive. There was some competitiveness, but also some very lovely bonding that happened during my last singing competition at Easter. For me, it felt almost more like a reunion than a competition, particularly as I am becoming much more relaxed about outcomes and about other people's views of me. If I feel that I have grown in the experience, that is enough. I understand that there is no end point and there will never be perfection. Also, that everyone has different gifts and circumstances to support them.

I have had a couple of conversations with friends lately about having physical responses in particular situations. For example, becoming red in the face or chest in response to stress or embarrassment, or feeling like it is difficult to breathe or speak when in the presence of someone we're attracted to. I have experienced these responses many times. In these situations, maybe it is best just to trust the process. We are all human and experience these emotions. Our vulnerability stimulates compassion in others. If they are able to see our vulnerability, they will have cues for how to respond to us in these delicate moments. Maybe they will respond to us more gently and with more understanding. Maybe what we're really longing for is emotional bonding with another person, and our vulnerability will facilitate that. Closeness is not possible without emotional truth. If we embody this, we will attract people who also have the courage to be emotionally honest. If we are an emotionally truthful person, and we are in a relationship with a person who will not allow themselves to be vulnerable, the relationship will most likely not be successful, as without that emotional vulnerability, we will not feel the depth of closeness that we are wanting in the relationship.

In time, when we practice extending our comfort zone, the physical responses will become less frequent. They might, however, happen in situations where we are extending our comfort zone in new ways. The other night, I was having a new experience - giving a workshop about singing and sound healing to a group of people online for a woman called Medyhne who I have been following on YouTube for over two years. Medyhne | Life Transformation Sessions Although I was able to hide my nerves, I did feel like I was unable to breathe for a moment before beginning the session. For me, this is now just a signal to myself that I am doing something new that takes courage, so I give myself credit for the courage it takes and apply self-care before and after the experience. I no longer feel the shame of thinking I should not be nervous. My body tells me what I may not wish to acknowledge, so I listen to my body, acknowledge my emotional truth, and respond to myself with kindness and compassion. Because others are emotional mirrors to us, this self-compassion means that I automatically experience compassion for others who have the courage to extend their capabilities in vulnerable ways.

And lastly, vulnerability and emotional truthfulness don't only apply to face-to-face interactions with people. When we are able to share our emotional truth through creative pursuits such as writing or art, we inspire others to also be emotionally truthful. Without that vulnerability to share our work with others, to allow the process of learning, and to accept feedback, we hamper our progress. Often criticism is a direct result of someone else's feelings of inadequacy. If we can share our projects and generously support the efforts of others, we can create a world where it is safe to be vulnerable. When we share our fears, our joys, our insecurities, and our loves with others, we enable them to feel comfort and belonging, and we allow ourselves to receive emotional support. Emotional vulnerability is an exquisitely beautiful aspect of being human. It touches the soul. Words and social conventions can be confusing to us as they are contrived. Vulnerability provides an understanding, a oneness, that is beyond words - it is just felt and known, and this knowingness is our natural state as higher beings.

* The last two photos and the video are three of my latest projects. Please download them for free from my website or see the videos on YouTube Penelope Rose - YouTube

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