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Sometimes one emotion is secondary to another emotion. A common example is when sadness is about to surface and anger arises compellingly, obscuring the sadness. If this is our condition and a friend asks us what we’re feeling, we’ll probably say that we’re angry. Given that we look and sound angry—maybe very angry—this seems like an obvious answer. It’s true, but only partially. We’re also sad, and in fact are primarily sad. But perhaps we’re ashamed to show our sadness, and we feel safer operating from behind our anger. If we know we’re sad, not just angry, and we’re embarrassed to share this, we might begin by saying that we’re having a hard time admitting what’s going on emotionally (and we might even be angry that it’s so damned hard!). And we might add that in challenging circumstances, we find it much easier to be angry than to directly show our sadness.
Being vulnerable—transparent, open, and unguarded—is immensely helpful when emotions begin to overlap or obscure each other, because it keeps an emotionally honest resonance going between us and the other, along with an amplified receptivity that invites more in-depth disclosure and sharing. Vulnerability can be scary, given that dropping our guard might seem dangerous (and perhaps once was). But without vulnerability, we maroon ourselves from our emotional riches and depths—and when that happens we block ourselves from authentic connection with others.
Vulnerability does not have to be a collapsing or caving-in or even disempowering. It can be a source of strength, especially as we learn to soften without losing touch with our core presence. There is an inherent dignity in such vulnerability, even when we are in degrading circumstances.
Being emotionally vulnerable means that we are in touch with—and transparent about—what we are feeling, sharing both its surface and its depths. And we are also honest about what we’re doing with our emotions, blowing the whistle on ourselves when we’re being defensive or aggressive, for instance, or when we’re pursuing distraction from what we’re feeling. So we are thus willing to share the difficult stuff with people we trust, knowing that the more openly we share the emotional states (and their roots) that we’re fearful of revealing, the deeper and more fulfilling our relational connections can be.