Make Yourself Vulnerable and Others Uncomfortable

Make Yourself Vulnerable and Others Uncomfortable

Before you start reading this I quickly want to say that all of what I talk about here is my experience, thoughts and feelings.

I don’t want to force any of my opinions or ideas on you. I am absolutely not an expert on life, I’ve been on this planet for only 22 years and I still mostly don’t get what being human means. But I think that sharing each others experiences is the most useful thing to do. So, some of this might resonate with you, some of it might not. Both is fine as long as you know that this is meant to be an experience report and not a sermon.

A few months ago I posted a video on Instagram of me sitting in a bathtub singing a song of mine. No worries, I covered everything that would have made it “inappropriate”. I remember that my mum came up to me when I was at home some weeks after asking why I did it and that I should be careful when posting things like this.

My mum wasn’t the only one thinking about it this way.

Now this is something that some people don’t understand: posting a picture of my body not covered by clothes is nothing compared to putting a song online in which I’m being open and honest about something that I struggle with. I believe that sharing yourself including your flaws and problems in whatever kind of form (in private, in art, etc…) is one of the most intimate and naked things you can do.’s important to make yourself vulnerable with what you say and do and that I like sharing that vulnerability as an artist and within my music.

So if I post a picture of me singing a song of mine sitting in a bathtub half-naked that’s just a very tiny section of the whole nude photo. Just to be clear, all of this doesn’t mean that I want to or will post nudes, hell no, it means that I think it’s important to make yourself vulnerable with what you say and do and that I like sharing that vulnerability as an artist and within my music.

// Photo: Anna Tiessen

// Photo: Anna Tiessen

Now why is it that we are so afraid to make ourselves vulnerable? Well obviously we’re afraid to get hurt or rejected. But we all know that at some point we get hurt or rejected anyway no matter how thick we build the walls around ourselves. I was an expert in building walls around myself for the first 20 years of my life. That caused a lot of pain and confusion as well as what our society calls a mental illness.

My therapist once told me one thing that changed my whole way of looking at my surrounding and myself. When you build walls around yourself your aim is to only let the nice people in. But in reality the opposite is happening. The nice people knock on your wall, wait for you to answer and when you don’t they turn around and leave you alone. Because they’re nice and want to give you the space that you seem to want and need. The not so nice people don’t knock, they simply break your wall down to get in. So in conclusion, the best protection is to not build walls and to know your own home very well.

When I played a concert the other week the host was reading out something that I said on Facebook. On there I wrote that one song of mine called “Home” helped me to heal from bulimia and self-harm. She asked me how I feel when I talk about it that openly and if it doesn’t feel too private to share. Again I said, talking about these things is just a tiny section of the whole thing. Putting the song out makes it already private and intimate.

I told her that I don’t think that mental health is a private thing. In my opinion it should be a public thing. Of course you don’t have to put all of yourself and the details of your story out there but talking about it, teaching about it, saying that you have or had a certain problem, issue or mental illness should be something completely obvious and natural.

After I finished the interview and the show and went to the merchandise stand a man and his daughter came up to me. They were very kind and sweet and told me that they really enjoyed the concert. The man said that he had been going through a lot lately - burnout, depression, an illness - and that he has now changed his whole way of living and is able to take better care of his well-being. He told me that he meditates a lot and that he could feel something that is similar to that in my music. It made me so happy to see that sharing my story in my songs actually made him feel safe to share his as well.

There is a writer called Alain de Botton who gave a speech in Mexico two years ago which was uploaded on YouTube, and luckily, I came across it.

In that speech, he not only talked about the role and danger of religion, but also the importance of it in our society. Religion took (and for a lot of people still takes) care of the fears, unanswered questions and struggles of being human. What happens after I die? Why do things happen to some and to others not? What is the purpose of my life? What makes a good person, what makes a bad person? How do I explain things that we cannot (yet) explain? How do I explain things about myself that I cannot (yet) explain?

The problem with religion is that it often is very much about power and rules, and that the personal freedom can suffer from it a lot. But still taking care of the fears and questions we all have is necessary and essential. So his suggestion was to build a network, an infrastructure within our society that helps when one is having issues with those fears, questions, and the mental struggles that result from them. So we have the function of religion, but without religion. It’s a brilliant idea. But now the question is how to install that infrastructure.

// Photo: Anna Tiessen

// Photo: Anna Tiessen

As I wasn’t baptized I was attending a class called “ethics” instead of “religion” in school. It mostly talked about philosophers and the various religions that there are. I remember that I really enjoyed studying those things, but during my whole time at school, I missed learning and talking about all the crazy and confusing things that were happening to me while I grew up. Feelings, thoughts, social interaction, the mind, relationships, the self, my self, sanity - I had no clue about any of them. I felt alone and like I was the only one who struggled, when later I found out that my friends actually felt the same way. Of course, now you could say that every family itself is responsible for the psychological and mental education of their children. Well, that’s what we have now and it doesn’t really seem to work out. All this knowledge isn’t useful when you don’t have a healthy mind that you can process and store it in.

There is a book by Daniel Goleman called Emotional Intelligence. It talks about the importance of mental and emotional “intelligence”, not only in the private life but also in the work and communal life. In one part of his book he talks about what we could do to improve the educational system when it comes to educating emotional intelligence, mental health, and strength. He talks about a class called “Self Science” which was developed by Karen Stone McCown, Anabel Jensen, Joshua Freedman, and Marsha Rideout (you probably don’t care about their names, but it’s nice to mention them because they did a great job with that class and book). As the title already says it is a class that is supposed to teach you things about yourself, your feelings, thoughts, interaction with your classmates and your surroundings.

“The Self-Science curriculum is based on some very simple assumptions:

The more conscious one is of experiencing, the greater the potential for self-knowledge.

The more self-knowledge one gains, the more likely it is that one can respond positively to one’s self and others.”

I personally would have loved to attend a class like this back when I was in school. And holy-camoly, I definitely would have needed it.

Okay, so I could write a lot more on “Emotional Intelligence” and “Self-Science”, this was only scratching the surface. But as I am not an expert on it, I don’t want to talk too much about something that already is written down by people that studied and worked on it for years or even decades. So I will simply recommend you to read the books.

As I like songs that begin and end with the same element or line I will try to do the same here:

When I posted the video of me singing my song “Almond Eyes” sitting in a bathtub half-naked, I captioned it make yourself vulnerable and others uncomfortable.

I don’t care if people feel good about what I talk about, what I post, or if they like my stories. I want them to be comfortably uncomfortable. I want them to feel like they are in their comfort zone when actually they are not. Because in my experience, that is when great things, deep healing, and growth can take place.


For the Record Bio Photo - Novaa - Anna Tiessen.png

About Novaa

Novaa is a 22 year old artist from Berlin, Germany who produces, writes, and sings her own music- but also functions as a music producer for other acts. Her debut album, NOVAA; released at the end of April is ripe with warm acoustics and contemporary electronic pop. It’s filled with the subjects of love, life, overcoming mental health issues, personal growth, and celebrating friendship while portraying her angle of the challenge of being a woman in this world.