The voice is persistent and speaks with burning clarity, “you need to develop a thick skin if you want to make it.” For years, I strove to develop this. In my imagination, this thick skin was some sort of magical cloak that strong people wore at all times. To me, it became an icon of strength. It was impenetrable. It was a barrier. It was an emotional sanctuary. Who wouldn’t want that?
With no direction besides this goal of a thick skin, I latched onto a few methods in an attempt to replicate the strong people I saw. I tried to repel negative emotions by throwing them back to where they came from, I have discarded criticism as untruth, I have blamed it on jealousy, and worst of all I have ignored all disgruntled commentary. These were my best attempts at becoming an individual with a thick skin. Yet, 20 some odd years later I am here to attest to anyone who is still yearning for this emotional shield that these methods are not only flawed, but also detrimental to the soul.
Although I am sure that there are people who genuinely have a thicker skin than the rest of us, for those who don’t here are the 4 lessons that I have learned.
- I have come to realize that having a thin skin is a part of who I am. I embrace my sensitivity and look for a way to be grateful for criticism. I ask myself the following: What can the comment teach me about myself? What can it teach me about who they are? Do I want to continue to allow their negative energy in my life? Is their comment reflective of who I am, or is it a reflection of how they interpret me? We cannot change the people around us, but we can change who we allow around us. Granted, my circles have narrowed but I LOVE everyone in them.
- I strive for empathy. I have come to learn that people who are consistently critical of people around them are deflecting. I know that their comments have nothing to do with me. A person who gossips and seeks critical backlash on others is reflective of a void in their life, rather than my life being devoid. For that, I feel sad. When you are really happy, you find ways to bring joy into others lives. I have a genuine empathic pain for those who have so little in their lives that their only refuge is attempting to induce pain in others.
- Being genuine is apt to cause a stir. If everyone in the world begins running and the all head North and suddenly someone breaks free from the crowd and starts running South, naturally people will look. Where are they going? Shouldn’t they be headed North? I realize that for many people numbers equate with being “right”, or “wrong”. I am terrible at following directions, but I am good at listening to my inner voice. Instead of getting lost, I am simply choosing a different destination.
- I try to shy away from categories and labels. I remember long ago, excitedly calling my little brother with, what I had thought was, a “life changing revelation”. I proclaimed “I am going to be a vegetarian!” I waited and my heart began to beat nervously as I listened to the stale air on the phone line. Finally, he said, “why would you say that? If you don’t want to eat meat then don’t! There is absolutely no need to become a vegetarian.” I sat with his comment for a long while and I have come to understand and believe in his truth. As soon as we label, or categorize ourselves we set ourselves up to be judged against those preconceived rules. I find it easier to be myself without the labels and categories because somehow I feel free of how I should, or should not behave.
Having a thin skin has taught me how to be myself and embrace all of the idiosyncrasies that come with that. Yes, I may cry when others don’t, but that doesn’t make me weak. I have learned that while other people may have the emotional strength of thick skin, my emotional strength comes from my thin skin.
Rob and Jacq