Growing up, I was criticized at home. A lot. I don’t say this in a pity-mongering way, I say this because it was the reality of my childhood, and very normal in the cultures that I come from. I was an extension and reflection of my (well-intended) parents, who were more interested in raising an obedient child that ticked every box than they were in developing my emotional core strength and preparing me for the real world. This calloused me in ways that others weren’t, which in a way, proved to very beneficial. It also weakened me in ways that I could not afford to be weak. Ultimately, it prevented me from being able to develop a thick skin to ensure emotional survival.
Everyone used to tell me that I was “too sensitive.” I fantasized about being more thick-skinned but no matter what, I was always so affected by every little thing.
There are many times in my life where I thought how much better it would be for everyone if I was just gone.
It would keep me up at night if I thought someone didn’t like me. I actually remember writing LISTS of people that I thought may not like me in elementary school. I would write down (the silliest and stupidest) reasons why, and then (this breaks my heart to even type out), I wrote SEPERATE LISTS for how I could get these people to like me. All I wanted was to be good enough and included. This was before I got to middle school, where I was so desperate for inclusion and love, I signed my own yearbook in different handwritings from “friends” I had at “other schools.”
I avoided confrontation and embarrassment at all costs.
In eighth grade, before a parent-teacher conference, I threw up in a plant because I was scared of the teacher telling my parents that I had a B in math.
I tried to act and dress like everyone else. I never raised my hand unless I was absolutely sure that the answer was correct.
I grew up to be a follower of followers; a people pleasing adult who aimed to make the least amount of “splash” as a way to avoid criticism that my emotional body could no longer take. I was the antithesis of thick-skinned.
I am not into what I call “emotional drill Sergentry.” I am always kind in my honesty, not brutal. And I don’t think love ever needs to be “tough.” I think love gets interpreted as “tough” when honesty is given over validating someone’s choice to continue to endanger their mental health.
What is thick skin?
Being thick-skinned isn’t about being mean, emotionally unavailable, depleted, or “cut off” in any way. It’s about strengthening the parts of you that when weak, cause emotional depletion.
To me, being thick-skinned is about mental strength and fortitude. It’s the grit that comes with feeling what hurts, processing, and acknowledging your experiences, fears, insecurities, and triggers, and continuing to move forward in your life as a result of realizing that nothing others do is personal.
When you are thick-skinned, you are more prone to emotional independence because you are mentally tough. Your worth isn’t diminished by every blow of the breeze. It’s DICTATED by what you choose to ALLOW to propel you, where others simply run out of gas.
I ended up acquiring a thicker skin because my life circumstances and body gave me no choice. Ten times out of ten, your physical health will pay the price for a lack of attention to your mental health (and vise versa). I don’t want this to be your reality (or if you’ve already experienced this, I don’t want history to repeat itself).
Here’s what I wish I could tell my younger self…
How to develop a thick skin and become emotionally independent:
- Nothing is about me except ME. Those who are thick-skinned do not go around swooping up the copyright to other people’s hurtful, nonsensical, disrespectful, deceitful, and thoughtless behavior. They do not internalize or try to own ANYONE’S words and actions – bad OR good. They’re too busy living their own lives and taking ownership of their own behavior to go around claiming ownership of what simply isn’t theirs to own. It took me a long time to understand that what others choose to say and do is about THEM. What I choose to say and do is about ME. I still get triggered, hurt, upset, insecure, and confused; I am a fallible human being. But these emotions and experiences stopped leveling me and the amount of bullsh*t in my life drastically decreased when I no longer took it personally. This was never for me to “take.” It was for me to observe, adjust accordingly, learn from mistakes where I need to and continue moving forward unapologetically and dignifiedly.
- I no longer compromise my values and moral code for “special” circumstances, people, and situations. Part of my personal value system is that I will not steal from others what is rightfully theirs. This includes their own un-dealt with trauma, anxiety, unhappiness, and dysfunction.
- Build resilience. Part of being thick-skinned is realizing the more independent and successful (emotionally, spiritually, fiscally, professionally, and relationally) you become, the more it will trigger those around you, plain and simple. And you can either partake in the drama or be a light of compassion, empathy, and always, self-protection. You can either allow the insecurities of others to feed your own, or you can see it for what it is: people whose lack of actualization and evolution has given them no choice but to try to derail you from your own. The choice is yours.
- Draw a hard line at your emotional intelligence being insulted. When you internalize the behavior of others, you are unable to realize just how much stupidity and fluff you’re allowing into YOUR home. And when clutter dominates, you won’t want to be in your own emotional home. Unhealthy escapism follows and your life is no longer your own.
- Be able to separate the truth from your triggers. There are facts based on reality and then there are “facts” based on what triggered us. Your triggers are not your truth – they are gifts – of what you need to acknowledge, heal, and stop turning a blind eye to.
- Be more fearful of halted creativity than you are interested in halting criticism. This is really shameful and embarrassing to admit, but when I first started writing years ago, I was terrified of criticism. I found myself trying to emulate other people’s voices as a way to “keep me in line” with what “worked.” This not only halted my own creativity but it prevented me from being MYSELF. And the funny thing is, when I finally had to courage to just BE ME, I didn’t care about any negativity or hate as much because I knew I was coming from a place of authenticity.
- Find a mentor. Even if you don’t personally know them, allow the way they carry themselves to encourage and inspire you to do the same. What helped the most was identifying public figures (living and deceased) who were good people with character and integrity, but simply ran out of sh*ts to give when it came to the opinions of others. These people did not take ownership of the words and actions of others, nor did they make everything about them. And because of that, they didn’t get derailed by bs that most everyone does. Because of this, they were able to operate on a level of productivity that most people will never get to experience because they were not reliant on outside permission and validation. They were solely reliant on internal validation because they gave themselves the permission to exist, just as they are.
To this day, I still catch myself making other people’s behavior about me. When I find that I can’t shake the feeling, communication has never failed me. IT IS OKAY to kindly ask for clarification from those that can give it to you (people who are empathetically and emotionally available).
If you want to live life on your terms, a thick skin is, in my opinion, a prerequisite. You are just as capable of internalizing the behavior of others as you are letting go of what was never yours, to begin with, and canceling out the noise.
You’ve got this. And as always, we’ve got each other.
Written by: Natasha Adamo