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.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.
Amazing article as always,you never stop making articles that literally keep saving my life and making me stay on my white horse.
Do you think its worth it to ask for clarification (it’s something i would do to stay true to myself) from someone who was unable to communicate and who had no empathy at the breakup? Or should I just stay on my white horse and never look back? This person proved himself again and again that he is only caring about his emotional well being but still deep down i feel extremely sad about how bad things ended. I dont know if its coming up as falling of my white horse for contacting him or its an adult way of acting to ask for clarification why he acted the way he did?
Thank you my dear Natasha, i know you super busy so if you cant reply i understand ,i just wanted to let yyou know you are amazing and each day when i get a notification about a new article ,cant be a bad day.
lots of love
Juliette! I love and miss you so much! Thank you for taking the time to comment; I’m so happy that the post was helpful.
As I said in the article, in *my experience and in my opinion,* if they are emotionally and empathetically bankrupt, I think taking the time to explain is pointless. Especially if, as you say, this person has proved themselves “time and time again.”
You are not alone my dear sister. Love you. xx
I’ve just discovered your blogs, I totally can relate, it’s empowering, and I’m more hopeful for the future, it’s like your a no bullshit friend who tells it like it is, no sugarcoating, and I need to hear it.
I’m so happy that the posts have helped. I live to give everything that I wish I would have had <3
Thank you for being you and for being a part of this tribe.
I hope to give you a big hug in person one day (hopefully soon!) when I can come to the UK and do an in-person event. All my love to you and Happy New Year, soul sis. xxx
Love this! 💗 Timely as always. I’m so glad you included halted creativity. I’m still trying to reignite my creativity and in this crazy world right now it’s difficult.
Great post! Thank you!
You got this sister 💞 So happy that the post helped. I love and appreciate you so much
Long time reader – first time commenting 🙂
I love the idea of paying attention to what we internalise! I am going to be super-conscious this week about bringing unnecessary personal work into my sanctuary (my home)! Why make someone else’s criticism, judgement and rhetoric our work?! So helpful.
Your authenticity always shines through and your perspective is rejuvenating.
Thank you – Sarah
Hi Sarah! Welcome 🙂
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. EXACTLY! Try it and let me know how you feel at the end of the week. It’s incredible just how healing (to our emotional and physical bodies) protecting our peace really is.
Awww, thank you so much. The only reason you are able to see, celebrate, acknowledge, and appreciate what you do in me is because you possess and radiate the same.
Thank you for being here and for being you. All my love to you, soul sister. xo
S o perceptive and so true.
It has taken a lifetime to detoxify the emotional cancer given by horrble people.
But!!! Not only is my goal to have a clean bill of health…lol…but i am in remission!!
So relatable! YES!! Congrats Denise! We are all supporting, believing in, backing, and loving you 100%, always. You got this!!
Thank you for posting this. Out of all your entries, this is the one I can relate to the most. I grew up with and was raised by people who adhere to fear, guilt and shame cultures and read too much into everything. They wanted a prim and proper lady who was admired and respected by all, who was accomplished academically and who would be befriended by decent people and considered by equally decent candidates for marriage. They may have the best intentions and I would be lying if I claimed that their upbringing brought nothing great at all.
But its damage upon me was also intense and long-lasting. I say “sorry” and “thank you” more than I should since grownups shamed me into thinking that I was some remorseless, ungrateful and evil brat if I didn’t do their bidding. I grew up not realizing that, no matter how cliché it appeared, it was all right to be myself, even if being myself wasn’t a prim and proper lady, as long as I never hurt anybody. Nobody told me that being academically accomplished is not the be-all and end-all of life. Nobody told me that instead of trying so hard to be admirable and respectable, I should simply spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially invest in myself to the best of my abilities—for myself, not to attract more friends and potential mates.
It took me a lifetime to realize that no matter how likeable and polite I can be, people will always find something to point a finger at. I was in an educational institution where I was widely disliked because I was “aloof” and reserved. Hence, I tried hanging out with my schoolmates there several times, opening myself up and listening to them. All they talked about during their spare time were ugly stories about people who I thought were their friends. It was such an irony that their criticisms about my mistrust traumatized me.
So, I tried being approachable, friendly and perky when I got hired in an office. All I got were people who took advantage and an ex who criticized me for laughing so much but turned around and said I was ugly whenever I was wearing a neutral or stoic expression. I tried being balanced, friendly but polite. On account of my courtesies, a team leader at my next job sneered at my honorifics and told me I was “trying to distance myself”. I remember staring after her, openmouthed, as she threw me a smug, throwaway glance.
I was put off for I was nothing but nice to her and compliant with her guidance. Plus, I attended all the social gatherings they invited me to. Most of all, she knew nothing of me, of my struggles.
And those were problems. Pleasing people and expecting them to comprehend you. Being thick-skinned is accepting that people are not naturally inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Being thick-skinned is accepting that people who disrespect and(or) deliberately misunderstand you now will, more often than not, stay that way, and that trying to change their minds about you is futile and self-debasing.
In the end, the proper responses are to merely move on and be the best that you can be.
I appreciate your powerful insights and valuable lessons, Natasha! It was refreshing to read about your childhood experiences and realize once more I am not the only one.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share and by doing so, helping others (who are too shy to comment) feel less alone ♥️.
I’m happy that the blog post helped! When I was reading some of your childhood experiences, I felt as though I was reading my own. You are such a beautiful, wise soul. We are not here to check boxes for others or tolerate unkind behavior and disrespect. We are here to learn, grow, evolve, and strengthen the one relationship that we will never be able to afford to lose: the one we have with ourselves.
I’m so glad you’re having your own back and loving yourself with an absence of conditions that should have never been put around the love that was given to you as a child.
You’re incredible. Keep going. Thank you for being a part of this tribe; thank you for existing. All my love to you, soul sister. Xx
Thank you very much for responding, for your kind words! Your writings have made us feel less alone. 🎔
I always drop by your page because its content has helped me a lot. I feel melancholic every time I read about childhood experiences close to our own and want to be a bit wiser with every insight from these experiences. Amen! We aren´t here to accept unkindness. I only wish that I came across your website earlier and affirmed much sooner that to forever turn one´s back on toxic people isn´t rude at all; it´s self-care.
I so appreciate your support. May we all continue to have our own backs. Also, I hope that parents, clan or household leaders and other guardians come across your writings and realise that it´s a hazard to put conditions around the love that they give to those whom they´re raising.
You´re amazing! Keep up the great work! I´m happy to be a part of this tribe! Much love to you as well, soul sister! ♡
This is such a good article Natasha. I had a very bad painful break up a year ago and after 9 months of being told by my ex that there could still be a future together, I finally found out that she had been in another relationship all along, had left me for him and is now engaged. After a deep depression which included some time in hospital, I started feeling better and more in control of my constant intrusive thoughts a few weeks ago. Then last week I got very triggered by an unconnected event – my brother broke up with his partner – and for some reason the dreadful thoughts and feelings returned. I’m a sensitive soul I guess, but how do I accept that I feel pain perhaps more easily than others around me and find peace with it? And if anyone reading this can empathize, it would be good to hear.
So happy to hear that this article helped! You are not alone, my friend.
I wish I had the time to write everything that is in my heart (thank you for your kindness and understanding). You are a deeply empathetic soul and are having a human reaction to an inhumane set of circumstances.
I personally found peace by compassionately acknowledging how incredible it is that I feel/care so deeply, but dually acknowledging that I cannot care this much, yet, continue to NOT draw a line at my mental/physical health plummeting as a result.
Care, love, forgive, and feel – deeply – but not to the point that it’s costing everything you cannot afford to lose. It’s important to have healthy boundaries even with our best and most admirable attributes.
I will try to write more about this soon. Thank you for sharing, thank you for being a part of this tribe, and thank you for being YOU.
I can’t put into words how your articles have helped me. Every time I end up in dark place mentally I end up reading something you write and it helps me and heals me.
Thank you for putting this out there for people who feel deeply and hurt deeply.
Your comment (and the love that I feel behind every word of it) have me in tears of such gratitude and joy.
I am so happy and honored that the posts have been helpful; I live to give everything that I wish I had.
Thank you for being you, for taking the time to share, and for being a part of this tribe.
All my love to you, sister. xo