As a highly sensitive person, I naturally internalize the negative things that people say to me. In turn, I often find myself ridding people from my life whenever they hurt my feelings. This can leave me feeling isolated and lonely at times.
Fortunately, I have learned to develop thick skin and stop being so sensitive. I have learned that people will not always tell you what you want to hear. If you cut people out of your life every time they say something you do not like, you will quickly have no one left. Below is a list of ten tactics I have used to thicker skin over time. These tactics help me navigate tough situations and be a better person. Hopefully some of them work for you too.
Consider the Circumstances
When someone says something hurtful, the first thing you usually focus on is how much the comment hurts. I challenge you to modify your thoughts and think about the circumstances first. In what context is the person saying these hurtful things? At my full-time job, I work in a very fast-paced, deadline-driven environment. Sometimes people say things when they are under pressure that they would not say otherwise. I have learned to excuse people’s comments when I know they are in extenuating circumstances. This relieves me of feeling hurt and also makes me a more empathetic person.
You Cannot Please Everyone
When you accept that you cannot please everyone, it will become easier to take criticism because it is inevitable. No matter how many people you try to make happy with your work or behavior, there will always be someone who thinks you are not doing enough or need to do things differently. Do not get me wrong; we all have certain people in our lives whom it is important to please (e.g. your manager or your spouse). I am not saying stop trying to please everyone. I am saying know that you cannot please every single person every single time.
On top of that, people will not always say what you want to hear. When you internalize that fact, brushing off people’s negative comments becomes so much easier. Once you realize you cannot control how other people react to you and that you can only control your own behavior, it becomes easier to not be hurt by people’s reactions.
Separate Fact from Opinion
Imagine this scenario: you spend hours and hours writing a book and self-publish it online. You then spend most of your time on marketing efforts. You try to promote your book through as many avenues as possible. By the end of the year, you sell less than 1,000 copies, very short of your target of 10,000 copies. What would you think about yourself? If you asked me that question a year ago, I would have said “I failed at publishing a successful book. I am not a good writer and don’t know how to market a book.” Ask me today and my answer is totally different. That situation would be unfortunate, but it still says more about other people than it says about the author. Maybe the topic of the book is too narrow for a broad audience and that is why not many copies sold. Maybe there is a competing book that holds most of the market share and this book just was not positioned properly to effectively compete.
You must learn to separate fact from opinion in order to develop thick skin. This means separating fact from the opinions of others as well as from the opinions you have of yourself. The fact is that the book did not sell as well as you hoped. Anything further than that is mere speculation or opinion and says nothing about you as a writer, marketer, or person.
Know Your Triggers
When I heard that a co-worker called me socially awkward, I became visibly upset. Not only did it hurt to hear that about myself, it also made me feel betrayed because the person who said it was someone with whom I thought I was building a friendship. That comment stayed on my mind for weeks before I finally let it go. I would replay the moment I found out what my co-worker said over and over again. I would think of all the reasons why I was not socially awkward and feel bad that someone still thought I was.
It turns out that I am insecure about my social skills. So that comment really stuck to me. Once I identified that the comment hit one of my personal triggers, I was able to separate my emotions from the situation. I was upset because someone was reiterating negative thoughts I had about myself. What I needed to do was change my own thoughts about myself in order to get over what my co-worker said.
It is not easy, but identifying your triggers will improve your self-image and help you develop thick skin. Once you identify your triggers, you can work on your own thoughts so that negative comments do not sting as much.
Reframe Criticisms Constructively
My co-worker’s comment about me being socially awkward was one that I chose to dismiss. To the contrary, there are times when people give you criticisms that you can take constructively. For example, a family member may call you selfish for not being able to babysit his/her child. Although your circumstances made it impossible for you to do so at the time, you may want to look into your family member’s criticism more closely. Do you ever make sacrifices to help out your family members? Maybe his/her comment speaks to a broader picture of you not being involved with family affairs. There are always two sides to a coin. You can choose to reframe criticisms constructively in order to accept the negative things that people say to you and develop thicker skin.
Know Whom to Ignore
Your family member’s opinion might be one that you consider important. A stranger’s opinion on the other hand is probably not important. Knowing whom to ignore will help you navigate the negativity that comes your way in life. Some people simply have no effect on our lives and deserve little if any attention. It is safe to say that anyone who is not a close friend, relative, or manager does not have an opinion that is worth your concern.
It Is More About Them Than It Is About You
This tactic is a big one for me. When I realized that what people say and do says more about them than it does about me, my whole perspective on life changed. I used to get so wrapped up in other people’s behavior and constantly worry about what I could have done to make people react differently towards me. For example, I would play social situations in my head over and over again and wonder why so-so was so mean to me. I would think about different things I could have said to make them be nicer. Well, it turns out there probably was not much I could do differently to change their behavior. This is because how people behave is a reflection of them and says nothing about you.
If someone calls you “fat”, it does not mean that you are fat. It simply means that this person is someone who would call another person “fat”. It means that this person is judgmental and probably has insecurities of his/her own. When you learn to remove yourself from the equation of other people’ actions, it will be a lot easier to fend off negativity and develop thick skin.
Find a Thick-Skinned Role Model
If all else fails, modeling the behavior of a thick-skinned person you know may be your best bet. Sometimes we become so sensitive that tactical strategies to develop thick skin just do not work. When someone says something offensive, it can be difficult to try and implement a new coping strategy when all your life you have been internalizing the negative comments. This is why having a role model can be beneficial. Your role model will serve as someone who demonstrates positivity and strength. When faced with negativity, you can simply ask yourself “what would my thick-skinned role model do?”
In order to fend off negativity from other people, you have to have yourself in check first. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you spending time with your loved ones? Are you practicing good hygiene? Are you practicing positive self-talk? If you are not taking care of yourself as you should, you make it easier for negativity to seep in. Make self-care a priority and you will find that what people say does not affect you as much because you are content with yourself.
Invite More Criticism
This may sound counterintuitive, but inviting more criticism can actually help you develop thick skin. The more you are exposed to something, the more you become desensitized to it. I am not saying go out and surround yourself with negative people. I am saying that you should welcome the idea of being criticized as a way to put your thick skin to use. You will not know that you have thick skin until you are in multiple situations that require it. The next time your manager calls you into her office, ask her what you could do to improve. Try asking your spouse about any areas of improvement in the relationship. Ask your friends if they notice any behaviors in you that they find unappealing. Based on the feedback, you will have the wisdom to determine which criticisms you want to take constructively and which criticisms you choose to ignore.
Developing thick skin is not easy for highly sensitive people, but it is well worth the effort. I am amazed at the things I used to let bother me. I now brush things off my shoulders much easier. I also find that I enjoy interacting with people more now that I am not so sensitive. I truly hope that you are able to use at least one of these tactics to learn how to not take things so personally all the time. It is an important skill for personal development.
Have you ever found yourself dwelling on negative criticism? How do you deal with it?