Is it Possible to Grow Thicker Skin?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ve always been a sensitive person.  Sometimes that’s a good trait to have, because I feel like it makes me more empathetic towards others.  Sometimes it’s not so good, because I get my feelings hurt very easily.  I’m convinced there is a genetic component to it, because I see the same trait in my oldest daughter.  My husband, on the other hand, is very good at letting things roll off of his back.  He doesn’t let rude comments or misunderstandings bother him.  He’s able to take it in, and then let it go.  I’m just not like that.  I let things bother me too much. 
For example, I blog about a variety of topics and never know what kind of response I’m going to get.  Some topics that seem very straightforward surprise me with the strong comments they receive.  I’m okay with someone saying they disagree with me or didn’t like the blog for whatever reason.  But when someone makes comments that attack me personally, it hurts my feelings.  I’m not saying this to get sympathy and offers of big hugs.  I say it because I would love to find a way to learn from feedback (or just ignore it), but not let it bother me. 
Ask my family and friends, and they will tell you that it’s too easy to get under my skin sometimes.  Recently a friend came over for a visit.  It had been a long day, and by the end of the day with three little kids, I’m beat.  The next morning she emailed me and said “You just looked SO tired.”  I could have just thought “Yes, she’s stating the obvious,” and moved on from there.  But I started thinking about it too much (which I have a tendency to do.)  Does that mean I look terrible all the time?  Do I need to invest in some new makeup or the latest facial creams to help me look more rested?  How bad do I really look? And so on, and so on.   
If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, you know how difficult it can be receive unsolicited feedback from others.  It might be a comment from a good-intentioned family member who points out that you look like you’ve gained a few pounds.  Or maybe it’s a look from a stranger on the street that bothers you more than it should.   When it happens, don't you wish you could find a way to brush it off and keep your head held high? 
I let things bother me in all areas of my life, not just those comments related to my appearance or my blog writing-skills.  If you’re like me, you probably notice that some topics are more sensitive than others, but that often it doesn’t take much for things to upset you more than they should.  So what do you do about it?

Every day I wake up and recognize that I’m a work-in-progress.  I have faults just like anyone else, and so I try to identify and learn from them.  You never know what effect the comments you make will have on others.  Knowing what it’s like to be a sensitive person on the receiving end, I try to think twice before being on the giving end of the harsh comments.    
What do you think?  Do you feel like you’re more sensitive than you should be sometimes?  How does that affect you?

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I love this and the helpful comments! Your blog came when I googled "how to get a thicker skin" etc. I like carolfaithwalkers too. Thnx&keep up the excellent sharing/writing! Report
Never think for a moment that men and women are not completely opposite. I don't know too many men who would obsess over a comment like you look "SO tired." I would pick up on the all caps SO tired and take it as a dig. And guess what, depending on your friend, it very well could be a dig, disguised as an innocent comment. I have learned that as a sensitive person, I also have good intuition and if the friend were just being herself (i.e. - always got a little dig under the ribs for ya) then remember that it is HER stuff, not yours. Do not OWN anything that you know in your heart is not the truth. Or at least, not YOUR truth. I do not wear my sensitivity on my sleeve, as I did when I was younger. I have learned to grow a pair under my skirt, as I've matured. So remember, time passing does make us wiser. I've also learned that it is okay to speak up once in a while so if you say something and they say you are too sensitive, remind yourself that yes, you are but remind them that although you are sensitive you can sense a "half joke" as well. So keep it real for yourself and don't expose the underbelly all the time. Keep shining! Report
You're blog was indeed timely. It sounds like you have a handle on who you are and developed some good tools in dealing with your sensitivity. I've always been on the sensitive side so I appreciate the comment "to embrace who you are" because I tend to reject that quality about myself. I will work on embracing this quality. Report
Thanks for such a great blog and being real.

I have the same problem. At one time in my life, an easy way to get made fun of and be publicly embarrased was to say or wonder if you're more sensitive than others. It was socially unacceptable; like, "Bully target here; please hit me". Many years later, you might remember the show and phrase, "The weakest link". So because of that phase of my life, I was just bewildered and didn't know for the longest time, put it on a shelf, and didn't think about it.

But over time I've come to the conclusion, with the passing of time I understood; yes, I am more sensitive than average. Like everything else in life, it's relative, and we're all on the same spectrum, but at different points.

As I said, it took time for me to come to this conclusion, accept it as truth; and then what do you do with it? Eventually I accepted it; I accepted myself that this is the way I am, and, that's the end of the story. Like learning to love yourself no matter what your appearance in the mirror is (you are more than your appearance) and like learning to love yourself right now as you are BEFORE you lose weight (you are more than a number on a scale), the inner emotional terrain of ourselves is just one more thing to accept as we are, and go on from there.

Can we strength train and lose weight and become fit and learn to take good care of our bodies? Certainly.

Can we develop our own style and good grooming and do other things to enhance what we see in the mirror? Certainly.

Can we change the type of body we were born with, or the fact we were born without limbs, or the fact that we are emotionally located on the more sensitive end of the spectrum, or with higher IQ or brain function, or with lower IQ or brain function? Nope; gotta accept those things, make peace with our lot in life in those areas, and THEN we can move on to be the best we can be, as we are, as we were born; with or without enhancements.

Emotionally, yes we CAN learn to be tough-minded in tenancity, in perseverance, persistance, and determinedness. We can practice "faking it til we make it" in appearing to let things roll off of us. Some of that is a necessary survival skill, socially, but some of that is learning to be an actress; a liar; which is healthy to a certain extent so that we don't wear our hearts on our sleeve. The deception is not healthy, and not honoring ourselves as we are is not healthy; but learning certain social & mental skills for the emotionally sensitive, is healthy. While we learn to develop tough-mindedness, and the craft of acting, we will still be emotionally sensitive, and we still need to honor ourselves as we are or as we were made. Just don't expect the rest of the world to honor us; don't cast your pearls before swine.

It's like developing a style and using makeup; the artist's canvas that is your face, remains the same. So we are what we are; starting from there with that acceptance and moving forward, it then remains to be seen what the best we can be is. Can we apply makeup, put on a prothesis, develop tough-mindedness? Sure. But those things don't change our essence. Serenity, peace with who you are, and honoring who you are, is the essential foundation for everything else. Learn a healthy balance in developing tough-mindedness and being true to your emotional self; a healthy balance between hiding your feelings for social survival purposes, and honoring yourself for being as you are.

Every single one of us, has SOMETHING which is considered a weakness, flaw, handicap, a genetic trait that's unattractive, a personality trait that's not on the recommended end of the spectrum, etc. Those are the areas in which we will be stretched to grow and challenged to be a solution-oriented, positive outlook person, to sometimes hide our feelings or fake it til we make it, toughen up without falling into dishonor, learn to walk the balance beam in that area, etc. If we ask for it, we will find grace. Not to change who we are, but to become the best we can be as we are. Report
I know exactly what you're talking about. Throughout my school years, I was teased and almost always cried because of it. I was so afraid of criticism that I wouldn't speak unless spoken to. As I grew up, I continued to be quiet, so much so that people actually accused me of being "stuck-up."

I'm just now beginning to break myself of these feelings. My writing was not shared with anyone outside my immediate family until 2008, when I was 48 years old. I'm learning that being sensitive doesn't mean letting people "walk all over me." So, hang in there and we can work on "thicker skin" together. Report
I'm almost 65 and I still need to toughen my skin, but I'm certainly better than I was when I was in my 30's. You have to realize that some people "just don't get it". They say or do things that are hurtful to you, but they don't mean it and don't understand why you are so upset. Your friend was trying to empathize and recognize that you were having a bad (or at least long) day. As far as responses to your blogs - because we can't hear tone of voice or see body language, it's sometimes hard to tell whether someone is upset, amused, sarcastic, or critical. Pattyspencer has it right, most of the respondents are not family members or people you will ever see face-to-face, so don't worry about them. Life is too short to try and please everyone and besides it's an impossible task. For me situations that used to cause tears, now get an "oh, well" response. I think it's because I've finally learned that it's impossible to be perfect, but I'm no less perfect because of my imperfections. Report
I'm one of those with thick skin but I do believe what Camellia12 said - you get tougher skin the older you get. You suddenly realize that these people who you were so worried about are mostly just flapping their gums. That being said they all have opinions - that which has worked for them in "their" lives and not necessarily yours. In my life I look at it this way (especially in the blogging world) - they arent' my mother, father, sister, brother, member of any member of my family so WHO CARES? You don't see these people face to face - you only interact with them in "type" face so WHO CARES?!! Yep I guess I have tough as hid skin. Report
Hello. I would say you can grow thicker skin as you get older and learn more about people. I was more sensitive as a kid and teen, not because of any weight issues but just in general. Once you begin not to internalize others' comments, etcetera, that seem hurtful and just lay them squarely on the table, or out in front of you, so to speak, and examine them (the comments, that is) you begin to see that others are not perfect. You may even be surprised to find that you've made comments to people that were hurtful to them...without intending to be. Sure there are meanies and really nice people and various types in between. But, again, it's a thing of getting to understand people, in general, and realizing that they have their quirks, motivations, fears, etcetera.

P.S.: After awhile, it gets pretty darn exhausting trying to internalize everything. :) Report
Great blog! Cheers. Thanks for sharing.... Report
I've always been a very sensitive person. I was a sensitive child, and now I'm a sensitive adult. I'm a passionate, loving, caring person, and I'm proud of who I am. I've had several people criticise me for being "too emotional," but I've also had several others commend me for how open I am. Most people feel very comfortable around me, and they seem to build a strong sense of trust and respect for me. It hasn't always been this way, though. My mother, father, and brother have always made fun of me for being sensitive. They even get ANGRY with me when I become emotional. They say hurtful things when I'm feeling sad -- criticise me -- and try to make me feel worse! It's insane, but that's the family I grew up with... I'm glad I'm learning now to ignore the hurtful things my family says to me. They're working through their own problems, and using me as a punching bag is not a healthy way to do it. I'm glad I've found so many kind, like-minded people here on Spark. They're my true family :) Report
Very honest and very thought-provoking article. The first path towards making change happen is to acknowledge the areas that we want to change and that takes courage - you have a lot of courage and an inspiration to others who lack the courage and desire to improve themselves. Keep it up. Report
You sound like my husband and I...I'm overly sensitive and he let's things roll right off. Another problem I have, is that I always say the wrong thing and seem to end up hurting someone. As I get older, I'm learning not to let these comments bother me as much, and I'm trying to think through my words before I open my mouth. Report
The older I get the more I realize that life is to short to let other people make me sad, mad or miserable. Report
Being sensitive certainly can create roadblocks for you. How about trying this exercise the next time you feel hurt:

When you hear feedback or unsolicited comments that offend you...pretend for a moment that there is another point of view that you aren't considering..that the offending party doesn't actually mean what she is saying, ergo, she may have poor social or language skills and her choice of words aren't potentially reflecting how she really feels or even what she really meant to impart.

I have been in the South for 13 years and being from the Northwest, it was a culture shock coming here. People don't use the same language even from one state to the next! I"m off the hook being from Seattle, but people from the Northeast who live down here are generally considered overly direct and rude (usually just because they are honest).

There are also people who were raised by parents from a different country. They learn isms that aren't always appropriate for Americans even though there is no mal-intent in their meaning. I have several German friends who think Americans are so hypersensitive and never say what they mean!

In the end, you have to understand that just because you heard what you think was rude or an attack on you personally, it likely was just someone who thinks differently from you. Maybe from their point of view, they weren't trying to offend you.

ps. email is the worst for conveying what someone really means. Your friend is probably just hoping you get a chance to pamper yourself soon!

It seems from these answers that more women tend to me on the sensitive side. As we mature we can let a lot of things so but basically we cannot change our DNA. Report
I used to have same problem, life's experiences and learning from them have changed me. I now do not care what other's say as when younger. They were not there to support in the good times either. I choose to make friends with people now who I can assert my feelings to about issues and discuss resolutions. If someone needs to be ugly, I do not stay around them for long.
I can definitely relate. I don't know if there is a way to grow more thick skinned, but I hope I can find a way in my lifetime. I am getting more and more sensitive to remarks made by others nowadays and it really gets me down. Report
I struggle with the exact same thing. I think people should not make personal attacks- I wouldn't do it. I also find myself upset at things someone may say but I could never say hurtful things back. No I am not an angel and I know I say wrong things! When someone says something that upsets me it unfortunately goes round and round in my head for hours and upsets my day. I am getting better at self talk and doing my best to get distracted, like listening to radio or music. It is a work in progress and I am getting better but I need to keep it in mind. Report
I have found that if you don't feel good about yourself you are prone to this situation.
I don't remember who said this but it was "Know Thyself". Many people like to bring someone else down to fell good about themselves. If you do get compliments then you are doing OK. Report
A lot of people are very sensitive also, but all you have to do is try and ignore what some people have to say. I too am a bit sensitive. Report
i have had a problem with this for years, i have always wanted people to like me and didn;t want to rock the boat...i still ge t thoughts sometimes and sometimes i let it get to me and it ruins my days off....i have found found deep breathing and my affirmations have when i do get down at least it doesn't last as long...thanks fo a great blog Report
Yes, you can change. I used to be super sensitive and even cry a lot when I was younger. I remember being in 4th grade and having my head down for 1/2 an hour at my desk because I was so upset and had tears and snot running down. I was so embarrassed. Every time someone would look at me too long then I would think something was wrong with me. I did have kids be mean to me in school in Jr. High and I wasn't the most popular kid in H.S. either.

College did something to me. It was still my same town, but I somehow it felt different. I was able to walk across a crowded room and not feel scared. I could raise my hand and ask the questions I was embarrassed to before. There was something about this new adventure that empowered me to be a new me.

I still see the looks and have to ask my husband if my hair is messed up or if I have something in my nose. When someone is not nice to me or passes false thoughts about me it REALLY bothers me, especially if it is my husband. I don't like it when he thinks less of me. I try really hard to not care and it usually works.

My motto now is, I can't change how they feel or what they do. I just live my life in a positive way and try to be happy.

rumbamel Report
I am more sensitive than I should be sometimes. Sometimes things fly right over my head. I'd rather be in that sensitive phase when I know what's going on. Report
Usually I don't consider myself a sensitive person, but I'm competitive, and that can make me sensitive. I try my best, I work hard, and as a result I'm good at what I do. But I'm not perfect. If I DO make a mistake (not an infrequent occurrence, by the way) and someone points it out, I fix it and move on. If you have confidence in your abilities, there is no reason to be so sensitive! And who cares what other people think of you? If you're happy with yourself, that's all that matters, and people will see that confidence and respond to it. I agree with some of the comments here that say you have to love yourself. You have to, have to, have to.

What would your best friend say to you if you told her that you were worried that you looked tired all the time, and maybe you need new clothes or new makeup or something? If she were any friend of mine, she'd say, "Wow, girl, you're over-reacting, you just had a long day." And then she'd go with me to get a pedicure or something.

You're the best friend you've got, so treat yourself that way! Report
I used to let things bother me. I wasn't skinny like my friends, I had asthma, I had big boobs. It was rough as a kid. Then I worked with someone who had low self esteem. She had to be the best at everything. The only way she felt good was to put me down. I knew I was better than her at the job and for some reason it didn't bother me.

So, I just feel sorry for the people who give me strange looks, that have hurtful comments or are generally unhappy people. I have good health and good family.

Also, I figured out that guilt is a wasted emotion. You can not control what people do, but you can control how you react and feel. This took a long time, but now if I want to play in mud puddles with my grandchildren like I did with my children, too heck with what anyone thinks.

You are your own person and you have a right to enjoy yourself. Don't let other people's comments or looks upset you. They haven't lived your life and you do not owe them anything.

Good luck, you can overcome!!! Report
Great Blog! I can so relate to everything you said. Report
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. Sensitive or thick skinned. Best to go about with that understanding and the realization that stuff is either going to always bother you or. like me, not bother me enough. Report
Very interesting blog. One of the sensitive areas I'm finding I have to deal with is losing weight. My husband and I have been steadily losing since last August. He has shed three stone. I'm a few pounds short of two stone off. People comment on how well he's done and he says that I've done well too. They look at me and say, "So have you lost weight, too?" I'm not sure whether to think that I didn't look as if I needed to lose weight or whether it doesn't really show. I think I've done well to get this far. Report
I am the same way as you...I wish I knew how to be stronger and let other peoples comments hurt my feelings. I've tried telling myself over and over that it is just another opinion, but then I stew about it later trying to determine why I'm not good enough for anyone. Wish I knew an answer as well. :( Report
I too am very sensitive, & I recently read a book called The Happiness Project. Since then, I've been trying to look for the positives in what people are saying or the positive in why they've said it. For example, something discouraging liike you looked so tired can be turned around into how great you normally look & concern that maybe something is bothering you right now or you're stressed. It's not perfect - I definitely still feel little tinges of sensitivity, but it has helped! :) Report
I used to be extremely sensitive, but the older I've gotten and the more secure I've gotten, the tougher I've gotten. It's not necessarily "tougher", but I interpret things differently. I realize (1) none of us is perfect and (2) a person's comments may not have been meant to be hurtful---I've learned to give people the benefit of the doubt first instead of thinking everything is about me. And (3) I force myself to let go things that are intentionally meant to be hurtful...what can I learn from them about myself or that person. And then, if the comments are simply nonsense, I treat them as such. Life is too short to be on a rollercoaster of emotion. Report
I can definitely relate. I do tend to be more sensitive to some things than a lot of people. I am working on it, but each day is a new one to be challenged. Report
I totally relate to this. I used to blame it on being female, but I have found that is not necessarily the case. I am sensitive to the emotions of myself and others around me, which helps make it easier for me to connect with people. On the other side, I do let things get to me more than I should. I will "over analyze" a lot of situations leading me to be more bummed about the situation than I was to begin with. This article helps though, because now I see that I am not the only one. Report
I understand completely! I have grown to a place in my life that I don't let things get to me any more. I realize that sometimes ppl really don't think before they talk. Report
ME TOO; too sensitive. My whole life it seems. Growing up as a heavy child, pre-teen, teenager, etc. I have always just been super sensitive. I even learned to watch for peoples expressions and allowed them to hurt me just the same as words. As I've grown older I certainly feel like I handle it better (usually by retreating internally), but it's still there... and when it happens I always resort back to the fat girl in highschool. I have 2 grown daughters ages 29 and 25 and while the oldest is extremely poised, confident, and extremely intelligent (notice I didn't mention common sense, but that's a whole other story), my youngest is so sensitive, so unsure of herself and so opposite of confident. I actually used to cry because I felt like my genes passed this all on to her. She is also heavy but we never ever riduculed her, in fact the opposite, we praised and encouraged her in everything she did.
I hope she sees in me the differences I'm trying to make in my life, and that she starts feeling more confident and less sensitive too... but we all know how hard that habit is to break. Probably harder than changing our eating/exercise habits. Report
Coming from someone who has to deal regularly with a person who claims they are just 'sensitive' I've come to believe that they are just taking themselves a little too seriously. For example, I once told this person that she 'looked really nice' one day. She looked at me with shock and then avoided me all day long. Later, I found out that she took that to mean that she didn't look nice other times. Gee, whiz. How fast did she leap to that conclusion? After several similar episodes like this I've gone out of my way to avoid this person because I don't want the drama that SHE creates. I don't want to have to go back and apologize for 'making her feel bad' when she's the one who did it to herself. Report
Thanks for the interesting blog. Yes it is possible to grow a thicker skin but it takes time, I used to be sensitive but had to learn to ignore some comments especially if they were not adding any value to my life. Report
I rarely let comments made by others influence me. If it can be of any help, I would like to say that I realised I take comments into serious consideration when I feel insecure about some aspect of myself, or when I'm not in a good mood. So, as you get more confident about yourself, you will realise no one is a better judge for you than you are..
After all, if anybody is responsible for your mind and body, it is you! And if you believe something needs change, then, Change it!!!
:) Report
I have the same issue as you've just described. Sometimes things people say without giving it much thought end up upsetting me, because I sit there over-analysing everything and subconsciously think that it was some kind of criticism.
It's become better lately because I've learnt that I MUST NOT let other people determine my happiness - even if it's close people like family, friends or my fiance. I can be myself and I can be happy with myself with or without them. That may sound a little selfish, but I find it's got more to do with being comfortable with who you are.
Of course, it's a work in progress. It's hard to just change who you are in a day or two, but I'm getting there and people around me have noticed that I seem to be much more relaxed! Report
Agree, it is a good thing that you can empathize with others, as it makes you a more caring person. To a point we all care what others think about us, but at the end of the day, you can't spend too long worrying about what other people think. Think of the big picture, does what that person say or think about me really change the way I live my life ? Am I a good person ? If the answer is yes, than let go of other people's negative comments. Report

What you posted totally resonated with me :-). I am trying to stop unwanted thoughts by learning to live in the moment and diaphragmatic breathing helps a lot. Report
I used to be extremely sensitive and wanted to have 'thicker skin' but now I realize it isn't about thickening at my opinion its about softening your heart for people. Its also about being confident in yourself, loving yourself the way you are, no matter what anyone says and also seeing the good in every situation...about being grateful for everything...even negative comments as they may be able to teach you something...either about yourself or about someone else or a situation. You have to be willing to truly face yourself...see yourself for who you truly are, and then be ok with who it is you see. Once you are there, you've gained confidence. Its also about loving more, not just yourself but others. The most important thing I've learned is that what you give out will literally come back to you ten-fold or more. So even negative thoughts about yourself or others, even if they say not nice things to you, will end up just hurting you, not them. Plus, just remember that those people who said negative things about you, will get negativity in return...that's kind of sad; I tend to feel compassion now when people do that do me.
That's my opinion on the subject. All the best. :) Report
This is soooo me.. I am having such a hard time right now. I have been an emotional mess for at least a week. I'm sure much of it has to do with the "spark" lifestyle change, as I'm doing the 4 week sugar detox. When I get like this, I find myself apologizing to everyone for everything. I really don't have a sounding board so I feel everything internally. Good to know I'm not alone. Report
Oh, I am definitely too sensitive for my own good! Report
I totally relate. I have learned from the past to allow my feelings their due time, but after they have had their time, I have to look at it rationally. If I don't let my feelings run rampant for a while they get in the way of being rational. After I've let my feelings take their course I then evaluate more rationally and realistically. It works most of the time, but nothing is perfect. Thanks for sharing and letting me know I'm not the only one. Report
I've always been somebody who wears their heart on their sleeve. Like you, I see the positives in that I am very compassionate and caring for others, always trying to make people happy. But at the same time, I can get my feelings hurt way too easily and when that happens I can become a mess. It's a balance, and I also think it is a gift.
Thank you for your blog.It really hit home. I am also very sensitive . I find it very hard to let things roll off my back. When you find a way please share it. Report
I developed thick skin as a child when my step-mother would say horrible things to me and one day when I was about 12 a light bulb went on in my head, and I told myself I was not going to let her hurtful comments throw me into a rage or make me upset. Because of my painful childhood, and through the process of letting these types of comments slide off me, I basically blocked all emotional responses to other people. Since then, I feel that my lack of sensitivity and empathy toward others has actually held me back significantly in my social development and has been a great hindrance in my life. So I say rather than try to suppress your emotions as I learned to do, try to embrace them and learn from them. My ex-husband was fond of calling me a "vulcan" and I have a reputation for saying harsh things to others without realizing that what I said was hurtful until too late. So please embrace your sensitivity and realize it makes you human (more human than I feel many times). Report
I think the difference between you, your daughter and your husband has to do with female versus male. We ARE different and our chemistry is different. We are more sensitive, it is what creates empathy and sympathy. We just have to learn to not allow that sensitivity to control us, but rather use common sense when making decisions. Report
This blog was very timely as I am going through the same thing right now. I know I should just "let it go" but I keep dwelling on it. Sometimes I tell myself I should respond to something & then again I say to myself I shouldn't. When I do, sometimes it makes it worse! I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who is "sensitive". Report
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