What happened the last time someone criticized you? If you’re anything like me, you let it work you up until you were fuming. While this response is very human, it’s not healthy for us. We would all benefit from building a thicker skin sometimes.
Developing thick skin helps you navigate life’s curveballs with grace. You begin to live from a space of valuing your own opinions above those of others. And this allows you to put both the good and the bad in life into perspective.
This article will help you learn how you can get a thick skin. By the end, you’ll know how to take what life throws at you and use it to grow.
What exactly is “thick skin”?
I’ve had many people in life tell me I need to get thicker skin. At first, I thought this meant people wanted me to be more calloused and apathetic.
As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that isn’t what they meant when they said thick skin.
Thick skin means you’re able to control your reaction in relation to comments and actions made by others. Controlling your reaction means not getting easily upset or offended by the situation.
It’s obvious that it’s easier said than done. And the research gives us some insight as to why.
Studies tell us that we often react because we perceive some form of threat to our well-being.
The threat can be small like your boss criticizing your work. Or the threats can be big like someone abandoning you in a relationship.
Each of these situations threatens your sense of safety. And as a result, you tend to have some form of emotional reaction.
But how intense that reaction becomes is within your control. And that’s where developing thick skin helps.
Research also shows that culture will influence your reactions. So your skin might be a little thicker or thinner based on your society’s cultural context.
It’s clear that emotional reactivity is influenced by our biological response and our culture. But despite these influences, you can still develop a healthy layer of thick skin for your mental health.
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What are the perks of having thick skin?
You might be wondering what’s wrong with being sensitive. Let me make it clear that I’m not saying sensitivity is a bad thing.
It’s important to feel your feelings. But being overly sensitive to the point that your reactions quickly blow up probably isn’t serving you.
Developing thick skin helps you sharpen your emotional regulation. And the research shows that being able to regulate your emotions positively influences both your physical and mental well-being.
I can tell you personally that working on getting thick skin has been critical for my relationships. And it’s been even more important for my personal development.
If I didn’t develop a thick skin, I think I wouldn't have lasted my work in healthcare. And I certainly wouldn’t have a healthy marriage.
As humans, we all make mistakes. If you blow up any time a friend or co-worker messes up or says something slightly offensive, it’s hard to be a good friend.
And if you can’t handle criticism, people will be afraid to give you useful feedback. And feedback is how we push ourselves to be better.
So the perks of having thick skin are cultivating a life where you’re continually growing and attracting like-minded people to your circle. Sounds like some pretty awesome perks to me.
6 ways to get thick skin
These 6 tips are designed to help you thicken up your skin to process your emotions in a healthy manner. You can ditch excessive emotional reactivity and replace it with balanced sensitivity.
1. Love yourself first
I know self-love almost sounds like a cliché concept these days. But it’s essential for promoting healthy emotional regulation.
If you don’t value your own opinions, then you’ll be easily influenced by criticism and others’ behavior.
But how do you develop self-love? I think the best way is to get to know yourself.
Write out your values. Write out who you think you are. Here is an article of ours with 7 things to know about yourself.
When you see clearly who you think you are, you can see the qualities that you admire about yourself. And you can acknowledge accurately where you have room for improvement.
I have a simple practice of weekly reflection where I write out 3 things I appreciate about myself. I also write out 3 things I’m proud of myself for accomplishing that week.
These practices build a foundation of self-love that helps you gracefully accept criticism without beating yourself up. It also allows you to let inaccurate or harsh words roll off your shoulders.
2. Give up the need to be liked by everyone
This is a tricky concept that many of us struggle with. We like it when people like us. That’s just the truth.
So when someone says or does something that indicates they don’t like you, it’s easy to get upset.
But here is another harsh truth for you. There are going to be people who will not like you. And this may have nothing to do with who you are or your actions.
When I find myself getting upset about someone’s words or behavior, I remind myself that it’s okay to not be liked. This helps downregulate my overreaction in lots of situations.
I then also remind myself of all the people in my life who do value and like me. And I remember that these are the relationships that matter most in life.
And when you give up the need to be liked by everyone, you feel lighter. You get thicker skin and you feel free from the pressure to be perfect.
3. Reflect on why you’re offended
Sometimes you need to take a deeper look at why you’re offended in the first place.
What is it about those words or the behavior that is setting you off? This often gives you insight into why you may be so sensitive.
Just last week I got really upset when my friend told me I was being selfish. I immediately wanted to say some harsh words back.
Luckily, I didn’t. I walked away and thought about the situation.
I realized that the reason I got so upset by her words is that at some point in life, I did feel like I was very selfish. And I feel I’ve worked hard to overcome that issue.
So her words essentially opened up an old wound regarding a perception I had of myself.
By realizing this, I was able to look at the situation and ask myself if I genuinely thought I was being selfish. I realized I didn’t think I was.
So instead of internalizing those words and being upset, I let them go. And realized that her words were just a trigger and not an accurate perception of my reality.
4. Try to flip your perspective
If you are getting offended, you may need to pull a 180 flip on the situation.
Try to ask yourself what the person who said or did the offensive thing was thinking. You may come to realize that their words have more to do with them than you.
I also try to ask myself, “What would it take for those words or actions to not offend me?” Sometimes the answer tells you exactly how to have thicker skin.
Let’s go back to my friend who called me selfish. She said this because I said no to a girl's trip.
I realized that from her perspective, it looked as if I was more concerned with my money than with her girl's trip.
I could see how that would be perceived as selfish. But it wasn’t just about the money. It had more to do with the fact that I have to take work off the next week for an oral surgery.
This helped me feel less offended by her words. But I also still realized that my response was appropriate as well.
5. Look for useful feedback in criticism
Sometimes hidden in the thing that is upsetting you is valuable insight or advice.
It can be hard to get past your emotions in the moment because you just feel upset. But if you take a deep breath and step back, there is often a lesson to be learned.
Not long ago, I had a coworker tell me that I needed to relax and be more flexible.
This set me off a bit because I felt like this co-worker needed to be more rigid and time efficient.
Once again, I’m lucky that I’ve trained myself to not react in the moment. Because my honest instinctual reaction isn’t always the kindest.
When I stopped and thought about it, I realized there was some real truth to their feedback. I get so caught up in being productive at work that I don’t just let the little issues slide.
This causes unnecessary stress for me and those around me. So really my co-worker was giving me external insight that was useful.
Your skin will grow thicker if you can dissociate your emotional response from the words themselves.
6. Make sure you sleep
We have solid research indicating that poor sleep is more likely to cause you to be very emotionally reactive.
So if you find yourself getting easily offended and upset, it may be time to look at your sleep schedule.
After a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep, you may find that your perspective on the matter completely shifts.
I know it’s simple, but sleep is powerful. Make it a priority for both your physical and emotional health.
You will probably find that your sensitivity is better balanced as your sleep quality improves.
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Getting thick skin won’t make you calloused or apathetic. It makes you emotionally mature to help your relationships and personal growth flourish. The tips from this article will help you better regulate your emotions no matter what the scenario. And with your new thick skin, you’re freeing up the emotional energy to put towards the things that matter most.
When was the last time you've been told to develop a thicker skin? Did it bother you, or did you find value in this feedback? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!