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thick skin


What does it mean to have “thick skin?”

Usually, it means a person is able to take criticism, insults, and unpleasant information without getting too emotional and riled up about it.

A person who doesn’t have thick skin can be very sensitive and over-reactive. You’ll often find them yelling, crying, or being defensive whenever they feel they are being threatened by something.

But a person with thick skin knows how to stay calm under pressure. When they feel threatened, they know how to remain centered, and don’t crumble or break apart emotionally when something doesn’t go the way they want.

I believe having “thick skin” is an important part of emotional intelligence. It’s about learning to manage your speech and actions, even when you feel the most negative and painful of emotions.

This article will teach you how to build thick skin and stop being so sensitive.


Highly sensitive people

I consider myself a highly sensitive person (HSP). Some of you reading this may be considered one too. Psychologists say this describes about 1 in 5 people, and the most common traits include:

  • Depth of processing: HSP often need more time to process information from their environment.
  • Over arousal: HSP often become more reactive and aroused on an emotional and physical level.
  • High empathy: HSP are often very empathic and are frequently experiencing other people’s emotions from a first person perspective.
  • Sensitivity to subtle stimuli: HSP often pick up certain information that wouldn’t be noticed by others.

Psychologists believe much of the differences in people who are highly sensitive can be contributed to differences in how our nervous systems process information.

Have you ever watched someone embarrass themselves and you became just as embarrassed as them? Maybe you even began blushing yourself, even though you didn’t do anything? This “secondary embarrassment” can often be a sign that you are a highly sensitive person.

Clearly, there are many benefits to being a HSP. They can often connect with others easily and be more kind and understanding toward everyone, as well as more introspective and creative.

However, sometimes this high sensitivity can also become tiresome, unhealthy, and counterproductive.


“Turning down” your sensitivity

When you are too sensitive, it often means you are focusing too much on information that shouldn’t really matter to you. Sometimes it’s better to “turn down” your sensitivity a little.

Someone may say to you, “Damn, your band really sucks” and you can’t stop thinking about it because it bothers you so much. Maybe you want to yell at them, or punch them, or tell them how much their band sucks.

But this is all too sensitive and over-reactive, and there is nothing positive you can really do with what they say but let go of it and move on. Who cares what that one person thinks?

Too much sensitivity can stop you from following your goals and passions in life – because you are too concerned with how other people think of you, and you’re not comfortable just being yourself despite the negative judgments.

If you look at most successful people in life, they will often have a layer of thick skin that desensitizes them from this type of unhelpful criticism and hate.

In fact, the more successful you are, often the more criticism you have to tolerate on a daily basis – which means the thicker your skin is going to have to be.

Sometimes, living your life means ignoring what people think and just “not giving a fuck.” There’s times to be empathic and sensitive, but there’s also times to just let go and not care so much.


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How to build thick skin

Here are key strategies to use when trying to build “thick skin” in your life. Try them out, be patient with yourself, and you’ll often find it easier to manage your emotions toward things that make you feel threatened and uncomfortable.

  • Practice silence – You don’t have to respond to everything people say or do. Silence is one of the main actions of those with “thick skin.” They just let other people’s words and actions pass by them and don’t give them a second thought.
  • Invite more criticism – Actively invite more criticism into your life. Ask people, “What did you think?” Learn to not take what they say personally. The more criticism you receive, the more feedback you get, but also the more desensitized you become to it overall. It becomes a normal part of growth.
  • Go outside of your “comfort zone” – Try exposing yourself to things that you aren’t comfortable with or don’t think you like. Even if it’s just watching a type of movie you think you’ll hate, or listening to a genre of music you think you can’t stand, or watching a political show you usually disagree with – you’ll learn to become more tolerant of things that go against your preferences (and maybe even learn to find things you like about them).
  • Pay attention to things that offend you – When you find yourself feeling offended or threatened by something, ask yourself, “What about this really bothers me?” The answer may help you see that you are over-reacting.
  • Avoid exaggerating thinking – Often times when people seem too sensitive, it’s because they are taking part in some type of exaggerated thinking. They are taking a small situation and turning into something much bigger than it is in the grand scheme of things.
  • Trust yourself – Don’t seek people’s approval all of the time. Remember that the only thing that really matters is your own approval. Trust yourself more to do the right things and make the right decisions in your life.

These suggestions will help you build thick skin in your daily life, and not be as sensitive and threatened as you usually are over everything people say and do.


Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement

The Science of Self Improvement

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