Hi there, friends.
Happy Friday-eve to you all.
So there’s something I’ve been meaning to get off of my chest. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about toughness. Being tough, being strong, being resilient, being scrappy, being brave, being stubborn, being unfazed and unrattled and unshakeable and relentless.
All of these things are synonyms in places, overlapping like a weird venn diagram of words and emotions and feelings. These are all good things to have, great in fact! They work as assets no matter who you are or what you do. Everyone and their second cousin twice removed on their mom’s side faces criticism and critique at some point, and everyone has to rise again from their setbacks and road blocks. That’s just how life works. It ebbs and flows.
But of all of these tools in the spectrum of human emotion that help you get from valleys to peaks and back again, I just don’t think I want to have a thick skin.
For a long time, I tried to hide the fact that I was perhaps a little bit more sensitive than other people, that I took things to heart, cared almost too deeply about other people’s happiness, their pain and struggles and triumphs. I tried to squash that part of me; after all, if I didn’t feel, if I didn’t allow things to “get to me”, there was a far less chance of me ever getting hurt.
Pretty solid plan, no?
I thought so at the time.
Don’t get me wrong; I really admire people with thick skin, people like my sister who can tell it like it is, who can walk around with this air of confidence and a take-no-shiznit-from-anybody attitude. She’s tough (and strong and resilient and scrappy and brave and stubborn and unfazed and unrattled and unshakeable and relentless) and I love that about her.
But the truth is, I don’t want things to just bounce off of me. I want to feel. Even if the feeling sucks. That feeling is just a simple reminder that I’m human.
We all are.
In some ways, thinking you’re not human–maybe invincible–is helpful. It’s the adrenaline that pushes you through something scary and challenging, and makes you think that you’re stronger than you are. It gives you courage, and that isn’t a bad thing. But it’s also important to recognize that you have the right to be scared at times, to worry and have doubts and be sad. So much has changed in the past 10 years alone; we live in a time where people, complete strangers can judge you and develop misguided opinions about you from a simple Tweet, a posted Instagram photo, a Facebook status. Even the news seems to be reporting on another tragedy or atrocity every single day. Violence, war, people shaming others simply because of what they look like or believe in. Life would, in theory, be so much easier if you felt and reacted less to all of this.
But I don’t think that’s the way to go about it. Often, telling someone else to grow a thicker skin is to excuse the actions of everyone around them. “People are awful, don’t let them get to you.” But of course awfulness is going to get to a person. Of course it will bug someone. That’s human nature. You can’t tell a person to not feel, just because it keeps the status quo intact.
And okay, some people can be hypersensitive about some things, but they have the right to feel any which way they choose. You can’t tell them a feeling is wrong. (You can tell them that the concepts on which they’re basing their feelings are misguided, but feelings in and of themselves are not right or wrong. They’re just feelings.) And excusing the actions of other people–that oh, people are just overwhelmingly shitty, grow a thicker skin, move on mentality–that’s to excuse that shittiness and let it keep happening.
Sure, you can only control your own actions and not the actions of other people, but your actions also include taking other people to task when their actions are bad. You don’t have to ignore, and you don’t have to roll over, and you don’t have to simply accept things as they are. You don’t have to grow a thicker skin.
You can and should be resilient. You should stand your ground as much as you can, and especially when it’s for things that are right. But don’t grow a thicker skin. Don’t teach yourself how to not feel.
Let things affect you. Let things get under your skin and crawl up your veins and sit uncomfortably with you until you do something about them. Call people out when they say mean things to you. Or to those you love and care about. Stand up for yourself and for anyone else you see being bullied or put down.
We may mostly be grown ups, but we’re still not so far from the playground. And sometimes on the playground, you’d skin your knee and it would sting and you’d get gravel and grit in the cut, and it would hurt like a mother, but you would remember that sting and you would learn. Sometimes it was your own damn fault. Sometimes it was Billy Splinter who pushed you off the jungle gym. But just because it was somebody else who pushed you over doesn’t make it hurt any less. And sometimes, those scrapes left scars–I’ve got a few of my own, each telling a different story. Those moments of vulnerability though more times than not lead to lessons and breakthroughs. Those moments of weakness often tell us who we really are.
Be strong and confident and believe in yourself. By all means, be stubborn, and be smart about the fact that some people are just going to say and do stupid things just to hurt you. Or will say and do things without thinking or meaning any harm that will hurt you. It’s often smart and intuition to ignore these feelings, but having that wisdom is different than having a thick skin. Don’t confuse the two, whatever you do. Don’t grow a thick skin, or at least, keep parts of it vulnerable.
It’s okay to love deeply, care strongly and forgive.