Even a therapist once told me I should maybe grow a little thicker skin. I thought, well, yet another person who doesn’t understand me, and, if a therapist doesn’t, then, well…
That was several years ago. Now, my thinking (and feelings) on this have advanced. I’m ready to stake a claim for sensitive people. “They” don’t get it. We have been stigmatized, viewed with curiosity and pity, and told to grow up or get tougher or whatever.
Let me declare: being sensitive is a good thing. It’s a strength.
Hey, therapist, and everybody: I don’t want a thicker skin. It’s so fake, stiff, and boring. It trips me up and slows me down. It numbs me. It hides me and isolates me.
I can feel more. And what a goddam glorious world it is to feel. It’s an ocean. It’s flying. It’s spelunking the corners of dreams.
Look. If you have better than 20/20 vision you can see more. You can see farther, and more clearly. You can see greater nuance and distinction in 2 and 3 dimensions.
If you are a musician and have a developed ear you can hear more. You can hear more of the depth and complexity of the arrangement. You can hear vocal subtleties.
If you are a therapist who helps people with trauma, greater sensitivity means hearing the fuller histories and emotions, and seeing where the pain has tried to escape. You can better help people heal.
Feeling is seeing. Feeling is understanding. If I feel more I can connect with you more. It’s empathy, compassion, and insight. It’s art. Sensitivity creates the opportunity for friendship and love.
So, sensitive person:
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin. You need to become more discerning. You need to discern what is about you (um, maybe nothing?) and what is about other people.
For example, you need set boundaries (for your sake) and learn how to dismiss others’ words and deeds with a robust “fuck off” sometimes, or at other times shrug them off with a genuine and devastatingly mild “meh.”
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin, you need to learn things like perseverance and self-care and greater self-awareness and how to help others in a constructively healthy way and how to self-regulate.
When there’s a shock to your emotional system you need to know how to calm yourself in a healthy way and sort through everything that just happened inside, and how to effectively explain it to others, if needed.
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin. You need to develop your sensitivity. You need to hone it like a skill. You need to cultivate it like a garden.
The novelist Jonathan Saffron Foer once said his editor’s only advice after reading a draft of his novel was two words: “feel more.”
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin. You need emotional growth, like everybody does—though people with thicker skins are less open to acknowledging this than us sensitive folk.
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin. You can use your sensitivity to learn about other people. You can (emotionally) feel inside them.
You don’t need to grow a thicker skin, you need wisdom.
When someone says you need to develop a thicker skin, I furiously disagree. We’ve been misunderstood for so long. I’m becoming a militant sensitive-ist. I got your back.
You, sensitive person, are good. Sensitivity is a strength. Nurture it, expand it, use it.