Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

Has anyone ever given you the (often unsolicited) advice, “You need to learn to be thicker skinned”? Yep. A lot of us have been given that tip. It’s not necessarily a “bad” recommendation. I’m just not sure it’s always a helpful encouragement for a lot of the situations in which it’s been given. I usually hear that phrase being communicated to people who are sad or mad. And it sends the wrong message.

Being thick-skinned means being resilient. For example, say someone applies for a job, interviews, and doesn’t get the job. If they are thin-skinned, they will take it personally and assume it’s a direct statement about their worth as a person. Maybe it will even affect the effort they put into looking for other jobs or the confidence they exude during future interviews. If the person is thick-skinned, they will feel disappointed, and maybe a slight sting, but know that there are various reasons that explain why they must not have been the best fit for the job. Because they have resilience, they will try again with hope intact.

There are many reasons for a person to exhibit qualities of having thin skin. Different types of trauma can have an impact on someone’s ability to tap into the power of their resilience, (but this is an entirely different article). Those who can access their resilience, those who seem to have thicker skin know that, though it might add to their grit factor, adversity doesn’t define them.

So, what are a few signs that you’re accessing your own thick skin (resilience)?

You know and respect your boundaries. People who have thicker skin can hold and maintain a boundary with others. They can identify when, for whatever reason, something does not feel right for them. They know that they have a right to protect their time, their energy, their needs, and they know they have a right to do so. They don’t feel that they have to say yes to everyone for everything all the time to feel worthy.

You take responsibility for yourself. This requires a certain level of self-awareness. Those who have thick skin can assess when it’s time for them to call in the reinforcements (ask for help, take a break, delegate, etc.) without feeling like it’s a huge blow to their egos. They can see how they impact people and make adjustments when necessary.

You can say the words, “I don’t know.” When someone is aligned with their thick skin, they don’t have to have all the answers to know that they’re worthy. They can sit in the unknown without watching their confidence and self-trust diminish.

You employ acceptance. This is what helps you respect your boundaries. You have flexibility. You accept when you need help, when you need a break, and when you need a change. You don’t fight with your pain or hardship. You understand that it will pass and give way to new emotion, new circumstance. You know that your present state does not define you.

You show up for yourself. This means you take care of your mind, body, and soul. You know what you need to do to care for yourself, and you do it. When you need alone time, you take it. When you need to spend time with loved ones, you reach out. When you need to go to bed, but you’d rather watch another episode of “The Office” you go to bed. When you need to take a sick day, you take it.


You might notice that, in no way, have I said, “to be thick-skinned, you must not be in touch with your feelings,” or “You don’t cry or get upset.” Right, because having thick skin is not about cutting yourself off from your feelings; it’s about being in touch with those precious feelings and being honest about them, respecting them, managing them, and using those feelings as part of your guide.

We all have these qualities already inside us. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel them. The more we work at practicing these things, the more resilient we will be.


Love and Be Loved,

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Not all couples are meant to stay together forever. Some couples are put back on the right track after they take a break from the relationship. Other couples regain stability after seeking professional help from a qualified counselor or therapist. And many couples need a few different strategies to get what they need from the relationship.

This week, let’s look at trust in relationship. What exactly is trust? What does trust look like in relationship? How can you improve the level of trust in your relationship? (And how do you know if your partner is worthy of your trust?)

Merriam-Webster defines trust as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective,” an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”. In relationship, some basic principles of trust look like this:

-Both partners attempt to make one another feel emotionally secure

-Neither partner humiliates nor disparages the other

-Both partners uphold their responsibilities

-Both partners have power and influence in the relationship

-Both partners express a desire to listen to the other, even in an argument

-Both partners demonstrate respect toward one another

Some relationships start out with a substantial lack in even the most basic aspects of trust. It’s not necessarily an indication of a doomed relationship; there are plenty of ways to increase trust in a relationship if the motivation is there. (Finding out if the motivation is there is related, but in the interest of a streamlined discussion about trust, I’ll keep it separate for now.) Considering the examples of basic trust above, let’s say that one or even all of these aspects of trust have recently been breached. Does it mean your relationship is unsalvageable? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s take a look at what is communicated depending on how a breach is handled.

Apologizing and Trust:

Can you trust your partner to apologize for mistakes? Apologizing is an excellent way to measure trust. In conflict, it’s important to be accountable to your partner, to show remorse when a wound has been inflicted. Even if one partner has to get through some skepticism, to communicate genuine atonement, the other partner must remain nondefensive and patient. Alternately, if one partner is making a concerted effort to take responsibility for any wounding, the other must also make an effort to work on forgiveness. (If there is an apology, but no forgiveness or no apology, but forgiveness it paves the way for diminishing trust and more hurt.) How do apologies work in your relationship?

Reconnecting and Trust:

To healthfully and sustainably move forward from a breach of trust, both partners must dedicate themselves to taking the relationship to a sturdier (and more satisfying) plane. This means each partner is clearly communicating their feelings as they arise. Couples are in for less welcome returns if one partner expects the other to be a mind reader. They must allow themselves to be curious about their partner’s experience and ask questions. (Remember empathic curiosity?) They must communicate to one another the compassion and empathy they feel. This will help each partner to feel more connected to the other, safer, and more trusting. Are these qualities present in your current relationship?

Everyone makes mistakes. And it can be pretty scary to trust someone when you feel wounded by a current or past relationship. A breach of trust doesn’t have to mean that your relationship is on the verge of collapse. (And there are useful tools used to look at your relationship patterns to see if it is unsustainable.) I’d love to talk more about it with you.


Love and Be Loved,

Relationships: Cure vs. Comfort

Relationships: Cure vs. Comfort

The revolutionary physician, Hippocrates, encouraged us to “cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always”.

This is relevant not only for health practitioners but humanity at large. Sometimes we can cure pain; we can often alleviate some of its negative impacts, and we can always comfort one another in its midst.

About ten years ago, I was talking with a close friend about the various difficulties we have encountered in relationships. She mentioned feeling a lot of fear about her current relationship. As she talked, I tried to find some strategies for her to try. I wanted her to feel better. She kept telling me how scared she felt, and I kept throwing what seemed like helpful approaches at her feelings. Eventually, my brave friend trusted me enough to speak up for herself. She said something like, “That’s not helping! I don’t need you to try to make it better or tell me all the things I can or should do. I need you to let me know I’m not alone. Just be with me in it.”

The lesson my friend reinforced for me is incomparable. Although my impulse was to take away her pain or change it somehow, I realized that this impulse was for me, not her. I felt helpless, so it didn’t feel like enough to empathically be with her in her pain; I wanted to fix it. I’m grateful to my friend for her courage, for knowing what she needed and telling me.

I see this a lot in relationships. One person has a problem, and the other person wants to fix it, to cure it. Sometimes this is a realistic option. Sometimes there are things one member of a relationship can do to alleviate the suffering of their loved one. If it’s a relatively simple solution like being more attentive to their responsibilities or being more sensible with shared finances, it’s easier to identify a clear cure.

Other times, there are manageable ways of sharing the burden, ways of treating a loved one’s suffering. This can look a lot of different ways depending on what the problem is. For some people, a slight change in communication can help them to feel better. For others, treatment of the problem might be a little more amorphous.

Ultimately, what doesn’t fail, the thing everyone wants regardless of what’s hurting, is comfort. We want to feel like we’re not alone in our hardships, that we have love and support and a sense of safety in the uncertainty.

I’ve found a useful (and simple) way to offer comfort to a loved one is to ask, “What can I do to help you?” Sometimes they know exactly what I can do, and sometimes they don’t. When they don’t know, I tend to stay away from suggesting a swarm of options. Unless there is an obvious suggestion, a barrage of propositions can feel overwhelming for the other person, almost like an entirely new dilemma.

It’s ok not to know what to do. It’s enough for you to wrap the ones you love in your comfort.


Love and Be Loved,

Managing Emotions Through Mindfulness

Managing Emotions Through Mindfulness

You’ve probably heard passing comments on the topic of mindfulness, but… what exactly is it? And what isn’t it? Author and teacher of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and
nonjudgmentally.” It’s a special, intentional, and heightened awareness. You can have an intellectual awareness that you are feeling anxious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are mindfully experiencing what it’s like to feel anxious. Awareness and mindfulness are not synonymous.

If you are mindfully aware that you are feeling anxious, you are tuning into your body, noticing how and where you can feel it. You are noticing your thoughts, your behaviors, and possible triggers of this current experience without judging yourself or the experience. With mindfulness, there is no “good” or “bad” evaluation of an experience. It simply is.

The act of intentionally acknowledging your experience, whatever it is, is intensely powerful. Instead of feeling controlled by a circumstance or feeling so overwhelmed by it that you distract yourself, mindfulness can teach you to move through it with trust and confidence. You are gaining insight into yourself and how you move through the world as you notice the narrative you have created about why things are the way they are. You get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t.

Sometimes, people confuse the idea of being mindfully aware and accepting a current moment with resignation. “So, if I am ‘being mindful’ as I listen to the news, I should just ‘accept’ that this is how things are, sit back, and let it happen?” Nope. Mindfulness and inaction aren’t synonymous either. In fact, being mindful of your experience and moving toward acceptance can help you to reach more grounded decisions and take calmer, more effective necessary action. It can give you the space to respond in a less reactive, more thoughtful way. You’re neither impulsive nor frozen; you are responsive.

A good start to enhancing your mindfulness is to try it when you are eating. Set aside a reasonable time for you to try this during a snack or mealtime. Notice how you feel as you prepare to eat. What do you notice about the way your body feels? What do you notice about your thoughts? Senses? Notice how you take the initial bite. Is it fast and deliberate? Slow and deliberate? What do you notice about the taste and texture? And do you go in for another bite before you’ve finished the first? Notice all of these things without judging. Continue bite for bite until you have finished. What was this experience like?

One of the great things about mindfulness is how accessible it is. You need not be a member of any particular religion. You need no guru or leader (although guided mediation is available for those who want it). It is simply you, your experience, and some intentional, nonjudgmental noticing. Anyone can do it- young, old, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, on your own, with a guide, any time of day, for however long, any number of times per day. It is limitless.

Love and Be Loved,