Having Thick Skin: It’s Not What You Think

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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,

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