In healthy relationships, individuals tell each other when they are hurt by things done or things said. Healthy friends and partners generally respond apologetically and make efforts to not repeat those statements and behaviors that have been identified as hurtful. When others are responsive in this way, it strengthens the relationship by making the other feel heard and respected.

Unhealthy individuals often respond to others expressing pain or discomfort defensively. They feel attacked or criticized when others tell them that their behavior or statements are hurtful and they lash out. The following dialogue between Jess and her boyfriend Uri is an example.

Jess: I wish you wouldn’t bring up my cosmetic surgery in front of others.

Uri: Why not? You look great.

Jess: It is personal and I don’t feel comfortable that you freely share it with others.

Uri: You are too sensitive; you need to grow a thicker skin.

Though formatted as a helpful suggestion, few would see Uri’s comment as authentic. If Jess takes his direction at face value, she will learn to increase her tolerance of Uri’s hurtful behavior and he will hurt her more. This will be unhealthy for Jess in that it will expose her to more hurtful behavior from her boyfriend, which will decrease her self-esteem and self-confidence. Ultimately, it can leave her feeling like a doormat.

This solution will also be bad for Uri, as it will reinforce that it is acceptable for him to be hurtful or abusive to his intimate partners and perhaps others. It legitimizes hurtful behavior toward others, which is likely to be disruptive to all present and future relationships that he might have.

Jess accepting more hurtful behavior from Uri will also undermine the quality and health of the relationship. Increased tolerance and incidence of hurtful behavior directly undermine the qualities of safety, security, and respect, all of which are critical to a healthy, secure intimate relationship.

If Jess is able to see beyond the surface of Uri’s suggestion that she be less sensitive and grow a thicker skin, she will understand that he is not making a constructive suggestion but rather is gaslighting her. Rather than responding in a loving and cooperative manner, he attempts to deflect his responsibility for being hurtful and then tries to convince her that there is something wrong with her for being hurt by his hurtful comments. He then suggests that she correct her flaw by becoming more tolerant to others hurting her. Uri is attempting to set Jess up to let him and others hurt her more. This is unhealthy and disrespectful.

The healthy approach for Jess is to grow a thicker skin that allows her to confront others who hurt her, or to utilize other methods to stop others. The healthy version of a thicker skin is one that protects her from physical and emotional damage from others. In this example, Jess attempts to do just this by confronting Uri, but instead of responding in a healthy and loving way, he gaslighted her. A healthier thicker skin would enable her to respond effectively to Uri’s gaslighting. In the above dialogue, it might sound something like this:

Jess: Uri, if you love and care about me, you will do as I ask and stop bringing up my surgery.

If he continues to defend his hurtful behavior, she needs to express to him that this behavior will not be tolerated. She needs to let him know that if he does not stop hurtful behaviors toward her, she will not continue the relationship with him. A healthy thick skin does not function to increase tolerance of hurtful behaviors from others, it shields Jess from being hurt by others.

Standing up for herself will have a beneficial effect on Jess personally. It empowers her to protect herself and allows for the improved self-confidence and self-esteem associated with feeling like she is in control and of value, worthy of protection. It benefits Uri by forcing him to be loving and respectful, which will open the door to more intimacy by helping others feel safe and secure when they get close to him. It will benefit the relationship by offering Jess safety and security, which will result in greater intimacy with her.

Emotional sensitivity refers to the capacity to sense large and small changes in one’s feelings and the feelings of others. The more sensitive you are, the more information you have access to. Information about yourself allows for optimal self-monitoring and enhances the ability to respond to one’s feelings expediently and effectively. For example, sensing early signs of hunger, fatigue, or anxiety allows for more preemptive and integrated responses to the needs underlying these feelings. Identifying hunger early allows time for planning and acquiring healthy meals rather than waiting until the feelings of hunger become so intense that you will eat the first food you can find.

Sensitivity to the feelings of others is the core ability that creates empathy. The more information that you have about the feelings of others, the more effective you can be in addressing those needs, resulting in stable and healthy relationships.

If you find that you are overwhelmed by the amount and intensity of emotional information you are able to sense, it means you need better coping mechanisms to process these feelings. This approach focuses on personal growth, rather than fixing something that is broken. You are not broken because you feel emotions strongly. These tools are achievable through formal psychotherapy as well as self-help materials that are readily available. It is not healthy under any circumstances to learn to ignore sensory information. There is no such thing as “too sensitive” as it applies to human beings.

QOSHE - How to Grow a Thicker Skin - Daniel S. Lobel Ph.d
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How to Grow a Thicker Skin

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12.02.2024

In healthy relationships, individuals tell each other when they are hurt by things done or things said. Healthy friends and partners generally respond apologetically and make efforts to not repeat those statements and behaviors that have been identified as hurtful. When others are responsive in this way, it strengthens the relationship by making the other feel heard and respected.

Unhealthy individuals often respond to others expressing pain or discomfort defensively. They feel attacked or criticized when others tell them that their behavior or statements are hurtful and they lash out. The following dialogue between Jess and her boyfriend Uri is an example.

Jess: I wish you wouldn’t bring up my cosmetic surgery in front of others.

Uri: Why not? You look great.

Jess: It is personal and I don’t feel comfortable that you freely share it with others.

Uri: You are too sensitive; you need to grow a thicker skin.

Though formatted as a helpful suggestion, few would see Uri’s comment as authentic. If Jess takes his direction at face value, she will learn to increase her tolerance of Uri’s hurtful behavior and he will hurt her more. This will be unhealthy for Jess in that it will expose her to more hurtful behavior from her boyfriend, which will decrease her self-esteem and self-confidence. Ultimately, it can leave her feeling like a doormat.

This solution will also be bad for Uri, as........

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