Monday, October 20, 2014

Thicker Skin

A few days ago, someone said something to me that hurt me a bit. It happens, and, since I like this person, I wanted to share that what he said hurt me so we could continue to grow as friends in honesty.  His response was, "You need to have thicker skin. You're too sensitive." Three years ago, I would have believed him and seen my hurt response as a flaw, as something wrong with me, and I'd have apologized and tried harder not to feel hurt at anything he said from then on since, surely, it was me being overly sensitive or insecure.  Of course, I'd still feel hurt, if something he said hurt me, but I would not express it (to him or myself) and instead it would live inside me, eating away at my self-worth. "Of course it was my fault, I just can't get anything right," and, "Why can't I just keep my mouth shut like a normal person?" would be my internal mantra for a few weeks based on this encounter.

Today, however, I see things very differently, and my response to this friend was, "Actually, no, I don't need thicker skin, I need friends who are sensitive and kind."  Because here's the new reality: Who I am is just fine.  Who I am deserves to be treated kindly and with respect.  Sure, people will say insensitive, hurtful things.  Sure, life is not without it's difficult moments and I need to be able to handle myself gracefully in them.  But I don't have to change who I am in order to accommodate your insensitivity, friend.  I don't have to regulate my emotional well-being or my perception of reality so that you can say whatever hurtful thing pops into your head without any consequence.

Who I am is just fine.  Who I am deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

That's a statement that many of us, particularly women, are not comfortable saying. It is a statement that many of us, particularly women, would feel self-conscious and even selfish saying to someone who has hurt or criticized us.  It's a statement that many of us, particularly women, would want to qualify with something like, "as long as you like/agree with/aren't angry with/approve of me."

But we (men and women) are free to feel however it is we feel, regardless of the other person's intentions or needs. If I feel hurt, it is my right to feel hurt and if I express that hurt to you, it is my way of deepening our bond as friends because I am trusting you with my feelings. It is also your right to decide if you will defend your right to say hurtful things or if you will honor my feelings and acknowledge them. Some people just can't, and I have to respect where they are, too. That doesn't change the fact that my feelings are valid and I deserve to be acknowledged. At least by someone who wants to call himself my friend.

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