Developing a Thicker Skin

With anything you choose to do in this world, there are always gonna be people who disagree. But I’ve had a lot more supporters than critics.” – Halima Aden

In my last blog post, I mentioned the idea of needing to develop a thicker skin, but I want to expand on this subject.

Our local arboretum is going to host an new exhibit of five 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures starting in April. Most people are excited about the new exhibit, but others have fussed that the arboretum should be about plants and trees, not sculptures. Others say we should leave up the old exhibit of large trolls, which would double the quantity of large sculptures on site. This strikes me as amusing, because the arboretum can’t win with everyone, even though they are trying to do something good. There are always detractors. This also happened when the previous exhibit of trolls went up. People complained that the trolls were too far apart: “Too much walking!” Others said there weren’t enough signs or even that there were too many mosquitoes. Now individuals complain that the trolls are coming down.

Troll at Morton Arboretum – 2019 photo

This reminds me of when I used to visit my Dad at a nursing home years ago. Sometimes I’d join in with him when the residents were playing Bingo. One lady would shout “Faster! Call the numbers faster.” And another person would shout, “Slow down!” My Dad and I would laugh. The person calling the numbers (which is a good thing to do) could have taken this mild criticism personally. No matter what she did, someone complained.

Isn’t that true throughout our lives? We can’t please everyone. I am in a book club that reads mysteries, and often our opinions of the books vary greatly. Someone might love a book that I hate, and vice versa. We and our work will not be to everyone’s liking.

I mentioned the arboretum trolls. One problem nowadays is a different sort of troll, those on social media. Some people apparently enjoy being harsh to others on the internet. And that can make us afraid to speak out. Sometimes I don’t speak out because I’m afraid of criticism. But after practicing this a few times, I have developed a thicker skin. One day, I tweeted a public official asking what legacy they wanted to leave behind. At first, that tweet got more people laughing at me than “likes.” And for once, I didn’t care. I have the right to express my opinion. So do those who respond to me.

The problem is not so much with giving each other feedback. Feedback can be good and can help us grow. Feedback for a writer, for instance, can help us improve our work. In my writers group, I benefit greatly from the constructive criticism I receive on the stories I contribute to anthologies. We write three drafts, with three people critiquing each draft, as well as an editor. I used to think I couldn’t write fiction, but constructive criticism has empowered me to learn that skill.

The problem is when “feedback” is too harsh. Several years ago, I was upset by a harsh comment on an essay I’d written. That one comment echoed in my head, rather than the many compliments I’ve received for my writing. I find the courage to keep writing when I focus on my purpose in life and the reasons I write. Or I think about the people who do like my writing. You, my blog readers, have been very supportive. Have you received criticism that felt harsh? How did you deal with it?

We can’t let criticism hold us back, even if it feels harsh. It is just someone’s opinion, and not everyone will like us or our work. Or perhaps we misinterpreted what was meant. If we use our talents or try to improve the world, we will face criticism. Every leader or innovator does. We may be afraid to speak out, but in the long run, isn’t the risk better than being silent? We can be afraid to do anything that subjects us to criticism, but the alternative is to hide our talents and to make no effort to improve the world. If we want our world to change, we have to change ourselves, and that may mean speaking up.

Developing a thicker skin doesn’t mean we should accept disrespect or abuse from others. If someone triggers you frequently, it is self-care to keep your distance. But sometimes the way our words are received depends partly on how we deliver them. Do we address our concerns to the right people? Do we speak out too much, to the point that no one is listening? Do we speak in a civil manner? Do we treat others with the respect we want them to give us?

Volunteer at Morton Arboretum – photo from

Maybe speaking out isn’t your way to make an impact. Maybe you do volunteer work or take care of someone or help in another way. That’s great. You’re “putting yourself out there.” And that can take a thick skin, too. Sometimes volunteers and caregivers receive little in the way of thanks, or they are taken for granted. That doesn’t mean they should stop doing good.

We recently began the season of Lent, an appropriate time to reflect on our lives and consider what changes we want to make. Sometimes making those changes means developing a tougher skin.

Note: This article from Psychology Today has suggestions on how to develop a thicker skin.

Do you try to improve our world? Would you like to develop a thicker skin? In what area?

About Susan Ekins

Freelance writer and blogger at Women Making Strides. Interested in personal leadership and empowerment. Wanting inspiration and to inspire. Leader in church ministries. Blog: Facebook page:
This entry was posted in Challenges, Making a Difference, Proactive, Talent and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Developing a Thicker Skin

  1. Rosemary Janisch says:

    Great post! I’ve volunteered at The Morton Arboretum for the last 4 years. Yes, many complaints but a lot more compliments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Ekins says:

    Rosemary, thank you for your volunteer work. The Morton Arboretum is my “happy place,” and that’s in large part due to volunteers like you.


    • Rosemary Janisch says:

      It’s a wonderful place for sure and will be opening up more in 2021. I’m sure we’ve crossed paths there and never knew it. Thank you for your post. I shared it with my Zoom church group. The timing was impeccable as our topic is Speaking Truth in Love.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ron Edison says:

    Personally, I’m surprised the trolls are still there but I’m glad. The only ‘obvious’ one is in the east parking lot so they’re well hidden and totally suited the environment both in look and mythological context. It’s not like they’re oddball Picasso creations. RE ‘tough skin,’ I’ve experienced a lot of people using that to disguise their rude or abusive behavior, especially in creative endeavors like writing and art. Yes, it helps dealing with the business end of things but artists need time and nurturing to develop their talent before confronting the outside world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Ekins says:

      I love the trolls, too. The troll hut was taken down a few months ago, and I think the others will be taken down before the new exhibit is up. Thank you for the insight you added about rude behavior versus nurturing.


  4. Shirley says:

    Love your articles! I believe I may need to be more tender with my political posts on FB that are public. Will try harder! Keep up your great writings! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Ekins says:

      Thank you, Shirley! You have a soft heart. You served as a volunteer and a very good one, too–I say this as one who KNOWS. I much appreciate all you did for me and the charity, and it was fun working with you.


  5. Sarah says:

    What a great post and very appropriate for some things we’ve lived through this winter! I like all the examples you gave and all the questions you asked to get me thinking. We had a situation last fall in the 55 and over community where we live and we finally came to the conclusion that we needed to have thicker skin. 55 and over retired communities can surprisingly be a lot like high school with a lot of gossip, cliques and exclusion. Rude comments are often disguised as “jokes” or they are written off as “Well, they’re old and crabby” which should never be an excuse to be rude. We’ve spent most of the winter narrowing down (whittling down!!) the people we are willing to spend our time with or expend our energy on. There is just no pleasing everyone and, at first, I/we had hurt feelings but now, not only have we developed a thicker skin, we now have a more peaceful life as we’ve distanced ourselves from those who complain, gossip, etc. Thanks again for the thoughtful, well written post! I so look forward to your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Ekins says:

      I agree with you about the need to distance ourselves from those who gossip and complain. That is amusing, about your 55 and older community being like high school. My sister lives in an over-55 community too and says “Everybody knows your business,” which is bad because they DO gossip. In her case, it’s also somewhat good that they know her business, because they notice if something might be wrong and check on her. (She lives alone.) Thank you for your support and comments, Sarah. I appreciate you sharing your insights.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s