How do you grow a thick skin, anyway? And why would you want to?
One of my biggest challenges as a blogger is dealing with negativity – in fact, it’s something I really struggle with, even though I know I should really have it all figured out by now. I’ve been blogging for a long time, after all: I know perfectly well that people aren’t always going to just shower me with praise, and I even know it wouldn’t be particularly good for me if they did. I also know there’s an expectation that bloggers – especially ones who’ve made blogging their career – be able to deal with criticism: to accept it gracefully, and even to learn from it, when it’s valid.
I’ve always struggled with that, though: not because I think I’m so perfect that everyone should love me unreservedly, and consider me to be above criticism, obviously, but because… well, because I’m me, basically. I get hurt easily – too easily, in fact. When I was a little girl, and people would do that whole, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me!” thing, I’d just roll my eyes in frustration, because OF COURSE words could hurt me! Actually, words could hurt me more than any playground spat or tug of the hair, and that’s still true today – although I should probably add here that I can’t remember the last time I actually pulled anyone’s hair. Ahem.
The fact is, critical comments affect me much more than I’d really like to admit (er, even although that’s exactly what I’m doing here.) They have the power to ruin my whole day: no matter how “nicely” phrased they are, or how reasonable the person seems to be. Honestly, you’d think that 10 years of blogging would’ve knocked the over-sensitivity out of me by now, but nope, not a bit of it.
I like to think I’m a little better at dealing with it, and there ARE some comments which simply make my eyes roll, rather than water, but those negative comments still sting way more than they should. Even the constructive ones have the ability to send me spiralling into a pit of self-doubt, which it’s almost impossible to climb out of. It might be just one comment, but one is all it takes, and before I know it, I’ve convinced myself that that one person speaks for EVERYONE, and that I should just stop blogging now, because I’m obviously SO BAD at it.
The fact is, critical comments affect me much more than I’d really like to admit. They have the power to ruin my whole day: no matter how “nicely” phrased they are, or how reasonable the person seems to be.
Now, this is irrational, obviously. I know that, too. Just because ONE person doesn’t like my outfit, or my writing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a terrible outfit, or that I’m a bad writer. For some reason, though, I find it REALLY hard not to think it does. My natural instinct is to believe every word the person has written, and to want to change everything just to please them – even if they’re the ONLY person who’s ever expressed that particular criticism, and even if other people have directly contradicted them. Even if I don’t know the person, and have no reason whatsoever to trust their opinion, I will take it to heart, and want to change the way I dress, write and live my life – because someone on the internet said so, so it MUST be true!
There’s a certain dress I love, for instance, but which I no longer wear, because someone once said it didn’t suit me, and now that’s all I can think of when I go to put it on. Another dress went onto eBay when I got a comment telling me it, “looked like a hospital gown”: and the fact that there had been plenty of comments disagreeing with that person didn’t make a whit of difference – the dress was ruined for me, so I sold it to someone who I hope was able to wear it without having anyone analyse how it looked on her.
There have been quite a few items like this over the years, and it’s not just the internet that’s to blame, either: I remember one day I stopped to take outfit photos en route to my in-laws place, and when we got there, my mother-in-law’s ex-partner said, “How did you get those trousers on, Amber? Did you have to spray them on?” Needless to say, I didn’t publish the photos I’d taken, no matter how many times Terry tried to assure me they looked just fine, and the trousers went into the “donate” pile as soon as I got home.
Why do I take these criticisms so much to heart? Honestly, I wish I knew. It’s not like my former father-in-law was some kind of style guru, after all, and there’s nothing to indicate that the people who comment on my blog are, either. (Er, present company excepted, obviously. YOU look awesome!) That person telling me I shouldn’t wear that dress, for instance, might be sitting there wearing something I wouldn’t think suited her, either: so why should I take her opinion seriously? Why should I feel like I have to make changes just to accommodate a taste that isn’t mine?
I do, though. All the time. In real life, as well as on the internet. Even if I don’t agree with the criticism itself, the fact that someone felt the need to be negative towards me will bother me for hours. “Why did that person feel she HAD to tell me she didn’t like my dress?” I’ll fret. “Why did she think I’d want to know that? What was the point?” And then I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking, “What if she’s right, though? What if I DO look terrible in that dress?” I might wear it again, but I’ll never feel the same about it – and I definitely won’t put the photos on my blog.
Of course, I shouldn’t be writing about this. It goes against all of the received wisdom on blogging, and how bloggers should deal with criticism. Mostly, the advice dictates that we should be totally impervious to it: maybe even grateful for it, because all publicity is good publicity, right? If someone cared enough to comment – even if it’s to list all the things you’re doing wrong – then at least you know they CARE, and rather than being hurt, you should read their comment and think about how it can help you be better: or that’s the idea, anyway. “Everyone’s entitled to their OPINION!” people tell you. “You just need to grow a thicker skin!”
And that’s it: that’s the sum total of the advice people have to give to those of us who blog about our lives/our outfits/ourselves. That we should basically be immune to all criticism and negativity (whilst simultaneously being super-receptive to it, obviously…): that we should not have any feelings to get hurt in the first place, but that, if we do, we should do our best to hide them, because we brought this on ourselves, really – we “asked for it” by “putting it out there”. An argument straight from the, “but she was wearing a short skirt!” school of victim-blaming, if ever I heard one.
Here’s the thing, though: I DON’T have a thick skin. And I don’t really WANT one, either.
I don’t have a thick skin. And I don’t really want one, either.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: it would be GREAT to be able to deal with criticism better: to take the useful stuff, disregard the not-so-useful stuff, and just move on. That’s the sensible, grown-up thing to do, obviously: and I’m sure that thick skin everyone wants me to acquire would allow me to sleep a little better at night, as well as protecting me from the worst of the insults. Growing one, however: well, that’s one of those things that’s easy to SAY (especially when you’re not the one having random strangers list everything that’s wrong with you, under the guise of “just being helpful!”), but almost impossible to do. How DO you “grow a thicker skin”, anyway? Because my skin isn’t remotely thick: actually, it’s pretty damn fragile, and I don’t know how to change it – or if I really want to.
Wishing my skin were thicker doesn’t make it so, obviously. Exposing myself to negativity, in the hope that my thin skin will just toughen-up naturally over time, doesn’t seem to have done the trick either. And, as I’ve said, I’ve read all of the advice: I know that people are entitled to their opinions. I know I can’t expect everyone to be positive all the time. I know that if I’m willing to receive compliments, I should be equally willing to receive criticism. I know it comes with the territory. I know that negative feedback can be useful. I know that only ever hearing praise is NOT useful. I know that it would be boring if everyone said and thought the same thing: that it’s childish and silly to be upset because someone I don’t know and will never meet said something vaguely critical to me on the internet.
I know all of these things.
But I also know that I’m a human being, and that human beings have feelings, which sometimes get hurt.
I know that if someone came into my house and started listing everything that was wrong with it, I probably wouldn’t invite them back.
I know that, to quote from a Twitter conversation I had with Roisin last week, caring what people think of me is not necessarily a bad thing.
I know there is a way to learn how to take the good with the bad, and to not be affected by it, and I know that one day I’ll find it.
Most of all, I know that my sensitivity (or my over-sensitivity, to be more accurate) is part of who I am. I’m not saying it’s always a GOOD thing, obviously: but it’s me. It’s one of the things that allows me to write the way I do, and to say things that some people just don’t relate to AT ALL, but which make other people reach out to me and say, “Thanks for writing that: I thought I was the only one.”
So, how do I stop caring so much about what people think of me? Why do I need everyone to like me, and feel hurt if they don’t? How do I grow a thicker skin?
I could just stop blogging, obviously. I think that’s what people want me to do when they say, “You shouldn’t put it out there if you can’t deal with the criticism” – as if closing down a 10-year-old business just to avoid unsolicited advice is a reasonable response. It’s not, obviously: and it wouldn’t actually stop the unsolicited advice, either – because there would always be people like my former stepfather-in-law, who’d just say it to my face, and not really care how hurtful they were being. Stopping blogging wouldn’t help me avoid being hurt by thoughtless comments or unsolicited advice. So what would?
Last week I was talking about this with Terry, who has, at times, been firmly in the “you need to grow a thicker skin” camp. He’s the one who reads the comments that bother me and says, “You know, I really don’t think that’s as bad as you think it is?” or sometimes, “Yeah, but that person’s being totally unreasonable: why do you care what they think?” This time, though, he surprised me with a totally different perspective.
“You don’t really need to toughen up,” he said. “If you did, you wouldn’t be YOU any more, would you? You’re one of those people who just feels too much… about everything. That must be a hard thing to live with, but it’s what makes you the person you are. And how would you write about things if you didn’t FEEL things?”
I think he’s right. I spend a lot of my time wishing I was tougher: wishing I was one of those badass women who just doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, and who goes through life on her own terms – doing whatever the hell she likes, and woe betide anyone who tries to stop her.
I’m not one of those women, though.
Instead, I’m one of the ones who feels guilty when she eats a piece of chocolate with a face on it, and who has a broken-down car in her driveway, because she can’t bear to part with it, even although it no longer works. That’s me. Not everyone is going to like me: but I guess I can probably live with that. I might never grow that thick skin that everyone’s so keen on, but the older I get, the less I think I want one: and the easier it gets to live without one, too.
Maybe thick skins are over-rated, anyway.