Friday, August 16

The Opposite of Thick Skin

I admitted to myself this week something important. I'm emotionally vulnerable.

In my mind, emotional vulnerability is analogous to armor in a battle. The better your armor, and the less direct the blows, the fewer marks you come home with. It's the same idea of having thick skin - that way, things just roll off you instead of leaving an impression. Having lower emotional vulnerability (or thicker skin) allows you to have stable emotions throughout the day, and also keeps you safe from situations where you're not really getting all that hurt.

Everything emotional leaves a real impression on me. A passing blow always hits hard. Something someone says, even in jest, gets recorded in my mind and played over and over. And at the end of the day, I can look at myself and see the dozens... or hundreds... of cuts and bruises picked up just by living in a chaotic emotional world.

It was an important thing for me to admit to myself because... 

...'s something I've been ashamed about. I mean, who has the same intense emotional reaction when they get honest criticism from a friend as when a close family member dies? Who gets honestly hurt by everything? My brothers and the people around me seem to have exceptionally thick skin. They let some things just roll off without it affecting them... and I wanted to at least pretend to have that.

In the same breath of recognizing my vulnerability, I also realized that there's another side to the equation. And I know I'm just making up terms for things that a psychologist probably wrote theories about... but whatever. The other side is what I'm calling emotional resilience. It's the ability to go home at the end of the day and tend to your wounds... then get up the next morning and keep going. High emotional resilience makes it so that you can go through intense emotional experiences (whether caused by thin skin or actual deep blows) and quickly, honestly, authentically integrate the experience and its effects into your life... instead of dwelling on it.

And maybe I'm making things up to soothe my mind for being emotionally vulnerable, but I think I do better with resilience. And, in my mind, I have enough to make up for the fact that I get hurt more often. I might have the same wounds from a passing sarcastic remark as I do from an exploding friendship. But in both cases I can go think about what happened, try to understand what the other people are going through, process my own feelings, try to distill something to learn and apply, and move on... in close to the same amount of time. A massive personal trial sent from God stands at about the same level of healing needed as the trial of meeting someone new who pushes me aside.

Which makes me think that maybe emotional vulnerability isn't a bad thing. Maybe I end up learning a lot from my experiences because I have to heal from them. Maybe it makes me into a better person. Maybe I'm crazy... but it makes sense to me. Learning how I'm hurt - regardless of source - over time makes it easier for me to understand myself, and people, and to hopefully avoid inflicting the same harms.

I don't know yet how to accurately portray the fact to others that, as far as emotions go, I'm a self-healing robin's egg, or doll made of paper-thin crystal. Touch me, and I'll break... but it's ok, because it always happens, and a few hours later I'll be whole again. I think that people who see that side of me wonder. "David seems like a really put-together guy. Why does he react so deeply to something so irrelevant?"

I don't know. Communicating it with others will probably be a process of learning. Lots of trial, lots of error.

But being willing to admit it to myself is probably the first step.

1 comment:

  1. I completely disagree with you. EMotional vulnerability means you leave yourself open to actually feeling things, like love, and being able to share intimately, emotionally, with another person. Thick skin just means nothing anyone says to you bothers you. huge difference from what you think the two mean. Sorry if I misread and got you all wrong.


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