To Be More Joyful: Get Thicker Skin

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This is a continuing series about ways in which we can become more joyful. If you missed previous posts or find that you’re still too crabby, go back to the beginning of 14 Ways to Be More Joyful.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I remember being five or six, listening to my dad tell me that. And I’ve heard him tell my boys that, too. I didn’t believe him then, nor do I now. While it is a wonderfully, hopeful sentiment, unfortunately, it’s just not true.

Photo Source: Gemsling

Words do hurt. Sometimes quite terribly. And words — ours or someone else’s — can get in the way of a joyful life. Each of us knows this experientially as well as intellectually.

OK, I have met a few stoic women in my time and it certainly appeared that nothing broke through their cold exteriors. But, those few aside, I think we can all admit when our lunch, our evening, our day, our week has been tanked by someone else’s unkindness.

Or we can confess the multiple times when we misunderstood someone else’s actions and woefully overreacted.

While we may not be able to stop someone else’s actions and reactions, there are some steps that we can take to prevent them from raining on our parade.

Get Thicker Skin

Now, I’m not saying to become like one of the aforementioned stoics, don’t get such thick skin that you miss out on emotions and compassion and even a little pain. Those things grow us and shape us and make us more into who God wants us to be.

But many of us could stand to toughen up a little bit and make a conscious effort not to be upset by the things that don’t matter.

Photo Source: Jesslee Cuizon

1. Consider the source.

Is the person you’re talking with your friend? Are they “for you?” Are they looking out for your good or are they looking to cause you harm?

True, those are tricky questions to answer sometimes. But, think about them and assess the motivation behind the words.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Proverbs 27:6

Hopefully, being reminded of their love for you can soften the blow and make it easier for you to overlook or forgive if they’ve been in the wrong.

2. Weigh the words.

Is it possible that the criticism or complaint is true? Can you look past your feelings to see if you can grow in this moment?

Too often we jump to the defensive instead of considering the truth of the words that hurt. They might not have been spoken in the best way. But, I think when we pray for understanding and are willing to listen to reason, we can weed through the insult and find the wisdom.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.

Proverbs 4:6

The truth hurts sometimes, but we can be the better for it.

Photo Source: Joguldi

3. Be okay with disagreement.

It happens all too often that we take offense when someone does not agree with us. Political affiliation, your stance on health care, breastfeeding or bottle? There is a wealth of things to disagree about!

  • Perhaps we think that they don’t approve of us.
  • Perhaps we are not super confident in our decisions and a dissent rattles us.
  • Perhaps we just like to be right.

But, let’s be honest, unless we live in a cave or don’t have any strong convictions about anything, we will ruffle feathers and have our feathers ruffled. Get a grip on this reality.

Reasonable minds will disagree in a nice way. Let’s not allow our passions for our cause prevent us from treating others with basic human respect.

I’m not saying “be okay with other people’s lame ideas and go along with them to get along.” Rather, I’m saying, let’s allow people their opinions and not resort to name calling and insults because they don’t think the way we do.

4. Fear God only.

We can spin our wheels about how we’ve been offended, how we’ve been reprimanded at work, how we’ve been wrongly judged. But, truly, no one’s opinion matters as much God’s. Run to him with the problem. Ask for help. Pray for wisdom and comfort. And fear Him only.

I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass,

that you forget the LORD your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
Isaiah 51:12-15

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words shouldn’t hurt as much as they have.

Don’t let words get the best of you. Think on what is true, trust God, and let your skin thicken up — just a little.

How do you prevent others’ words and opinions get the best of you?

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  1. Thank you very much for this post! I had a horrible meeting at work today and walked up feeling defeated and personally hurt. I just happened upon your posting (I’ve taken some time off from the internet for a bit) and I’m glad God lead me to your blog first. At first still be hurt I thought “thicker skin?” What? Why can’t the person just stop being mean. I spent some time in prayer and reading the passages you mentioned and I felt God taking away my hurt. I’ve decided to understand that my co-workers and I will always disagree and that I must consider the source. You helped me see that and hear God’s word. Thank you!!

  2. I like the agree to disagree point. My relationship with God is personal so I tend to completely understand that other people will have a different relationship with Him or be at a different point in their relationship with Him(or even choose not to have that relationship). I don’t have a conventional relationship with Him from many traditionalists’ viewpoint. And that’s okay. It works for me and Him.

    That being said when something persistently bothers you in a relationship then maybe it’s time to re evaluate the relationship. Relationships are supposed to be a give and take proposition. There should be a certain level of respect involved. When you can’t resolve differences or see things like a lack of respect for a different perspective sometimes it is best to cut your losses and move on.

  3. My Nana started something with me when I was a little girl that I didn’t quite understand the full meaning of then and then my Mom carried it on with me as well. It was a “pity party”. If something was really bothering me, something that I just couldn’t let go of… they would let me get it out but then at the end of 10 minutes, they would announce “pity party over”. They didn’t mean this to belittle my feelings, but rather to say, you’ve dwelled on this long enough, now move on. Setting a limit in a concrete way early on has continued on. I give myself a small amount of time to dwell on, think on, feel something and then purposefully put it aside.

    I am really enjoying your blog and the thoughtfulness behind your words. Thank you for this post and others!

    1. @Beth, love the end of the pity party! Great idea.

      The phrase I tell my kids is “Pity parties are never well attended.”

  4. Thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom. You are investing in our lives and our joy and I really appreciate it. I’m thankful you posted the link back, I have been on vacation and preparing for school and haven’t been spending my usual time reading blogs. I look forward to reading the rest of the series I missed.

  5. I realized long, long ago that if you have a pulse and live around other humans, you will be judged and criticized at times.

    This used to really eat at me, it made me a very shy and inferior child.

    I finally came to the same conclusions you have mentioned…

    *Considering the source – do I really care what this person thinks?
    *Is there something here to learn? Weeding through the insult to the truth of their words.

    Good stuff, Jessica! I also agree that sometimes you just need to agree to disagree.

    Everyone won’t like me all the time, that’s ok. Chances are I won’t like them either. But we can live in peace, be kind and stop gossiping.

    Great post!

  6. Thank you so much for this reminder—the consider the source is very important as is it’s okay to disagree.

    I’m wondering if it is okay to print this off? Tape it to my mirror

  7. This is a great reminder. We can’t control what others say, but we can control how we react. I definitely do not have thick skin, and so this is something I can truly take to heart and hopefully start to apply! Thanks!

  8. I love the “consider the source” item. I always like to think that the venom that they are spewing is more about them than me. That’s their issue, not mine.

  9. Thank you so much for these reminders. I’m always telling myself to let it go like “water off a duck’s back.” 🙂 Unfortunately, I take too much personally. I am going to be working on these things. Thank you so much!