“Some people have decided not to be sensitive. They have grown thick skins around them just to avoid being hurt by anybody. But it is at great cost. Nobody can hurt them, but nobody can make them happy either.” –Osho
I cannot get this quote out of my head today. It was in my newsfeed last week and now it is stuck, swirling around in my brain. It is exactly what I have been thinking for months now, but just couldn’t put into words.
I have always, always, always been told I am too sensitive. From my days as a gawky prepubescent girl with glasses and a Dorothy Hamill haircut, through the years I was a perpetually heartbroken teenager, all the way to today. I have been and still am, too sensitive.
I don’t mean in the ‘I cry at Kodak commercials’ kind of way, although I do that too, so yes, let’s add that. I mean that it is almost impossible for me to not take things personally, to not worry about what someone thinks of me or what I have said or done. I spin stories in my head that are based on nothing and largely untrue. I can spend a whole night with What If and What About and wake up in the morning with a Worry Hangover like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t help it, it’s what I do.
So what about this quote? Why has it struck such a chord?
Because I have always wished I had thick skin. I wish I could turn it off, not care, turn and walk away with my head up and chin strong. I would like it to be as easy as deciding not to eat Brussels sprouts, but it is not. I don’t know that there is really a cure. I know that despite all the years and relationships, tears and triumphs, it is easy to fall back into old habits, and I do so more frequently than I would like. But I wish I could be one of those people that just decides ‘I’m done with you’ and walks out of your life and feels nothing. Wouldn’t it be easier to be like that? Aren’t those people better off? They don’t have a care in the world! Right?
After a recent talk with a friend that did not go well, I sat stunned at the dinner table. I could not fix what she was feeling. I could not understand what she was upset about and she could not explain. I was apparently a sideline casualty of another issue that had nothing to do with me. I found it hard to end the conversation, to stop trying to fix it, to hold the tears in that had started to balance on my lashes. But I had to stop it. I had to stop apologizing for something I did not do, stop begging for a friendship that she cared so little for, and stop letting my happiness depend on someone else. (Now that is right out of the textbook isn’t it?) So I did. I let her go, let her hang up mad, and I have not reached out since (but I have wanted to). And I cried, just a little. Okay, maybe a fair amount. But when it was done, I felt a shift inside. A boundary had formed. My skin had thickened. That was progress, right?
Now she is not the first friendship that has not stood the test of time, and certainly won’t be the last. But this was different. I said all I could, I said what I needed to, and I left it all on the table. That was a first for me. When I hung up the phone, I was done, and I would not build any more stories in my head or worry one more second about what I could have done, what I should have said, or what else could have been going on with her. I was just done.
I weakly confided in my husband several days later that I did not feel any better for it. I did not feel accomplished or proud of myself. I did not feel like I made it to some adult milestone, or that from here on out things would be better, or easier. It did not make me happy. In fact, it made me sad in so many ways. I felt like not only had I lost a friend, but I had lost a piece of myself. I don’t want thick skin full of callouses and scar tissue from old wounds that never healed. I don’t want to wear it like armor throughout my life, walking into each relationship and interaction as if I were heading into battle. I do not want to look for the wrong in every situation, every person I meet or every word they say.
I think that is the part of the quote that had me…’Nobody can hurt them, but nobody can make them happy either.’ It’s so true.
I passed her the other day in the store. She dodged my eyes, made a half attempt at a wave and kept walking. This person that had been like my family, was now no more than a stranger. And for a few minutes, I felt the tears burn my eyes, felt my chest tighten, and I almost called out her name. She can still hurt me. When I consider the alternative, I think that is just fine.