Calling Bullshit on the Myth that Every Writer Needs to Grow a Thick Skin

Cave WarriorFor a long time in my life I did not admit I was a writer. It was something I was privately proud of, but I also felt it was unsafe to tell this to other people. Probably because I knew that immediate questions would follow. Oh really? What have you written? Can I read it?

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of what I had written, or that I was suffering from self-doubt (although there was some of that, too). It was that I knew it was common procedure for a writer to give her work to others and get their “valuable feedback” on it. It was widely understood that I should be seeking this valuable feedback wherever I could and using it to improve my writing. It had been drilled into me that I should read and listen to the most fierce criticism without flinching. That this would make me stronger. That all “real” writers did this and were better for it.

And that was how I knew something must be wrong with me.

I couldn’t seem to grow the thick skin that all writers were supposed to have. I just couldn’t. Every single time I received the “valuable feedback” of someone who I felt hadn’t understood my story, or what I was trying to say, someone who had no eye for seeing the potential in a budding artist and little natural empathy to encourage that budding, I felt physically ill. My stomach dropped, my face flushed, prickly waves of resistance raced across my skin. Sometimes my hands would go numb. And just as quickly as the adrenaline rush hit me, it was gone, only to be replaced by nausea and a dull thudding headache.

Then I wanted to cry. Long and hard. This is when I went into full retreat mode. My all-important goal was to get away, as fast as I could, without anyone else possibly noticing that something was wrong with me. Back to the safety of my room—or a closet or bathroom in a pinch—or even my car. Just somewhere where no one else was and no one else could see me so that I could sit and be shaky and weird and numb and cry a little if I had to.

This was my secret. I was incapable of growing the thick skin. In fact, it appeared that I was actually freakishly over-sensitive  to the point where I dissolved into a pile of big bawling baby whenever someone came down hard on my work.

How was I ever going to make it as a writer if I couldn’t deal with the type of slash-and-burn commentary the editor’s red pen was famous for? If I couldn’t ever learn to take the cold (and sometimes cutting) comments of my creative writing professors?

I couldn’t even get my body  under control when I felt anything near discouragement circling around my writing. There was no way I was going to magically be able to turn off my super intense emotions.

If you are an empath, an INFJ, an INFP, a healer, an Idealist personality type, a Highly Sensitive Person, or emotionally intuitive in any way, I know that you have probably experienced the very same symptoms I did when faced with harsh criticism on your writing. The racing heart. The dry mouth. The trembly feeling in all your limbs. The clenching, burning knots in the stomach. Not only are these symptoms uncomfortable, they’re really embarrassing. When you have this type of emotional reaction to getting feedback on your work, it tends to make you feel like you’re about three years old and just wet your pants in front of everyone at school.

What took me so long to figure out was that I could not help my intense emotional reaction to harsh criticism of my work. And “harsh” has many meanings. Sometimes it’s easily categorized as feedback that isn’t constructive at all, and instead is blatantly unfair. But many times feedback can come across as “harsh” to a Sensitive Intuitive if we feel that the reader doesn’t understand our story, doesn’t empathize with our characters, or doesn’t “get” us  as people.

The sad thing is that most Sensitive Intuitives will blame themselves and continue to bash their head against the wall trying to grow this absurd thick skin that they think will solve everything. But because of the way Sensitive Intuitive writers are biologically wired, if they are successful in growing any semblance of a thick skin, they will effectively shut down their own power source. Because what they’ve really only succeeded in doing is blocking their heart center, their very own light.

If we don’t have full and unrestricted access to our heart center at all times, we will be unable to write, period.

If you’re interested in learning more about why the thick skin doesn’t work for Sensitive Intuitive writers and what they can do to move forward without it, you might be interested in checking out my book: The INFJ Writer. It’s not only for INFJs, but also for any writer who is an intuitive personality type (INFP, ENFJ, ENFP), an empath, or HSP.

Once you start finding out more about who you are and how you tick, finding the strength to do good creative work is going to get so much easier. And you’ll also discover that one can be a warrior, and still be sensitive.

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