Do people ever accuse you of being thin-skinned?
If we have developed borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a result of our traumatic childhood, then one of the main symptoms we are likely to have developed is difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Most often, too, part of this difficulty resides in the fact that we are likely to be extremely thin-skinned.
Our being thin-skinned can, most frequently, be explained by our having experienced severe negative attitudes expressed towards us as children (most commonly by a parent or primary carer), rejection, abandonment, emotional abuse, or some combination of these.
Thus, in an unconscious, desperate attempt to protect ourselves from further psychological pain, we become hypervigilant and hypersensitive in connection with being on the lookout for further signs that someone may be a threat to our psychological welfare by emotionally hurting us.
Rather like a dog who has been regularly beaten, we ‘snarl’ at (or ‘run away’ from) anyone who remotely seems to represent such a threat lest they harm us like we were harmed before.
Do Those With BPD Imagine Others Are Behaving Negatively Towards Them When, In Reality, This Is Not The Case?
Do people with BPD constantly imagine slights against their character when, in reality, such slights have not occurred? In fact, this doesn’t seem to be the problem (or, if it is a problem, not the main problem). Rather, people with BPD, due to their hypervigilant state when interacting with others, perceive real negative attitudes towards them that others may not be perceptive or sensitive enough to pick up on or let pass over their heads.
The problem from here is often how those with BPD react once they have picked up on such negative attitudes.
How Do Those With BPD Tend To React In Such Situations?
In such situations, those with BPD tend to be very easily offended and feel intensely hurt and misunderstood; this can then lead to becoming highly emotional or, as a form of self-protection, detached. Unfortunately, neither of these reactions tend to be useful in terms of resolving the situation; indeed, such reactions most often serve only to compound the BPD sufferer’s interpersonal difficulties.
Taking Things Personally And Low Self-Esteem :
If we suffered significant childhood trauma, we are at greater risk as adults of suffering from psychological difficulties, including low self-esteem. And, if we have low self-esteem, we are particularly vulnerable to being hurt by others who criticize us and negatively evaluate us; to put it in colloquial terms, we may be ‘thin-skinned’ and prone to ‘taking things personally’. Research has shown that people who have gone on to develop BPD as a result of their childhood trauma tend to have highly unstable self-esteem (i.e. prone to wild fluctuations) and that this is closely linked to affective instability (one of the main hallmarks of BPD). Indeed, unstable self-esteem, research suggests, may be an even more powerful indication that a person is suffering from BPD than emotional dysregulation and frequently remains a problem even in the case of those who are in remission from their BPD (Santangelo et al., 2020).
So what can we do to stop taking things personally? Below you’ll find several suggestions :
Methods We Can Use To Help Us To Stop Being Thin-Skinned And Taking Things Too Personally :
- understand that, often, those who criticize and negatively evaluate others do so because of their own problems – they may be inadequate, unhappy, frustrated, angry, etc and displace (take out) these feelings on you or project their own shortcomings onto you (displacement and projection are defense mechanisms.
- if a person criticizes you and you feel s/he might have a point, try not to be defensive, but, instead, see if it’s possible to learn from what’s been said and then, if necessary, make changes rather than waste energy on feeling bad
- related to the above is the fact we are complex and, often, contradictory beings who make mistakes and that the mistakes that we make are just one aspect of us that does not define who we remember that even the most popular people will always be criticized and disapproved of by some – nobody garners universal admiration, respect and approval
- remember that not everyone has to approve of you all the time for you to live a contented life; self-esteem is based upon what one thinks of oneself, irrespective of what others think. Allowing others to control how one feels about oneself is to give away power to them that need not be relinquished
- real progress in society is very frequently made by those who are prepared to go against the grain irrespective of making themselves unpopular; this is a virtue, not a fault and demonstrates the strength of mind, character and possession of the courage of one’s convictions
- ask yourself if you may have misinterpreted the situation. For example, if someone seems uninterested in what you’re saying, it may be that they’re preoccupied with their own concerns and not a sign you are boring them. Or if someone you know passes you in the street and seems to ‘blank’ you, could it be they simply didn’t see you?
- realise it won’t benefit you (quite the opposite, in fact) if you ruminate on the perceived insult/slight/criticism etc.
- realize that whilst you cannot control what others think, you CAN control how you react to what they think
- if you have done something wrong remember that, even if you have not been able to stop thinking about it, this does not mean others are thinking a lot about it too – they have myriad other things to worry about and what you do is unlikely to be central to their concerns and thought processes
- develop self-confidence
REFERENCES:Santangelo PS, Kockler TD, Zeitler ML, Knies R, Kleindienst N, Bohus M, Ebner-Priemer UW. Self-esteem instability and affective instability in everyday life after remission from borderline personality disorder. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2020 Nov 24;7(1):25. doi: 10.1186/s40479-020-00140-8. PMID: 33292714; PMCID: PMC7684893.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)