Last week, when I wrote about the conflicting opinions you often get as a blogger, Charlotte asked how I deal with those situations when they crop up. 

I actually have another post planned on how to deal with contradictory feedback (because I apparently have a LOT to say on this subject!), but the question got me thinking about how I deal with criticism in general, and I think, “not very well,” is probably the honest answer to that, really. In fact, dealing with negativity is one of my biggest challenges as a blogger, and it’s something I still struggle with, even although I know I should really have it all figured out by now.  I’ve been blogging for a long time, after all: I know perfectly well that people aren’t always going to just shower me with praise, and I even know it wouldn’t be particularly good for me if they did.  I also know there’s an expectation that bloggers – especially ones who’ve made blogging their career – be able to deal with criticism: to accept it gracefully, and even to learn from it, when it’s valid.

I’ve always struggled with that, though: not because I think I’m so perfect that everyone should love me unreservedly, and consider me to be above criticism, obviously, but because… well, because I’m me, basically. I get hurt easily – too easily, in fact. When I was a little girl, and people would do that whole, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me!” thing, I’d just roll my eyes in frustration, because OF COURSE words could hurt me! Actually, words could hurt me more than any playground spat or tug of the hair, and that’s still true today – although I should probably add here that I can’t remember the last time I actually pulled anyone’s hair. Ahem.

how to deal with criticism

The fact is, critical comments affect me much more than I’d really like to admit (er, even although that’s exactly what I’m doing here.) They have the power to ruin my whole day: no matter how “nicely” phrased they are, or how reasonable the person seems to be. Honestly, you’d think that 10 years of blogging would’ve knocked the over-sensitivity out of me by now, but nope, not a bit of it. I like to think I’m a little better at dealing with it, and there ARE some comments which simply make my eyes roll, rather than water, but those negative comments still sting way more than they should. Even the constructive ones have the ability to send me spiralling into a pit of self-doubt, which it’s almost impossible to climb out of. It might be just one comment, but one is all it takes, and before I know it, I’ve convinced myself that that one person speaks for EVERYONE, and that I should just stop blogging now, because I’m obviously SO BAD at it.

Now, this is irrational, obviously. I know that, too. Just because ONE person doesn’t like my outfit, or my writing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a terrible outfit, or that I’m a bad writer. For some reason, though, I find it REALLY hard not to think it does. My natural instinct is to believe every word the person has written, and to want to change everything just to please them – even if they’re the ONLY person who’s ever expressed that particular criticism, and even if other people have directly contradicted them. Even if I don’t know the person, and have no reason whatsoever to trust their opinion, I will take it to heart, and want to change the way I dress, write and live my life – because someone on the internet said so, so it MUST be true!

 

There’s a certain dress I love, for instance, but which I no longer wear, because someone once said it didn’t suit me, and now that’s all I can think of when I go to put it on. Another dress went onto eBay when I got a comment telling me it, “looked like a hospital gown”: and the fact that there had been plenty of comments disagreeing with that person didn’t make a whit of difference – the dress was ruined for me, so I sold it to someone who I hope was able to wear it without having anyone analyse how it looked on her.

There have been quite a few items like this over the years, and it’s not just the internet that’s to blame, either: I remember one day I stopped to take outfit photos en route to my in-laws place, and when we got there, my mother-in-law’s ex-partner said, “How did you get those trousers on, Amber? Did you have to spray them on?” Needless to say, I didn’t publish the photos I’d taken, no matter how many times Terry tried to assure me they looked just fine, and the trousers went into the “donate” pile as soon as I got home.

Why do I take these criticisms so much to heart? Honestly, I wish I knew. It’s not like my former father-in-law was some kind of style guru, after all, and there’s nothing to indicate that the people who comment on my blog are, either. (Er, present company excepted, obviously. YOU look awesome!) That person telling me I shouldn’t wear that dress, for instance, might be sitting there wearing something I wouldn’t think suited her, either: so why should I take her opinion seriously? Why should I feel like I have to make changes just to accommodate a taste that isn’t mine?

I do, though. All the time. In real life, as well as on the internet. Even if I don’t agree with the criticism itself, the fact that someone felt the need to be negative towards me will bother me for hours. “Why did that person feel she HAD to tell me she didn’t like my dress?” I’ll fret. “Why did she think I’d want to know that? What was the point?” And then I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking, “What if she’s right, though? What if I DO look terrible in that dress?” I might wear it again, but I’ll never feel the same about it – and I definitely won’t put the photos on my blog.

 

Of course, I shouldn’t be writing about this. It goes against all of the received wisdom on blogging, and how bloggers should deal with criticism. Mostly, the advice dictates that we should be totally impervious to it: maybe even grateful for it, because all publicity is good publicity, right? If someone cared enough to comment – even if it’s to list all the things you’re doing wrong – then at least you know they CARE, and rather than being hurt, you should read their comment and think about how it can help you be better: or that’s the idea, anyway. “Everyone’s entitled to their OPINION!” people tell you. “You just need to grow a thicker skin!”

And that’s it: that’s the sum total of the advice people have to give to those of us who blog about our lives/our outfits/ourselves. That we should basically be immune to all criticism and negativity (whilst simultaneously being super-receptive to it, obviously…):  that we should not have any feelings to get hurt in the first place, but that, if we do, we should do our best to hide them, because we brought this on ourselves, really – we “asked for it” by “putting it out there”. An argument straight from the, “but she was wearing a short skirt!” school of victim-blaming, if ever I heard one.

Here’s the thing, though: I DON’T have a thick skin. And I don’t really WANT one, either.

I don’t have a thick skin. And I don’t really want one, either.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: it would be GREAT to be able to deal with criticism better: to take the useful stuff, disregard the not-so-useful stuff, and just move on. That’s the sensible, grown-up thing to do, obviously: and I’m sure that thick skin everyone wants me to acquire would allow me to sleep a little better at night, as well as protecting me from the worst of the insults. Growing one, however: well, that’s one of those things that’s easy to SAY (especially when you’re not the one having random strangers list everything that’s wrong with you, under the guise of “just being helpful!”), but almost impossible to do. How DO you “grow a thicker skin”, anyway? Because my skin isn’t remotely thick: actually, it’s pretty damn fragile, and I don’t know how to change it – or if I really want to.

Wishing my skin were thicker doesn’t make it so, obviously. Exposing myself to negativity, in the hope that my thin skin will just toughen-up naturally over time, doesn’t seem to have done the trick either. And, as I’ve said, I’ve read all of the advice: I know that people are entitled to their opinions. I know I can’t expect everyone to be positive all the time. I know that if I’m willing to receive compliments, I should be equally willing to receive criticism. I know it comes with the territory. I know that negative feedback can be useful. I know that only ever hearing praise is NOT useful. I know that it would be boring if everyone said and thought the same thing: that it’s childish and silly to be upset because someone I don’t know and will never meet said something vaguely critical to me on the internet.

I know all of these things.

But I also know that I’m a human being, and that human beings have feelings, which sometimes get hurt.

I know that if someone came into my house and started listing everything that was wrong with it, I probably wouldn’t invite them back.

I know that, to quote from a Twitter conversation I had with Roisin last week, caring what people think of me is not necessarily a bad thing.

I know there is a way to learn how to take the good with the bad, and to not be affected by it, and I know that one day I’ll find it.

Most of all, I know that my sensitivity (or my over-sensitivity, to be more accurate) is part of who I am. I’m not saying it’s always a GOOD thing, obviously: but it’s me. It’s one of the things that allows me to write the way I do, and to say things that some people just don’t relate to AT ALL, but which make other people reach out to me and say, “Thanks for writing that: I thought I was the only one.”

Why I don't want to grow a thick skin

So, how do I stop caring so much about what people think of me? Why do I need everyone to like me, and feel hurt if they don’t? How do I grow a thicker skin?

I could just stop blogging, obviously. I think that’s what people want me to do when they say, “You shouldn’t put it out there if you can’t deal with the criticism” – as if closing down a 10-year-old business just to avoid unsolicited advice is a reasonable response. It’s not, obviously: and it wouldn’t actually stop the unsolicited advice, either – because there would always be people like my former stepfather-in-law, who’d just say it to my face, and not really care how hurtful they were being.  Stopping blogging wouldn’t help me avoid being hurt by thoughtless comments or unsolicited advice. So what would?

Last week I was talking about this with Terry, who has, at times, been firmly in the “you need to grow a thicker skin” camp. He’s  the one who reads the comments that bother me and says, “You know, I really don’t think that’s as bad as you think it is?” or sometimes, “Yeah, but that person’s being totally unreasonable: why do you care what they think?” This time, though, he surprised me with a totally different perspective.

“You don’t really need to toughen up,” he said. “If you did, you wouldn’t be YOU any more, would you? You’re one of those people who just feels too much… about everything. That must be a hard thing to live with, but it’s what makes you the person you are. And how would you write about things if you didn’t FEEL things?”

I think he’s right. I spend a lot of my time wishing I was tougher: wishing I was one of those badass women who just doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, and who goes through life on her own terms – doing whatever the hell she likes, and woe betide anyone who tries to stop her.

I’m not one of those women, though.

Instead, I’m one of the ones who feels guilty when she eats a piece of chocolate with a face on it, and who has a broken-down car in her driveway, because she can’t bear to part with it, even although it no longer works. That’s me. Not everyone is going to like me: but I guess I can probably live with that. I might never grow that thick skin that everyone’s so keen on, but the older I get, the less I think I want one: and the easier it gets to live without one, too.

Maybe thick skins are over-rated, anyway.

[P.S. The photo in this post was taken by my very talented mum – thanks, mum!]
33 Comments
  1. Dear sweet Amber, I LOVED this post, what a pertinent topic, and well thought through. I think people forget sometimes that people on the internet exist in real life too. I still remember a negative comment from an outfit sharing site 3 years ago, ha! What stings now is that the commenter was right, it wasn’t a good look!! Ah well, life would be boring if we stopped learning. I do wish people could just generally be nicer though, and find some positive instead of honing in on negatives. In fact that is my only bit of advice in life: BE NICE!! Xx

    1. Definitely! And I think the point about not always honing in on negatives is SO important: one of the things I’ve noticed, time and time again, is that when I DO get negative comments from people, they almost always seem to start with something along the lines of, “I’ve been reading your blog for years, and I’ve never commented before, but today…” and then they’ll go on to criticise something. Even when the criticism is valid, I always find myself thinking, “Well, if you really have been reading my blog for years, there must have been SOMETHING you liked in all of those hundreds of posts, surely?” I always find it quite sad that those people DON’T feel moved to comment on the things they DO like, but then the second I do/say/wear something they dislike, they’ll jump on it right away. There are quite a few people who ONLY ever comment in order to criticise, or offer unsolicited advice, even although they seem to read every post, and when all you ever hear from a particular person is negativity, it’s hard not to feel like it’s an attempt to bring you down, rather than to help you! But yes, I think a lot of the world’s problems would be solved if people just made more of an effort to be nice!

      1. “Most of all, I know that my sensitivity (or my over-sensitivity, to be more accurate) is part of who I am. I’m not saying it’s always a GOOD thing, obviously: but it’s me. ” Love you, don’t change. xxx

  2. I am also “thin skinned” and as I have gotten older ( I’m 42) it has gotten a little easier. My skin isn’t any thicker, but I think maybe I have become kinder to myself. I think part of what had made life sting so much was my belief that it shouldn’t.

    From what you shared, you’re also starting to embrace your sensitivity. People will still cause pain, but when I remember to be tender to myself, the hurt fades faster.

    Here’s to vulnerability! 😉

    1. “I think part of what had made life sting so much was my belief that it shouldn’t.”

      Definitely! I’m so used to being expected to feel like being sensitive is some kind of failing in me, and it makes it so much harder to deal with when you see it like that, rather than as just the way you are!

  3. I have written and deleted two comment so far because my own thin skin makes me reread them and become convinced they sound wrong…

    All I really want to say is don’t change. You don’t want to become thicker skinned. You have something valuable, the ability to be empathetic and to show that empathy in your writing. Your sensitivity and understanding of people and of yourself is the reason so many of us read your posts and feel as if you are writing about us.

    Sensitivity can make life hard at times but I have come to the conclusion over the years that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Yes, sensitive people are easily hurt but they are also less likely to hurt others.

    1. “Yes, sensitive people are easily hurt but they are also less likely to hurt others.”

      I think you just summed up in one sentence what it took me hundreds of words to say! This is SO true – and I definitely agree that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks!

  4. Dear Amber, this is the first time I am commenting on your post, even though I´ve been reading your blog (all blogs, more accurately) for quite a while. I absolutely agree that not being thick skinned can feel like such a burden one has to carry around all the time. Almost my entire life I felt like a touchy weakling for taking things so personally. But now, in my early thirties, I have finally realized that the oversensitivity has not only made me feel like a jigsaw puzzle taken to pieces when told something I didn´t want to be told, e.g. “I don´t love you. I don´t even like you,” recently, but it has also made me feel happy beyond words, as if the life has concentrated right in my own hands… So whenever it comes now… the familiar pressure on the palate as the tears are crawling upwards from the whimsical heart, I recall lyrics from a Placebo song: “Only heart that hurts is a heart that works.”  I know that an indie band is not a life guru, but still it helps me cope, helps me feel better about myself, helps me realize that when something hurts so much you think it can never be healed again, then one day, sooner or later, you´ll be happy to the same extent… perfectly, ecstatically. It´s worth it. So it´s not wrong to feel “more”. It just exhausting from time to time 

    1. “the oversensitivity has not only made me feel like a jigsaw puzzle taken to pieces when told something I didn´t want to be told”

      That’s such a great way to describe it – EXACTLY how I feel!

  5. Yes. I love this. I’ve got better at handling criticism over the years but it will still upset me (it’s one thing I hated about doing PR – people “contributing” to my press releases. MY PRESS RELEASES ARE PERFECT, LEAVE ME ALONE!). I don’t think toughening up is always a good thing; I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to be decent to one another online; why are the emotional ones always the ones who have to get their act together, not the people giving their opinion where it hasn’t been asked for?

    1. Exactly: the “but you put it out there” argument always drives me insane, as does the “well, you shouldn’t blog if you don’t want criticism”. So much victim-blaming!

  6. Thank you so much for answering my question with this post Amber! I absolutely loved reading it and I’m so glad that there’s someone out there who literally feels the exact same as me! I’m quite lucky at the moment that I don’t receive negative comments as I don’t have a very large following but if my blog does grow and I do get negative comments it will ruin my whole day just like it ruins yours.. Sometimes I wish I was less sensitive but then at the same time it does make me who I am – just like you said 🙂 I also completely disagree the whole ‘it comes with the territory’ rubbish that all these negative Nancy’s throw upon us – I find that very unfair because most bloggers start off writing about the things that they love on their blog as a place to write it all down, not as a place to be attacked for. Thank you for sharing your honesty with us, it was a very lovely post to read xo

    Char | http://www.charslittleblog.blogspot.co.uk

    1. Aww, you’re very welcome! And you’re so right: I always hear people say we shouldn’t blog if we don’t want feedback, but I don’t think I know any bloggers who do it because they actively WANT people to tear them apart. Most of us are just sharing the things we love, and trying to express ourselves somehow – I’m not saying we should expect to never be criticised, obviously, but the idea that we’re “fair game” just because we choose to have blogs really bothers me…

  7. I agree with other comments, Amber. You are unique and have a special talent both for writing and for style. I hope your confidence continues to grow. Speaking as a woman in her fifties (how did that happen!) I think confidence does grow with age and I feel less and less bothered about negative opinions of others, especially as they often arise out of jealousy or other reasons totally unconnected with those to whom the comments are directed. As far as style is concerned I am enjoying wearing what pleases me more than ever in my life, without too much concern about how it looks to other people. This is partly through learning a bit more about how to dress from the great bloggers I follow and I am grateful to you all for that! In the past I do remember being put off outfits by some remark or other but not so much now. The perks of getting older! Love reading your blog and seeing your impeccable style. Best wishes, Elaine.

    1. Thanks, Elaine! I have been finding it easier the older I get… I do still worry and get upset by certain comments, but I’m less likely to get rid of an item altogether now just because someone said something critical about it, so I’m making a little bit of progress, at least!

  8. It’s good to know I’m not the only one sentimental over cars. I’ve had mine for 15 years and I can’t seem to let her go! And I do agree, there’s nothing wrong with caring what other’s think of you. I may not care what they think about the choices I’ve made in my life, but I do want to be thought of as a trustworthy and caring person. 🙂 Great post!

  9. I am a writer (one of those boring scientific ones though – no one is ever going to laugh at anything I write for work!) and one of the first things my first boss taught me was “don’t take it personally”… Now to be fair I have “publicly” learnt how to do that – we are heavily regulated so I can resort to “well I could make that change but you might not get your drug license” but when the client rips everything I have written to shreds I still (20 years on) just want to sob! Especially when it is change for change sake!
    But you are right – I can’t really remember any hair pulling fights but spiteful things that have been said to me still smart if I allow myself to think about them (fortunately now I am getting older my memory isn’t what it was so I don’t fester over them so much any more because I cant remember who said what!). As my mother always said – “never cross on the stairs!”… er.. well she did say that but that isn’t really very helpful here is it… ah yes – “if you cant say anything nice don’t say anything at all”
    My writing does not put any part of “me” out there. I think I would be too… fragile… to cope with the sort of criticism that you so often see on blogs/you tube videos etc etc I would completely take it personally and would fall at the first insult…hurdle… So although you say your skin is too thin… whilst it does hurt you, you still keep coming back to us with more posts – thank goodness!

    1. “when the client rips everything I have written to shreds I still (20 years on) just want to sob!”

      This is such a good point… One of the things I hear a lot as a blogger is the idea that “well, if you had a REAL job, you’d have to accept criticism aaalll the time!” The thing is, though, I HAVE had “real” jobs, and I HAVE had to deal with criticism in them (although thankfully not anything like you get on the internet: I’d have gone straight to HR if a boss had started saying some of the things people think it’s OK to say online!), and I’ve dealt with it exactly the same way I do now: by trying my best to be professional at the time, then going home and bursting into tears!

  10. I loved this post, Amber! I have often thought about blogging around the idea of being too sensitive, as it is something I am often told I am. I also don’t know how exactly to become less sensitive or grow a thicker skin, but I try to reassure myself that there are benefits to giving a damn what people think about you. Great post, thank you xx

  11. I feel as though you are describing me in your post, Amber! I, too, am often thought of as being too sensitive and encouraged to not take what people say so personally. I often feel that my blogging hesitation has to do with avoiding criticism. How is it that one negative comment can overrule all the positive ones we receive? Like you many times I have desired the ability to have a thick skin, but I am encouraged by your post and it is one more reason to keep putting myself out there, to keep reminding myself that I have value to add, as many of my friends and loved ones have often told me. And here’s to our incredibly thoughtful and understanding husbands, whose moments of empathy validate the thought that it is perfectly fine to simply be who we are and not try to change. Keep doing what you are doing, Amber. You are beautiful inside and out and incredibly talented!

  12. Amber, you are brave and strong to put so much information and so much … of yourself… out onto the internet. Yep, people will make nasty comments, yep, they will hurt. Lots. Because people are people. I appreciate your bravery.
    Incidently, when I read nasty comments in news articles, blogs or anywhere, I cringe too. And they are not aimed at me.

  13. Amber, it is the vulnerability in your writing that kept me with your blog for over eight years. I admire your style, but I admire your ability and willingness to let us peek inside your life and thoughts even mor. I totally know the pit of self-doubt, which comes from ONE person seemingly confirming the fears you already had. I just really wanted to hug you reading this part, because it resonated so well with the rabbit hole of madness I visit on the regular. To make this short: You are a great writer, with amazing humor and incredible strenght (and style).

  14. I won’t reiterate all the things I said in our twitter conversation, but I loved reading this post. As another commenter above so astutely pointed out – sensitive people are less likely to hurt others – or, if they do, they’ll be unlikely to do it again! I’m glad you are who you are. It’s what makes your writing so special.

  15. I too am one of those people who has a tendency to think a person’s mean words or actions must be a reflection of me – it doesn’t matter how much someone tells me not to let it bother me, I can’t help but take it to heart. I think it’s a real shame people feel the need to ‘feedback’ on people constantly, regardless of whether or not their opinion has been asked for. It always irks me when people say bloggers should expect criticism if they dare to put themselves out there. Yes, it’s probably inevitable, but that doesn’t make it ok. Some people these days just seem to have an arrogant belief that they have a right to have their say about everything and that they’re somehow doing you a favour by telling you you’re ugly or stupid or have horrible fashion sense – basically taking the whole freedom of speech thing way too far. It bugs me so much I wrote a whole post on it a few weeks ago! They’ll justify it by telling themselves it’s better to be honest, but honesty doesn’t have to be brutal! I’d much rather be a nice person and not say anything at all!

  16. Ditto to all the comments above, especially the “don’t change”. These negative criticisms are not a reflection of you – they are a reflection of the critic. When you write about your own life and your style you are putting your baby on the line, and you hope that people will enjoy your writing style and content as it is WHO YOU ARE, and it is understandable that you feel sensitive to it.

    You have thousands of followers, including me, who love what you do. I don’t always leave a comment, but find that many of your posts remind me of something in my own experience, which I just have to share, so I think I get a sense of what you feel as you write. You write of what others are afraid to say aloud, but it triggers so much in your readers, as above. That is what makes a good writer, when your readers completely recognise and empathise with what you are saying, and we do. xxx

  17. Well, I’m a long-time lurker, first-time commenter, and I think you and the blog are ace 🙂 I’m a good test case because I’m not really that involved (don’t necessarily read every post (sorry!) and don’t read other fashion blogs at all) so I’m a bit of a “silent majority” representative, I think. You look great in your stuff and it makes me happy to read about it, and I also love the make-up for pale skin posts which was how I found you in the first place, very useful. And I bet there are hundreds of people like me. Haters gonna hate. (PS Your ex-fil sounds a teensy bit creepy tbh.)

  18. I am a fellow “over sensitive” person, and reading your blog, has made me feel better! Give it up for the sensitive souls… and I love your gorgeous sensitive Mum too, who is a very talented photographer! Excellent read! Love and good vibes xxx

  19. One thing that has puzzled me for decades is why it is so much easier to believe negative stuff about ourselves than positive things. Why does that one, probably ill-considered throw away comment, cut us to the quick, while we don’t seem to value positive comments in the same way. They don’t increase our self-esteem and keep us thinking about them the whole day or longer than we do when we are criticised. Answers on a postcard …

  20. Great blog,, I felt like I was reading about myself. I’m always told I’m “too nice” like it’s a bad thing and I know I’m far too sensitive about things. So many times I have battled with a need to have a thicker skin and care less about what others think of me, but the truth is, deep down I can’t change who I am, and if being “too nice” or “too sensitive” is my thing, then I shall embrace it.

    It’s so easy to criticise a person, especially online, but the reality is whilst you’re building up this amazing lifestyle empire of yours, the haters are probably spending their time wondering who they can try and knock down next. Thick skinned or not, you are who you are and those around you will love you for that. Continue to be you and the rest will simply fall into place.

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