On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

I have discovered that in growing older, people tend to get more thin-skinned. It sure happens to me.

I can’t walk by a rose bush without the thorns leaping out and snagging my arm or my hand. They never make a nice, neat, even cut. It’s always some kind of an ugly tear. I’m usually not aware of the wound when it actually happens, but after awhile, I really feel it–especially if it gets infected in some way. Sometimes, I notice the blood. If I’m repairing something around the house, undoubtedly before I’m finished I have to find a rapidly decreasing supply of bandaids in order to keep from redecorating the house and my clothes with pretty red spots.

Sometimes, I feel as if I need some of my wife’s makeup. That comes to mind if I’m walking by a table or desk with a fairly sharp corner. Invariably, the sharpest point jumps out and snags me. I don’t pay any attention to it at the time. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but shortly thereafter, I discover a purple bruise about the size of what used to be a silver dollar.

Something else I’ve discovered. Getting thin-skinned isn’t just a problem of aging.

With any age group, the problem can be much more psychological than physical. Some young, some old, seem to set themselves up in such a way that their egos get bruised, their feelings get hurt, their self image gets distorted by a very real loss. They don’t notice the bump immediately, but they start trying to figure out what happened, and the result is a massive, dollar size purple spots on their egos. Or, if the bump is particularly sharp, it makes an ugly tear where they live.

Sometimes, their perceptions are accurate. Only humans practice cruelty. Perceived slights may or may not be reality based. There is, after all, the old saying: Just because you’re a little paranoid doesn’t mean some people really aren’t out to get you. What people do to us, however, isn’t what makes us thin-skinned. It’s our perception–the meaning we give to the event that earns us that label. Sharp words which seem like rose thorns may actually be the problem of the sender of the message. Somehow, we often work to make their problem our problem.

I’ve noticed that psychologically thin-skinned people try to protect themselves against anticipated problems. They have received some kind of a wound in their past–maybe when they were only three or four or five–maybe when they were in adolescence–may be even later. Something really hurt them. Something hard or sharp. Something unexpected. They felt it deep, but instead of dealing with whatever that issue might have been, they turned to self protection.

Now, they begin to construct some kind of body armament designed to make sure none of their blood gets spattered ever again. Sometimes, they turn to bandaids and try to stem the flow with measures designed for lesser wounds. Sometimes, that bandaid is simply to run away. After all, they had been hurt–undoubtedly true. They decided it should never happen again.

By selecting the running away bandaid they adopt the approach that they will, first, be less threatened, and second, that the people they believe have caused the hurt will be punished with their departure. Sadly, the first is impossible. The second is true. In the process of living out this expectation of future hurt they became less approachable, less desirable company, and the self-fulfilling prophecy they constructed gets validated. No one ever gets close. Therefore, they feel isolated, slighted and reminded of that old hurt. They seem to have forgotten that the term “bandaid” is a metaphor for an inadequate fix.

Judging by the bandaids I see on the arms of others in my age group, I’m not going to solve my physically thin-skinned problem. I will, however, continue to work on that other part of me which could tend to become thin-skinned.

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