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How Narcissism and A High Emotional Pain Threshold Ruins Relationships

You grew up surrounded by narcissists. They hurt you frequently. So frequently that your heart was seared. The pain rolled off like water-off-a-duck’s-back almost before you realized that, yet again, you’d been wounded. Talking back was swiftly and severely punished. So you learned to swallow all the pain, all the insults, all the hurt.

It was a coping mechanism, however unhealthy, that helped you survive narcissistic abuse.

But now? Well, this High Pain Threshold has outlived its usefulness. Previously, it protected us from pain. Now, it’s causing us pain.

Wait…Was I Hurt!?

Do you even realize that you’ve been hurt?

Or does it take several minutes…hours….days or even weeks before you say, “Wait a second! That was mean! That was hurtful! How could they say that!?!”

Yep, that’s how I am too.

My auto-pilot is set on “Keep the Peace.” I’ve laughed off the insult before I even realize I’ve been insulted. In the days of my narcissistic abuse, this method served me well. Calling the narcissist on every pain, every insult would’ve availed little. “You’re too sensitive. I was just teasing,” they said. So I learned to cope.

Playing Innocent

There were a few times I spoke out to say, “That hurt me.” But it’d take me at least twenty-four hours to think the situation over, very carefully, before I spoke out. I’d consider if the pain of wounding the narcissist was worth it. I’d consider if I was in the right. I’d consider if I was just being too sensitive. I’d consider if I was being prideful, stubborn. I’d consider if I deserved to be wounded.

Unfortunately, this delay meant that the narcissist didn’t remember the hurtful thing they said when I finally called them on the carpet.

But sometimes they feigned shock and innocence. I’ll never forget being in my late twenties and having a parent actually say, “You are sexual, whether you know it or not.” I know. What a weird thing to say! I think it’d have been less painful to be slapped across the face.

But I took my time. Thought it overly thoroughly before I told them, “That was so painful. Don’t you EVER say that to me again.” And they were so surprised. Shocked that their words had been hurtful or inappropriate.

How I wish I’d spoken out when, the same parent, turned to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re not married so you can’t get pregnant. Pregnancy is so dangerous.” To this day, I shake my head that anyone could be that insensitive, that cruel. Here’s the kicker! They considered themselves to be “so empathic!

Friendship Sabotaged

We narc-survivors are fantastic actors and actresses. I do believe we deserve Oscars for our lifelong performance entitled No, It Didn’t Hurt.

Unfortunately, this can bite us in the ass when we meet new friends. At some point, they’ll hurt us…either inadvertently or purposefully. Our knee-jerk laugh-it-off reaction is so well-honed they have no clue that they’ve hurt us.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re acting unhurt when we’ve actually be hurt. That’s when our coping mechanisms sabotage our friendships. Suddenly, hours, days or weeks later, we remember this event or that statement. Our memory is flooded with all kinds of hurts, slights and taken-advange-of scenarios. The hurt we didn’t feel back then comes flooding in followed closely by resentment.

It’s a pattern that, looking back, has been repeated over and over in our lives. We don’t know we’re hurt. Suddenly, it hits us. And the friendship founders.

Keeping Current

In any relationship, foot will be shoved down esophagus and hurt will occur. It’s inevitable. Naturally, it behooves us to pursue relationships with people who are careful not to wound our emotions. I’m blessed that my husband is one such person. We both have been hurt so much in life, we’re very careful not to wound each other.

But I’m convinced that “keeping current” is the only way to keep friendships from foundering on the rocks of hurt feelings. For example, last week my friend was telling me about her midwife. “She’s middle-aged, right around your age,” she said. Well! At the age of thirty-seven, I’m simply not ready to hear that I’m middle-aged! So I looked her right in the eye and said, “I AM NOT MIDDLE-AGED.

That was a triumph for me. Five years ago, I would never have spoken up for myself. Yeah! I’m learning! And I bear her no resentment because I addressed the hurt immediately and we had a good laugh about it. (Wait, am I really middle-aged!? Yikes!)

Pain Threshold

So, how high is your emotional pain threshold? What pains have you swallowed in an effort to keep a friendship going…only to have that relationship fizzle and die from resentment?

Are you in a relationship with someone who wounds you frequently? If so, why?

Can you express your pain to your partner without them getting all defensive and playing innocent? If not, they might be a narcissist.

Are you willing to give yourself permission to have a “knee-jerk reaction” in response to pain, insults and put-downs? Are you willing to “keep current”? That’s the only way to keep relationships and friendships from foundering on the rocks of resentment.

Photo by Racchio

How Narcissism and A High Emotional Pain Threshold Ruins Relationships

Lenora Thompson

For five years, "Narcissism Meets Normalcy" has followed the real-life, ongoing story of freelance writer, Lenora Thompson, and her readers’ healing journey from narcissistic abuse to healing, peace and happiness. In August 2020, Lenora launched a new blog, "Beyond Narcissism…And Getting Happier All the Time" as she and her readers explore the new world of peace and happiness. "Beyond Narcs…Get Happy" is 100% reader supported! To learn more about Lenora, her husband Michael’s heroic fight against Pulmonary Alveolar Proteinosis and to subscribe to her other writings, please visit Thank you!

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APA Reference
Thompson, L. (2017). How Narcissism and A High Emotional Pain Threshold Ruins Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Mar 2017
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