Narcissistic rage is a malicious, out-of-control type of anger that seeks revenge and destruction by any means possible. This rage is often disproportionate and out of place as it can be caused by even minor or unintentional provocations.
If narcissists feel their pride has been wounded in some way, they feel entitled to destroy their victim psychologically and/ or physically.
Anger is an emotional response that has an evolutionary purpose; by increasing stress hormones in the body, such as cortisol and adrenaline, anger can protect us from potential threats.
Thus, although anger can also be harmful, it can be appropriate at times. Rage is different. It is excessive, ego-driven anger that often results in physical and/or psychological violence.
Research has found that narcissistic rage is a response to a narcissist feeling their entitled and grandiose self-image has been challenged. It stems from narcissistic vulnerability – their fragile self-esteem.
Their need for external validation means they become enraged by the person who exposed their flaws or questioned their superiority.
In This Article
What Does Narcissistic Rage Look Like?
Narcissistic rage can be explosive or scheming but the aim is always to restore their dominance and repair the damage they perceive has been done to their ego. Explosive rage can include screaming, threats, physical aggression, breaking or throwing things, and other furious outbursts.
But narcissistic rage can also be passive and include silent treatment, withdrawal and avoidance, hostility, and passive-aggressive comments (e.g. “I’m not angry” but continues to act distant and cold).
Narcissistic people also tend to hold grudges and make schemes for revenge, carefully planning how they will hurt the person who slighted them.
Victims of narcissistic abuse describe it as unpredictable and terrifying, and that it often happens without warning or any obvious provocation.
Personal Account of Victims
Below Are Some Examples of Narcissistic Rage Taken From a Qualitative Study:
“. . . he was always mad for no reason. He was always physically abusive when we argued. One time he sat on top of me and headbutted me on the nose because he saw a text I sent to a friend that he was “mentally ill.” I cried and panicked but he said it was my fault and later on showed remorse and started playing the victim.”
“In the end the rage was huge, violent, scary and lots of threats of killing me and my children. I mean he threatened to burn me and my children alive”
“The minute I stood up against him or he felt he was losing control he would get aggressive and violent . . . once we were arguing and he knew he was losing the argument so he grabbed the iron, held it two inches from my face and said “I will burn you and nobody will ever look at you again.”
Here Are Examples From Another Study:
“The other years we would only argue. I even cut my hair, he would pull it. If I don’t agree with him or say I don’t know if he asks me something, he beats me up … I think he was going to kill me in the end; I was getting beaten every week.”
“I think you know the story of a woman who was murdered by her boyfriend. He told me to read this story. I read the story … . That’s when I like, started panicking around, I didn’t even trust him. I was even afraid to go outside because he’s jealous.”
Examples of Passive Narcissistic Rage:
“He is degrading to and about anyone who doesn’t agree with him and he is very vengeful to those who refuse to conform to his desires”
“It got worse after our first son was born, because he was no longer the centre of my attention. I actually think he was jealous of the bond that my son and I had”
“He tells endless lies and elaborate stories about his past and the things he has achieved, anyone who points out inconsistencies in his stories is cut out of his life”
What Triggers Narcissistic Rage?
Narcissistic rage is triggered by “narcissistic injury” – when a narcissistic person feels they have been slighted, are losing control, or are not getting what they want.
Narcissists have an excessive need to be in control of their environment and other people and feel entitled to their unconditional attention and admiration.
When these needs are threatened, their reaction is often extreme and they either become enraged or passive-aggressive.
Often the victim is not even aware of the reasons but it is usually triggered by one of the following situations:
They Do Not Get Their Way
The narcissist may want to watch a particular program on television but you are currently watching something else.
If you do not give them the remote, they might burst into a fit of rage, threatening and shouting, or storm off and sulk for the rest of the day.
They Are Not Getting Enough Attention
You are sitting at the table with a group of people and your friend is telling a story, which everyone is intently listening to.
The narcissist at the table will become angry (because they are not the center of attention) and either leave, visibly roll their eyes or yawn, and/ or insult the person talking.
They Feel They Are Losing Control of the Situation or People
If you answer back or do not do what they ask, they may feel they are losing control over you. Or, if they do something clumsy and people laugh at them, they may feel they are losing control of the situation.
In both scenarios, a narcissistic person will feel their pride and superiority have been hurt and lash out as a consequence.
They Are Criticized in Any Way
You might tell them they are wrong about something or let them know that their behavior has hurt your feelings.
But even when the criticism was accurate or delivered in a gentle and constructive way, the narcissist will feel that their grandiose sense of self has been questioned.
Challenges to Self-Perceived Authority
A narcissist wants others to acknowledge their dominance and superiority. They feel they know better than everyone else so if this is challenged, they can become angry.
For example, your manager explains a work-related issue but they get something wrong and you correct or challenge them.
If they are narcissistic, it is likely they will punish you by becoming angry, giving you the silent treatment, or jeopardizing your work.
They Get Caught Out
You have discovered that your partner has been lying or cheating and confront them about it. They become angry saying “how could you accuse me of such a thing” and blame or gaslight you, for example, “you are always so jealous”.
Fear of Abandonment
A narcissist’s fragile ego means they need the admiration and approval of other people to feed their self-esteem.
If you threaten to leave, actually leave, or “abandon” them in any other way, they might become verbally or physically abusive, try to ruin your reputation (known as “character assassination”), and/ or act in passive-aggressive ways.
How Do You Respond to Narcissistic Rage?
If you are confronted by narcissistic rage it can be shocking, frightening, confusing, or even infuriating. It understandably causes an emotional reaction in the victim, which can, however, exacerbate the narcissistic rage.
Narcissists thrive on attention so even when it is conflict, they are getting what they want and feel they have power over you. Therefore, the best way to respond is to remain calm and not react.
Here Is More Advice on How to Deal With Narcissistic Rage:
- Mask any emotional response: do not roll your eyes, sigh, or argue back
- Set strong boundaries to protect yourself e.g. you end the conversation or leave if they shout, insult, interrupt, or threaten you
- Respond with logic and keep emotions out of it
- Do not seek revenge or “play them at their game”
- Do not defend yourself, rationalize, or apologize
- Remember that you are not responsible for their anger – it is the narcissist’s vulnerable ego
- Call the police if you are concerned
- Debrief with a trusted friend or family member
- Go to therapy
- Avoid contact with narcissistic people altogether (if possible)
Can Narcissistic Rage Be Fixed?
Narcissism and narcissistic rage are difficult to treat or “fix” because narcissists feel entitled to behave in the way they do and rarely seek help for their condition.
However, there are treatment options available if the narcissistic person is willing. People, especially narcissistic people, do not change unless they want to. They first have to accept their faults and then work hard to change faulty beliefs and aggressive behavior.
A mental health professional or therapist who has experience with narcissism can help the narcissist to understand their condition and the consequences of their behavior.
The intensity and duration of therapy depend on the severity of narcissism, which can range from moderate (some narcissistic traits) to significant (many narcissistic traits) and severe (narcissistic personality disorder; NPD). The higher the level of narcissism, the higher the chances of narcissistic rage.
Therapeutic interventions for narcissism should have a strong focus on self-reflection and building an understanding of the causes of narcissistic beliefs and behaviors.
Schema therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for personality disorders because it helps the person understand how their personality has developed and how it manifests in the present day.
Mentalization-based therapy (MBT) is another effective treatment for personality disorders. Mentalization refers to “an ability that helps make sense of one’s own and others’ states of mind regarding desires, intentions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors”.
MBT helps the person develop the capacity to think about how other people feel and think – to have empathy – which is often lacking in narcissistic people and can lead to violent behavior.
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