From the early 1990’s onwards Mel Gibson was the golden boy of movie land. From modern day action hero and romantic lead in the Lethal Weapon franchise, via classical inaction hero in Hamlet to double Oscar winner for Braveheart, Gibson could seemingly do no wrong. But by the early 2000’s his star had definitely waned and it wasn’t due to the loss of his boyish good looks since his action hero status, comic timing and his skill at directing should have seen him as safely and successfully through the male menopause as his contemporary, Denzel Washington has been.
No, what has been Gibson’s downfall, has been his tendency to rage abusively at individuals, ethnic minorities and most shockingly against women. Despite his recent directorial success of Hacksaw Ridge and a powerful performance in 2016’s, Blood Father, the 2000’s have been lean years for die hard Gibson aficionados waiting to see him on the big screen. What is worse, Gibson was deliberately bated and recorded by ex-lover Oksana Grigorieva who then released the tapes much to the delight of “The bottom half” of the internet. His rage knows no bounds and shows a man who must underneath it all be very smart, clearly sober, totally unable to control himself.
Now whilst Gibson is no more a narcissist than any other Hollywood celebrity who craves fame, adulation or attention, he certainly illustrates rage and its roots in insecurity and possible threats to sexual or social dominance. The emotions being so powerful, they overwhelm.
The causes of narcissistic rage
Rage is an intense anger where a person loses control of themselves, their words, thoughts and indeed their whole physicality. It is frequently accompanied by physical violence. The loss of control in physiological terms at least, is akin to the “fight of flight” reaction. Fight or flight is a very important survival mechanism if you are in a hostile environment where you are hunted as well as being a hunter. The hormone adrenaline floods your body and makes your senses and muscles highly tuned to any threat and that split-second decision for fight for your life or run. The problem is that the mechanism is still there and adrenaline floods your body when a threat is detected. However, nowadays the fear does not often come from wild animals but anything which attacks our sense of security.
Narcissists are over sensitive to threats because their ego is fragile. This means an innocuous comment on something can spark disproportionate rage. For example, in the case of Steve Jobs, a perceived negative comment on one of his apple products, sales figure projections or his presentation could provoke a very public rage which he was powerless to quell. It is important to remember, that this was not a choice but a physiological reaction to a “faulty” perceptual problems.
What is self-directed rage?
Narcissists don’t generally harvest a lot of empathy or sympathy from people. Their behaviour generally doesn’t warrant it. Lashing out at family, friends and business rivals and extreme loss of control are, after all profoundly unattractive (If you want to hear full on rage, then tacky though it may be, Grigorieva’s tapes of Mel are still available on the internet) For some Narcissists this fragility and wounded psyche does not turn outwards however, but inwards into self-damaging, self-directed rage.
Indeed, self-directed rage isn’t always visible.
In 1997, Nadine Kaslow and her colleagues did a comparative study on suicide attempts by students classified as Narcissistic and their peers. The subjects were students of which roughly 50% were classified as Narcissistic. They found that Narcissists were more likely to attempt suicide than non-narcs. They attributed this to a history of childhood loss accompanies by some recent event which had caused them to have a sense of loss. The rage they felt was not directed outwardly, but inwardly in to a deep sense of self-loathing.
Negative Self Rage
Negative self-talk too is common, although not a narcissist, Anneli Rufus’ offers an insight into the quiet cauldron of narcissistic self-directed rage. In one of her blogs she describes the self-talk she had in the middle of the night when she could not sleep. The term she used was “raging”. The one-sided conversation was full of anger and resentment of her inability to sleep and the effect that this would have on her. She describes the inner voice denigrating her appearance, how she may bore people amongst other things. Such a negative voice can become the dominant narrative in a person’s life.
As long ago as 1938, Stern suggested a term of “psychic bleeding” where there is a complete psychic collapse. A psychic collapse is a “meltdown” in the sense of self triggered by a narcissist’s fragile sense of self, (which he attributed to a lack of spontaneous maternal affection) combined with a perceived traumatic threat to their identity. The result is a complete collapse. In such circumstances the narcissist may suffer from complete debilitating depression, addiction or other forms of self-harm the most extreme of which might be suicidal ideation or even attempted suicide.
Self-directed rage is perhaps more serious than externally directed rage, at least for the narcissist. It is unpleasant to be the victim of a narcissists rage particularly if you happen to be powerless to walk away, as a child of a narcissist for instance.
However, self-directed narcissistic rage is like an orca or a croc in that it approaches silently and drags its victim down into the depths without warning and won’t let do. Those around the narcissist may not even notice it happening until it is too late and the damage done. For sure, you won’t see them raging or capturing it on tape, you may only get to read the obituary. Narcissism sucks, but self-directed narcissistic rage is worse.