How to Deal with Narcissistic Rage?

Narcissistic rage is one of the classic behaviors of the narcissist. Most narcissistic victims have experienced serious outbursts of narcissistic rage which can include violent physical attacks, hysteria, screaming and verbal or emotional abuse.

Narcissistic rage covers a wide range of behaviors from aloofness or mild irritability to serious, physically violent attacks. A narcissist often makes unrealistic demands on those closest to them. These demands are often challenged by their partner, family member, or colleague. The narcissist has a fragile ego that cannot stand to ever be wrong or viewed as imperfect, therefore the narcissist responds with feelings of rage and contempt toward the challenger. When challenged or slighted in the least, the narcissist perceives these as outright attacks on him and reacts with rage toward that person in order to regain feelings of superiority and assuage his self esteem.

What is ‘narcissistic rage’?

“Narcissistic rage” is a term coined in 1972 by Heinz Kohut.  It occurs when the narcissist perceives he is being personally “attacked” by someone else. When his exaggerated sense of self-worth or sense of entitlement is challenged it often leads to narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage is a reaction to” narcissistic injury”, i.e., a perceived threat to their self-worth or self-esteem. Narcissistic rage can be either explosive or passive-aggressive, although most people associate the explosive type with the term ‘narcissistic rage’. The explosive rages are just that- explosive, volatile outbursts which may be verbal, physical, or both. A passive-aggressive rage is manifested as withdrawal into a lengthy, sulky silent treatment. Both are means to punish the offender. It is also not uncommon to find an explosive rage followed by passive-aggressive rage (the silent treatment).

For Kohut, narcissistic rage can also be related to narcissists’ need for total control of their environment, including “the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means”. It may also involve self-protection and preservation, with rage serving to restore a sense of safety and power by destroying that which had threatened the narcissist.

To the narcissist, the rage is justly directed towards the person that they felt slighted or challenged them; to observers, the rage is irrational and unjust. The fuming rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.

There are several differences between anger and narcissistic rage. Anger is a natural reaction to a frustrating or annoying event. Anger occurs from a rational cause and dissipates after expressing it. The volcanic rage the narcissist feels is different from the anger that people usually feel; it is either irrational or severely blown out of proportion (for example, significant rage as a reaction to an insignificant remark or action).

Therefore, any challenge, disagreement or even mildly negative remark from another person is considered criticism, rejection or mockery. Narcissists perceive these as an all out assault or total betrayal, and go to war with the person who dares to do that to them. A mere slight is apt to result in shouting, screaming, and making absurd accusations against the victim for having such atrocious intentions and actions.

Narcissists utilize “projection” during their rages. They accuse the victim of being selfish, inconsiderate, jealous, dishonest, or conceited but what they are actually projecting is their own feelings of inadequacy in those areas.

Narcissists can, and often do, contradict themselves in the same breath. Sometimes they claim they said something which they did not actually say, blaming the victim for not listening. Or they do actually say something but claim they never did.

What NOT to do

Don’t respond to narcissistic rage.  If you react in any way to their rage, it will continue to escalate. You can never “win” an argument with a narcissist, because by their very nature they are irrational. If it looks like they will follow you to keep verbally assaulting you, just listen to them until they sputter out.  Don’t try to engage them verbally. If they escalate to where it looks like they may become physically- violent- get out.

Do not rage back. Almost any response you give -other than completely agreeing with what the narcissist says- is going to fan the flames. Raging back is a sure-fire way to escalate the situation quickly.

Do not believe that anything you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, will change the person or the situation.

Do not try to use logic or reason as this will simply prolong the altercation. There is no room for your opinion or point of view. Don’t try to use reason as they are irrational; trying to further explain something just stokes the fire and lengthens the confrontation.                          

                               REMEMBER:  The rage is not about you, it is about the narcissist.


Tips for dealing with the rage

If your narcissist is raging, then you have (or someone has) wounded their self-esteem. Nothing will bring them relief until you have been punished for that deed. The punishment may include screaming, ranting, verbal or emotional abuse, and may even escalate to physical violence. Depending on the situation and relationship, you may be stalked, harassed, abused or even attacked until they feel you’ve suffered enough for hurting them.

In most situations of rage, it’s better to either defuse the narcissist’s anger or walk away from the fight. It’s important to pick your battles with a narcissist (not usually during a rage) and to wait for a time where there is a better chance that the narcissist will listen to you, rather than you responding impulsively during one of their rages.

How do I AVOID the narcissist’s rage?  Leave, and physically distance yourself from them as far away as possible. Then ignore any and all attempts they make to contact or communicate with you, or to engage with you in any form or fashion. They may try intervening with a third party or using social media. Do not fall for it. They are masters at baiting and reeling people back in.

If you cannot leave, or choose not to leave, here are some tips for dealing with it:

Establish your boundaries. Firmly state your boundaries and then leave the room, get out of the car, or walk away if at all possible. (Example: “I do not allow myself to be treated this way or spoken to like this. I’ll be glad to talk to you about it when you’re calmer.”)  They may follow you, still screaming, but stick to the boundaries you’ve stated. If you do this consistently, they will learn that their rage attacks won’t work with you.

Learn to be calm for your own well being. Meditation is a very effective way to slow down your breathing, racing thoughts and anxieties. It also creates a sense of detachment from the narcissistic drama. If you can’t physically distance yourself, you can mentally and emotionally distance yourself.

Learn to not overreact to the narcissist’s rage. That is what he/she wants you to do. The action of ‘no reaction’ to their rage is powerful and keeps you in control of the situation.

Accept the narcissists view for the moment.  Back down without being obvious (which would just make him or her more enraged) and you can defuse the rage by agreeing with the key points for the moment- until a calmer time when you can actually discuss the issue. Try to understand the mindset of the angry individual (he’s hurt and lashing out, he’s feeling insecure, etc.).

Create distance. Remove yourself physically from the drama by going to another room, office, outside or the car.

Speak softly, don’t threaten or challenge.

Ask for time to think about what he is saying or try to come up with a win-win solution.

Remember the rage is not about you, it is about the narcissist. No matter how much he blames you, remember WHY he rages—it is about him and his perceptions. Everything is always about the narcissist. When you can operate from that point of view, it is easier to deal with the rages and other issues a narcissist brings to a relationship.