Riding the Rollercoaster of Narcissistic Rage

It’s true, recent events have made me quite angry. I have grown up in a world where differences have been accepted, even if sometimes with a raised eyebrow, and the mantra “live and let live” seemed sound enough for most to live by. But now things seem to have changed a lot, in a very short time and I feel lost, as if something I took for granted has gone. This is both distressing and annoying to me. I am of course referring to the rise of far-right ideas and how many of them seem to be taking centre stage in Europe and the USA.

My response to this anger is one shared by many: frustration expressed over drinks with friends; sharing memes on social media and switching off the TV news or worse, a tad of impotent shouting at the radio are all testament to my feelings. I have even been known to fall out with some people temporarily but that it the extent of my raging. However sparked, in most people, anger and rage are normal occasional emotions and pass quickly with equilibrium being restored. But not so with narcissists.

A narcissist in a rage is like the child in a sweet shop who wants something and can’t have it. Now, whilst a normal child will protest to varying degrees and relatively quickly move on, there is the child who is “stuck”. This child, to the embarrassment of its parent will scream the whole shop down, turn red in the face or even blue if it decides to hold its breath and cannot accept the word “no”. In the worst case, they will beat their heads / hands to hurt themselves and become unresponsive to any attempt to engage with them. This analogy is a representation of what it is like to experience narcissistic rage, only this does not happen with toddlers, but adults!

Symptoms of Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists have a relatively weakened self-esteem and according to Freudian analysts, when they perceive themselves to be under attack – for example if their true motives for their actions becomes known or someone “sees through them” – they will become defensive.

Whilst defensiveness is a normal reaction to being under attack or threatened, theirs is disproportionate to the injury – like the child raging over a sweet – and can vary from a studied from of aloofness to an uncontrolled rage which will range from verbal sideswipes to even murder.

What is more alarming is that it can become all-consuming. A narcissist in a rage can fantasise about revenge at the expense of their real life. Relationships and material success can all be forgotten and sacrificed. Sometimes husbands, wives, children may even be forced to ride the rage rollercoaster as unwilling passengers in a life controlled by another’s anger too. A narcissist, for example, can still demand justice long after most other victims will have given up and moved on. Revenge and justice can become their purpose. The psychological term for this is “dysregulation” an inability to control or maintain normal emotional functioning. This may be a very modern interpretation of what Freud termed “The Narcissistic Scar”

This rage is entirely necessary to them because they must maintain control of “the thing” which matters. It might be a perception that someone is undermining them, taking their glory, doubting them. It doesn’t matter what the particulars are, it is all about them and their perceptions. They feel under attack so they will defend to the end.

Why Narcissistic Rage ?

Heinz Kohut the noted psychoanalyst made some observations about narcissism and anger. He suggested that unlike most people narcissists are incapable of mature aggression or the mentally healthy response of assertiveness but instead are “stuck” at an earlier stage of emotional development. The rage stems not from the kind of anger we experience daily but from a reaction to unmet need – the need for affirmation. And it is personal. Whereas you and I might get angry about cruelty to animals or a cause, a narcissist is only capable of raging about what hurts them

It is because a narcissist has low self-worth that in order to scaffold their fragile ego they must destroy anything which they believe to be attacking their self-construct. They are hypervigilant too, looking for those who would hurt or undermine them. Rather than being what they appear, an incentive bully, they are really sensitive to insult and pain.

At the same time, they are driven toward perfectionism which is worthy of comment and praise from others as this is the only way they can measure their self-worth. This is because their internal sense of self is damaged or void and t is only by damaging others that they feel relatively more worthy. In this context rage is an effective response because it is scary and does the job nicely since few would choose to experience it twice. It is a brave woman or man who will tackle a raging narcissist since it must be like poking a wasp’s nest with a stick. In a domestic setting, it must feel like walking on egg shells. When a narcissist experiences the reactions to their rage, they get a boost and feel better

Riding the rollercoaster

Narcissists can become addicted to rage. In the same way that some mentally injured people can use self-harm, drug and alcohol addiction to self-medicate a narcissist can become addicted to the effects of rage. Whilst they might look like a raging bull, they are really a lonely, afraid, child crying because they want to be loved. The only kind of feedback they can “feel” however, isn’t a hug or love but the fear on the faces of those they take with them on their narcissistic rollercoaster of rage and it is a powerful addiction

  • As a recovering narcissist who suffers from
    NPD and BPD I find this website very helpful in understanding what those around me experience. This article in particular includes some very important components to the function of narcissistic rage. Specifically the sections dealing with the narcissist’s hypersensitivity to perceived insult, and their drive towards perfection; constantly looking for praise. Some (most) are not conscious of why they are doing it – unfortunately. And, I’d like to point out that not all are unable to care about anything except for what affects them. I also don’t agree that we necessarily become addicted to the rage. It serves a purpose – it’s a blunt tool. The addiction is actually to the praise, love, etc that we are unable to provide for ourselves. That is why awareness and self-love are the two keys to recovery. But, nevertheless, having recently “relapsed” into a bout of narcisstic rage with someone close to me, I appreciate this article. It was helpful for me to read.

    • Way to go for trying to figure out what it’s like from the other side. I have been questioning within myself for a few years now whether it’s my SO who is narcissistic (or something similar) or whether it’s actually myself. I’ve suffered from mental illness since a young age, so I question if it’s possible that I was just misdiagnosed when I first got help. I read these types of articles, and am still unable to form a conclusion. While I know my SO has done some terribly awful things (cheated with my sister, for example, and hid the affair for over a year, convincing me while it was happening that I was delusional and paranoid instead; beaten me physically during arguments since I confronted him with evidence of the affair that was undeniable since my sister openly admitted it at that point)… I still wonder if I’m a narcissist as well (I always was a perfectionist, I was highly paranoid during that time, after confirming my suspicion, I hacked his phone several times to see if he was messaging her or someone else; when the fighting between us turned physical, I didn’t always just try to get out, but at times fought back not proportional to his attacks- or at least, the best I could non-proportional, since he’s over a foot taller and much larger than me)… but I strongly feel like if he is a narcissist, perhaps he wasn’t always one, but became one due to circumstance. I became disabled very young, and we’d only been together about four years at that point, and I don’t recall any specific behavior on his part before I became disabled. Since becoming disabled, I’ve also gotten progressively more ill. So is it possible that it was me that was/is suffering from NPD, and that he subsequently developed the disorder from circumstance?Does a diagnosis like this get missed often given that I’ve been treated for depression and anxiety since around age 12? He still adamantly denies ever hitting me (that he’s only ever “fended me off” in “self-defense”), he blames me for seeking companionship outside of our relationship because I was “emotionally unavailable”… and I can’t imagine how hard his path in our relationship has been. I’ve said before to my mother that if the situation were reversed, I don’t know that I could do what he’s done. He does financially support me, and while he has alienated everyone in my life that mattered from me, especially due to their strong feelings I should have left him a long time ago, strong feelings it’s all my fault and I should stay, or as my Daddy said (the man who mostly raised me, who I think is most disappointed in me, and who loves his “son”) that I’m a “big girl” and I need to make my choice and live with it either way (there’s no family holidays obviously, and my friends disappeared long ago), that fact alone makes me wonder if I’m not better off just to stay and endure whatever mental illness we may have together. Who else would ever be desirous of a woman who’s chronically ill and unable to fully support themself? I feel so lost. So if you’d care to share how you found out you suffer/ inflict suffering (but are trying not to!) from BPD and NPD, I’d appreciate it. Thank you for the article as well. I wish I felt more confident to move towards a solution for myself- even if it means I’m a sociopathic narcissist (which, okay, yes, is a bit of a stretch since sociopaths cannot usually find effective treatment- but at least I’d have an answer!).

      • Sounds like you are an intelligent, sensitive person being manipulated. Try to have confidence in your own thoughts and seek help from a neutral source.

  • Thank you for the information. It is helpful as I am now, a year post my mother’s death, trying to understand what her behaviour was all about. I am not a professional but believe that she had severe NPD. I would particularly like to share about narcissistic revenge if I may. When I was a teenager, mom plotted revenge against dad for months on end, to get back at him for “everything he had done to her” which, need I say this, was all in her imagination only. I know what was going on in her head because for some reason she told me everything. I never understood why she confided in me, because I was the black sheep and scapegoat always, but I guess she may have had a motive with that, since she told me shortly before her death that she always thought that the two of us hated her, which does not even warrant a comment. Anyway, mom forced a spectacular revenge on dad, destroying his reputation, finances and our family all in one go by starting a nasty divorce case, including false accusations of incest, exactly when he had poured all his money into a new business which had not yet started yielding profits. She wanted to “bleed him dry.” Incidentally, the timing was bad for me too, as I needed to write final exams at school but was too deeply traumatised by all the violence (hers) and drama (hers), not to mention mom, brother and all the furniture disappearing one day without explanation. A few weeks later, she suddenly reappeared, because “the lawyer said” her case would do better if I moved in with her. It took me 40 years to understand that she actually abandoned me at age 16 – but then a legal point made the difference. I was nothing more than a pawn in her plot. She had no clue that I was traumatised and continued to be for years. During that same period, she accused me of “destroying her life” and that she would “pay me back even if it took a lifetime”. To this day I have no idea what I have done, but that threat petrified me all my life and I eventually broke physical contact. The final chapter in this revenge tale is that, after her death, we discovered that mom kept diaries for years, until dad passed away two years ago, to keep detailing all her grievances against him, even though they had been divorced for several decades. I don’t know if other NPD people cling to their resentment for such a long time, but my mother did and she made herself very unhappy for decades, all of it based on delusions. In the end, she died a lonely, impoverished and bitter person. Strangely, though she had never shown me any real care, I have been very sad, knowing that if she had been normal we would have been the best friends in the whole world, and that she had once been a beautiful, talented young woman who could have had all the happiness in the world, including a loyal and loving husband and three loving children. A footnote to the revenge thread: Mom willed her estate, a humble property with ramshackle house, to the grandchildren, I guess to punish her own children, possibly for mostly avoiding her over the years.

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