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