Narcissism (or Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is a diagnosis given to individuals under the classification of personality disorders. Narcissists are extremely selfish and self-centered people who are capable only of thinking about their own issues regarding power, prestige, and personal adequacy. They have little to no empathy, cannot understand the problems of people around them, and are not aware of other peoples’ feelings. Although they act superior and confident, this actually hides the fact that they have very fragile egos. The slightest disrespect or challenge can quickly lead to the development of a furious rage in them.
“Narcissistic rage” is a term coined by Heinz Kohut in his book The Analysis of the Self when it was published in 1972. It occurs when the narcissist perceives he is being personally “attacked” by someone else. Grandiose self-worth, vanity and entitlement are basic characteristics of this disorder; when these are challenged it often leads to narcissistic rage. Narcissistic rage is a reaction to” narcissistic injury”- a perceived threat to their self-worth or self-esteem. Their rages can be of two types: explosive or passive-aggressive. The explosive rages are just as they sound- explosive, volatile outbursts which may be verbal, physical, or both. The passive-aggressive rages are exhibited as withdrawal into a sulky, silent treatment as the means to punish the offender.
Do not confuse anger with the narcissistic rage. Anger is a natural reaction when exposed to provocation. Anger occurs from a rational cause and dissipates when one is able to express it. The fuming rage the narcissist feels is different from the anger that people usually feel; it is either irrational or severely blown out of proportion from an insignificant remark or action.
Narcissists need constant admiration, attention and compliments. They live with the illusion that they are perfectionists and that people revere them. That makes them dependent on other people to keep their self-esteem high. Therefore, any challenge, mildly negative remark, or disagreement from another person is considered criticism, rejection and even mockery. They take these personally as an assault or betrayal and lash out at the person who provoked them. Narcissistic rage often results in physical and/or emotional abuse.
Causes of Narcissistic Rage
- 1. Challenge to their Confidence: People with narcissism often place unrealistic demands on their partner or children. These demands are frequently challenged by the person in the relationship. When challenged, the narcissists’ brittle egos are unable to accept the idea that they were wrong or seen as imperfect. They turn this into a personal attack and respond with rage toward that person to regain their sense of superiority.
- 2. Injury to Self-Esteem: When a narcissist’s shortcomings are pointed out by someone, they feel an overwhelming sense of shame. The narcissist then lashes out toward the person who pointed out the shortcomings. The rage is executed to seek revenge upon the accuser. The need for revenge results in explosive rage and does not die down until the narcissist feels the person was dealt appropriate punishment.
- 3. False Sense of Self: The narcissist has a false sense of self. Underlying this false sense of self are feelings that he is not loveable for who he is or what he offers in relationships. When a lover or partner begins to feel doubts about the narcissist, that is when the narcissistic rage surfaces.
Types of Narcissistic Rage
- Explosive: Narcissistic individuals have a violent outburst which can be both verbal and physical in nature. [Self-harm: Some narcissists like to manifest their rage by inflicting injury to themselves by cutting, burning, stabbing, etc.]
- Passive-aggressive: The other way of expressing rage is passive-aggressive behavior where the narcissists do not harm the victim physically or mentally, but punish him passively (sulking, silent treatment, pretending they are invisible).
Narcissistic Rage Cycle: The 7 Stages of Anger
Rage is a primitive, immature child-like expression of thwarted needs and/or (actual or perceived) invalidation. For most people, anger goes through several levels of emotion, each level requiring a certain level of self-control. According to psychiatrist Adam Blatner, there are seven levels of anger:
- Stress Feeling angry subconsciously but not demonstrating it.
- Anxiety Anger shown through subtle clues.
- Agitation Displeasure is shown without blame.
- Irritation A little more displeasure to elicit a response.
- Frustration Anger with a scowl or harsh words.
- Anger Anger with loudness of speech and expression.
- Rage Losing temper and getting into a rage; aggression.
It appears that narcissists do not go through the 7 stages like other people do. The smallest infraction will send them right to level 7-rage. Why is that? Their rage seems to be caused by any threat to their ego, and the ensuing rage acts to erase that threat and maintain their self image and feelings of superiority. To narcissists, rage is a perfectly appropriate response when they experience any threat to their view of self.
After being the victim of a narcissistic rage, you will probably find yourself going over and over the events that happened in order to try to pin down what caused the outburst-and you probably just don’t get it. However, if you choose to stay in a relationship with a narcissist, for your safety, you need to fully understand what triggers this behavior and why it happens. That way you may be able to avoid triggering the narcissistic rage and create a safer environment for yourself. Remember, too, that you are not responsible for these rages; what you are witnessing is the narcissist’s reaction to feelings of shame.