“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” —Paramahansa Yogananda
Psychologist Stephen Johnson writes that the narcissist is someone who has “buried his true self-expression in response to early injuries and replaced it with a highly developed, compensatory false self.” This alternate persona to the real self often comes across as grandiose, “above others,” and self-absorbed.
Narcissistic rage can be defined as intense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression when a narcissist experiences a setback or disappointment, which shatters his (or her) illusions of grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority, and triggers inner inadequacy, shame, and vulnerability.
Examples of narcissistic rage range from intense outbursts and sudden fits of anger, to passive-aggressive acts such as simmering resentment, icy silence, deliberate neglect, or cutting sarcasm. What distinguishes narcissistic rage from normal anger is that it is usually unreasonable, disproportional, and cuttingly aggressive (or intensely passive-aggressive), all because the narcissists’ wants and wishes are not being catered to. It is a blow to their superficial, idealized self-image.
(It is important to note that not all angry outbursts are narcissistic. There may be other factors at work, such as chemical imbalance, head injury, drugs and alcohol, etc.)
Below are eight scenarios when narcissistic rage often occurs, with references from my books, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists, and A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self. Whether at home, at work, in social interactions, or in day-to-day activities, narcissistic rage may occur when:
1. The narcissist doesn’t get his or her way, even when it’s unreasonable.
2. The narcissist is criticized in some way, even when the critique is made diplomatically, reasonably, and constructively.
3. The narcissist isn’t treated as the center of attention, even when there are other priorities.
4. The narcissist is caught breaking rules, violating social norms, or disregarding boundaries.
“How dare you talk to me this way in front of my son!” —Angry customer being called out for blatantly cutting in line
5. The narcissist is asked to be accountable for his or her actions.
6. The narcissist suffers a blow to his or her idealized, egotistical self-image (such as when being told he will not be given “exception to the rule”, or be granted “special treatment”).
7. The narcissist is reminded of his or her charade, manipulation, exploitation, inadequacy, shame, or self-loathing.
8. The narcissist feels (fears) not in control of their relational or physical surroundings.
In each of the cases above, narcissistic rage is utilized as a manipulative tool on the outside, and a pain-avoidance device on the inside. Like a spoiled child who throws a tantrum when not catered to, the narcissist attempts to use their “rage” to coerce their targets (victims) to give in. At the same time, the intense “drama” distracts the narcissist from the inner pain and inadequacy of not constantly worshipped on a pedestal (narcissistic supply). The narcissist falls apart, psychologically and emotionally, at the prospect of not being “special,” “unique,” or “above others.”
The heavy price many narcissists pay for their “rage”, as well as for their narcissistic behavior in general, may include one or more of the following:
1. Family Estrangement – Multiple studies have examined the relationship between narcissism and difficult family relationships.
2. Relational Dissolution & Divorce – Research has also shown the tremendous negative impact narcissism has on romantic relationships and marriages.
3. Relationship Cut-Offs – Since narcissists “use” rather than “relate”, they tend to leave many broken relationships behind. Narcissists also experience relationship cut-offs from others feeling let down, disappointed, lied to, used, manipulated, violated, exploited, betrayed, ripped-off, demeaned, invalidated, or ignored.
4. Loneliness and Isolation – Due to the first three factors described above, most narcissists have few, if any healthy, close and lasting relationships. Some higher-functioning narcissists achieve external success in life – at the expense of others – and find themselves lonely at the top.
5. Missed Opportunities – From a lack of true substance and/or connectedness.
6. Financial, Career, or Legal Trouble – From rule breaking, gross irresponsibility, careless indulgence, or other indiscretions.
7. Damaged Reputation – From personal and/or professional lack of credibility, reliability, and trustworthiness.
8. Deep-Seated Fear of Rejection / Being Unimportant – This is the core of narcissistic rage. Many narcissists are constantly hounded by the insecurity that people may not see them as the privileged, powerful, popular, or “special” individuals they make themselves to be, and react intensely when their fears are confirmed. Deep down, many narcissists feel like the “ugly duckling”, even if they painfully don’t want to admit it.
Can a narcissist change for the better? Perhaps. But only if he or she is highly aware, and willing to go through the courageous process of self-discovery. For narcissists no longer willing to play the charade at the cost of genuine relationships and credibility, there are ways to liberate from falsehood, and progressively move toward one’s Higher Self. For those who live or work with narcissists, perceptive awareness and assertive communication are musts to establishing healthy and mutually-respectful relationships.