woman with narcissistic rage

Have you Experienced Narcissistic Rage?

If you have been the victim of narcissistic abuse, then I am sure you are well familiar with the narcissists “rages”.  Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth.  The rages can take two forms: explosive and pernicious, or passive-aggressive. The explosive and pernicious rages are highly volatile outbursts which may be verbal or physical, whereas the passive-aggressive rages are more likely to be experienced when the narcissist withdraws into sulky silent treatment as a means of punishment.

It is a mistake to confuse narcissistic rage with anger, although the two may be similar, there are differences.  The narcissist can be triggered into an extreme rage by something that would normally only provoke angry feelings in another person.  For example, they can fly into a rage by something that would appear relatively trivial in other company; such as disagreeing with them, or preventing them from carrying out their desired wishes (no matter how grandiose their fantasies are).  In fact, any time you accidentally (or deliberately) trigger any (conscious/unconscious) shameful feeling, the narcissist will go into a predictable rage.

After a rage, you probably find yourself going over the sequence of events in order to put your finger on what caused the eruption, and you just don’t get it.  If you are going to create more safety for yourself while in a relationship with any narcissist, you need to fully understand what triggers this bizarre behaviour, and why it happens.  That way you may be able to avoid triggering the narcissist’s old shameful history, and live more safely.  You must remember also that you are not responsible for these rages, what you are seeing is a narcissists automatic response to shame.

So, what is it that causes narcissists to rage?

The root cause of narcissistic rage in NPD, it would seem,  is the combination of unmet needs in early developmental stages along with an invalidating environment and a highly sensitive temperament.  Rage is a primitive emotionally immature child-like expression of thwarted needs and/or (actual or perceived) invalidation at best.  These unmet needs and unfulfilled mastery of critical emotional development lead to primitive relational styles that are driven by triggered and fragmented reality that plays out through cognitive distortions. Essentially these cognitive distortions are the re-playing out of past unresolved conflicts that are present subconsciously.

The 7 Levels Of Anger

For most people, anger goes through several levels of emotions, each level requiring a certain level of control.  They actually exist on a range of extremities, from mild all the way to severe,  however, anger is very subjective and differs from person to person.  According to psychology (Adam Blatner), there are seven levels of anger:-

1 Stress Feeling angry subconsciously but not demonstrating it.
2 Anxiety Anger shown through subtle clues.
3 Agitation Displeasure is shown without blame.
4 Irritation A little more displeasure to elicit a response.
5 Frustration Anger with a scowl or harsh words.
6 Anger Anger with loudness of speech and expression.
7 Rage Losing temper and getting into a rage; aggression.

It appears that the narcissist does not go through the 7 stages like other people do.  For anybody who feels brave enough to test this theory out, you only have to scratch the surface of their ego,  and it is highly likely that you will meet that RAGE.  So why is that?  It would seem that the narcissist’s unrealistic inflated self opinions make them prone to their uncontrollable rages . We can see that inflated self played out in their grandiosity and exhibitionism. Their rage appears to be caused by any threat to their egotism, and the rage acts as a strong impulse to erase that threat and maintain their self image of superiority. To the narcissist rage is a perfectly appropriate response when they experience any threat to their view of self.

For the narcissist, narcissistic rage has become a source of protection

An over-compensation, and an extreme and primitive style of attempting to defend oneself against more actual or perceived shameful pain.  A protection that the task-master-false-self requires in order to keep the true self and others at bay in what are re-enactments of past pain, abandonment, rejection, invalidation and/or trauma.  It would seem that narcissists are in a CONSTANT state of rage, repressed aggression, envy and hatred that is manifested outwardly in yelling, screaming, name-calling verbal abuse, throwing things, breaking things, even physically abusing others.  It is also manifested inwardly by many narcissists who self-harm (i.e. cutting; burning; scalding; stabbing; banging heads and other body parts against walls etc).  However, these behaviours are effectively controlled most of the time. The rage manifests itself only when the narcissist’s defences are down, incapacitated, or adversely affected by circumstances, inner or external.

Narcissistic rages are not reactions to stress

But rather based on the underlying fear of not getting their needs met, a fear so great that it will endure even after the threat is gone (Vaknin).  Because the narcissist is hypervigilant to narcissistic injury, he is constantly on the lookout for slights, insults, criticisms, or disagreements (real or imagined), all of which are experienced by him as complete and humiliating rejection, to which he will automatically and instantly fly into a rage.  The raging narcissists usually perceive their reaction to have been triggered by an intentional provocation to cause them injury, or prevent them from accomplishing their grandiose fantasies.  Their response to such insult and injury is to detach from the person, direct his rage towards the person in a cold and aggressive manner, and to devalue the person as they go; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust.  This rage impairs the narcissist’s cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations with punitive and hate-filled malice. It’s believed that narcissists have two layers of rage. The first layer of rage can be thought of as a constant anger (towards someone else), and the second layer being a self-aimed wrath (towards themselves). Two specific identified forms of narcissistic rage are explosive and passive-aggressive. The explosive form being an obvious anger, for example, damaging people or property, and being verbally abusive. The passive-aggressive sort might be sulking or giving their target the silent treatment (bullying). The narcissist can become enraged to the point of being homicidal especially if he has the need to seek revenge. The rage is usually short lasting, but can cause devastating problems for the person to whom the anger is targeted towards.

Having little to no emotional skin, the narcissist is ultra-sensitive, and often experiences things in overly intense ways that are personalized.  The absence of a True Self leaves him enmeshed in anyone he chooses as his narcissistic supply.  When the narcissist is enmeshed he uses the individual to inflate his identity, sense of value, worth, well-being, safety, purpose, and security; in short, his entire sense of wholeness is now coming from that supply person, and not a True Self.  The reality of this state of being is that it does not allow for any individuality, wholeness, personal empowerment, and healthy relationships with either himself or the supply person.   The narcissistic supply person is totally unaware of the situation, believing that they are having an equal two way relationship.  Inadvertently, whatever the supply person feels, does, says, or doesn’t do or say somehow gets perceived by the narcissist as being about him, or as somehow directly affecting him.  This is all very well as long as what is being perceived brings positive reinforcement; however when it has negative content for the narcissist, he feels betrayed, victimized and enraged. This leads the narcissist to be in tremendous and very real intra-psychic pain. The result of this unfaced, unfelt, unacknowledged pain is an automatic defensive self-defeating protective, isolating rage.

The lack of personal boundary between a self and others

is the essence of the broken mirror of Narcissistic Personal­ity Disorder. When a narcissist looks into the mirror of self (which is the absence of a known self) he sees reflected back who and what others are or are not, this causes the narcissist to re-live the learned helplessness of past real or perceived victimization.   With his True Self dissociated or disconnected he feels abandoned, rejected, invalidated, and drowning in alienated loneliness, and he turns to his rage in order to intimidate and control others in ways that attempt to mitigate his own pain and his own responsibility for that pain (Mahari).   Unfortunately, when the narcissist’s rage, they violate the rights and trust of others, confused and upset, the object of their love begins to move away from them.  This sends them further into a rage because their whole identity requires attention in order to survive.  Their rage reaches it height, and they want to kill off the source of their pain, this they do in a number of ways, which will generally end in a character assassination of the person.  Then the spiral begins all over again with the hunt of a new source of supply.  In effect the narcissist’s rage is self-defeating as it leaves them feeling more loss, guilty and worthless.

The addiction to rage serves many of the double-bind needs of the narcissist

Their raging is their way of screaming for attention because it is all about them, their wants, needs and desires.  Unknowing to them, the rage sends out a dual message, which is, “Who the f*** do you think you are, don’t you dare cross me”, while the actual message is, “Please don’t get upset with me, I’m frightened, I am scared I am going to lose you”.  Rage is their effective way of getting what they think they deserve.  Their rage frightens people, seeing the fear on others’ face makes the narcissist feel that they have won, so they feel even more powerful and in control of the situation, and this also satisfies their sadistic nature.  The rage supports and covers up their cognitive distortions, fragmentation, dissociation, arrested emotional development, their black and white thinking, their false self, their grandiosity, their need for attention (even if negative),  their need to be right, and their lack of empathy.    In short, the narcissists “rage” houses the actions necessary for the narcissist to defend himself against his hostile world (i.e. splitting, devaluation, projection, projective identification etc), however, these defences, like a double-edged sword, render any closeness or intimacy impossible, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The Narcissist is not only addicted to rage

They have a whole arsenal of multi-addictions that helps them maintain a sense of greater self-cohesion in their own mind, all are designed to preserve  their false inflated self by obliterating, medicating, and manipulating reality. Without such strategies, life would be too hard to bear.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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