narcissistic rage

WHAT IS NARCISSISTIC RAGE AND HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED IT?

If you have been the victim of narcissistic abuse, then I am sure you are well familiar with the narcissist’s “rages”. 

Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, a perceived threat (real or imagined) to a narcissist’s self-esteem. With righteous indignation and a sense of entitlement, the narcissistic disproportionate rage will be acted out against their victim. The rage is meant to wound and inflict pain on the individual, and get even for any pain or insult they caused.  

 

NARCISSISTIC ENVY

Rage can also be triggered by narcissistic envy; because narcissists cannot abide seeing others having something they do not have.   Their provoked rage is not necessarily a reaction to someone having material things only, for example, it could be that they envy the other person’s rich inner life, or their acclaim in the eyes of others, or indeed their intellect. 

But to understand the narcissist’s disproportionate rage more fully, one needs an insight into narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and shame-rage.  

 WHAT IS NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER?

 In a nutshell, the word “narcissism” roughly translates to mean, “inflated love of oneself”.   Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is the term given to an individual who displays at least 5 out of the 9 criteria for diagnosing NPD (i.e. grandiosity, need for power and control, attention, lacks empathy, sense of entitlement, envious, arrogant, etc.).

The key characteristic of narcissism is grandiosity, which leaves the narcissist with an inflated ego.  Although these individuals can be tough-minded, superficial, exploitative and lacking empathy, they are also vulnerable to shame-proneness.  Therefore, their behaviours are usually an attempt to enhance their self-image and protect their “false self” from being shamed by their exterior world.   

 It is commonly known, for a narcissist (male or female) to feel safe and secure, they require constant reflecting mirroring eyes and perfect stroking (i.e. affirmation, acceptance, admiration, etc.) 

When they do not get these needs met, the narcissist withdraws, and this withdrawal is likely to lead to danger for their targeted victim (their Narcissistic Supply).  In their withdrawal state, the narcissist is going to lose their sense of specialness, power and omnipotence; this makes them very susceptible to “narcissistic injury”.

When there is a narcissistic injury, the narcissist’s terror monster is released. The innocent victim is then likely to encounter the narcissist’s terrorising rage by way of hostility, bitterness, hatred and explosive eruptions.

 WHAT IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF NARCISSISTIC 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 to shame. 

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 the 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. According to Joan Lachkar (in her book, The Narcissistic / Borderline Couple: New Approaches to Marital Therapy): –

 “The most common archaic injury among narcissists is the mother who usurped “His Majesty the Baby” from his high chair “throne” to make way for a new sibling. Often the narcissist will spend the rest of his life in self-absorbed nostalgia, longing to recapture the early time when mommy and baby were one, living in harmony and symbiotic bliss. Any threat or reminder of being displaced by a sibling will trigger narcissistic injury.”

 The child’s repressed shaming visual (what the child sees), their auditory experiences (what the child hears), and their kinaesthetic experiences (that the child feels) are imprinted in the individual’s core memory bank.   From then on, any other similar shaming events that are experienced become attached, building into a collage of internalised shameful memories waiting to be triggered, releasing an unexpected flare-up of rage in the narcissist’s pathology.

 WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE NARCISSIST’S RAGE?

 The pathological narcissist’s spiraling rage functions to protect them against exposure to shame.  Therefore rage, the narcissist’s inflation of anger, is a secondary reaction to their shame reaction.  

When we speak of pathological “narcissism”, we are generally speaking of an individual with a grandiose self that appears egotistical and shameless.  These individuals tend to be in a chaotic state of mind, always preoccupied with protecting and preserving their false self, personal survival, self-esteem and self-worth against the unpleasant painful feeling of shame.  

 IS THE NARCISSIST’S RAGE AND DISSOCIATION INTERTWINED?

Yes, absolutely. Where there is significant dissociation (how the narcissist disconnects emotionally and physically from uncomfortable shame experiences), the narcissist can flip into a self-state of rage and aggression against their targeted offender without feeling any sense of guilt.

All their aspects for protecting their grandiose self from feeling shame are linked to dissociation; making dissociation, rage and pathological narcissism inextricably intertwined.  For example, should the narcissist feel that they are not the centre of attention, or that they are not getting their way, this will cause them to feel a sense of rejection and abandonment (narcissistic injury).  In this state, their shame-proneness will be triggered, causing them to severely dissociate and go into a volcanic narcissistic rage.  

 LEVELS OF ANGER IN HEALTHY NARCISSISM:

For most people, anger goes through several levels of emotions, each level requiring a certain level of control.  They exist on a range of extremities, from mild 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 as other people do.  For anybody who feels brave enough to test this theory out, you only have to scratch the surface of their narcissistic 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 rage.

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.

 

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NARCISSISTIC RAGE?

 The narcissist’s rages can take two forms OR two sub types:

  1. Explosive and pernicious, or
  2. 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 retreats 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). 

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 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 narcissist’s automatic response to shame.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NARCISSISTIC SHAME AND RAGE?

Shame, for the narcissist, is the intensely painful feeling of being fundamentally flawed. Shame vulnerability leaves the narcissist feeling deficient, inadequate, worthless, inferior, and unimportant.   In this way, narcissistic shame is an intense pain related to the narcissist being seen as inferior or a social failure in any way, and can severely disintegrate the narcissist’s sense of self, hence the shame-rage effect.

 WHAT CAUSES NARCISSISTS TO RAGE?

Most people know that narcissistic rage is a result of a narcissistic injury (where their self-esteem has perhaps been slighted by being ignored or treated without respect or empathy).

  The narcissistic personality, more than anything, fears rejection and abandonment.    So, when the narcissist targets a victim for their source of “narcissistic supply”, they are expected to focus completely on the narcissist and their needs.

If the victim becomes distracted or preoccupied in their own life, this will cause the narcissist to experience the painful shame of rejection and abandonment.  As the narcissist’s shame is concerned with their sense of “self”, if you distort their image of self, they will lose their equilibrium and fly into an almighty rage. 

This reaction appears to stem from their earlier experiences of failure, of not being able to evoke empathic emotional responses in their parents or other caretakers.  But we need to know more than that if we are to avoid denting the narcissist’s self-worth to the point where we put ourselves in danger.   Therefore, to fully understand narcissistic rage, we need to understand the correlation and interplay between the narcissist’s sense of shame and self-esteem.

 NARCISSISTS SUFFER FROM SHAME-PRONENESS:

Narcissists suffer from shame-proneness, and their “narcissistic rages” (when their anger is inflated) is a secondary reaction to their shame experiences. 

Shame is the source of the narcissist’s “narcissistic injuries” (any perceived threat). 

Therefore, many of the narcissist’s dramatic defences (i.e. grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, exploitativeness, entitlement, selfism, splitting, etc.) are used to ward off or short-circuit their dreaded shame-like reactions.   Unfortunately, their defences are not always successful when the narcissist is trying to gain something for the self.

 HOW THE NARCISSIST’S SENSE OF FAILURE LEADS TO INTOLERABLE SHAME:

The narcissist’s shame causes them to suffer pangs of helplessness and inferiority.  It is this helplessness that leads on to the narcissist’s violent expressions of rage that must be expunged (i.e. through concealment, disavowal, or projection).   Indeed, anything that allows them to rid themselves of the intolerable feeling of searing shame they are experiencing, and for regaining control of their environment.

In their everyday life, narcissists alternate between two extremes, Idealisation and Degradation, when dealing with “the good and bad” aspects of their self or other people.  This defense is called “Splitting”, (it is also called black-and-white thinking, or all-or-nothing thinking). 

This phenomenon can be observed in the narcissist’s characterised dramatic shifts in how they evaluate people. 

For example, one day you can do nothing wrong in their eyes (you are all good), and the next you cannot do anything right (you are all bad).  

We can see this behaviour normally being played out in children during the early stages of development, but when it exists into adulthood, it is generally regarded as a pathological defense.  

Why am I mentioning this? Because shame-proneness is strongly correlated with splitting to preserve the narcissist’s self-esteem during times of failure or inadequacy?   By splitting themselves into two (True Self and False Self, or Dr Jekyll self and Mr/Mrs Hyde self) the narcissists False Self becomes their idealised, perfect, grandiose self that is virtually shameless. 

Unfortunately, it is the misrepresented Dr Jekyll self that the victim falls for during the Idealisation Phase of the relationship, they have yet to meet the narcissist’s Mr/Mrs Hyde self which usually remains concealed until the Devaluing Phase.

 WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE NARCISSIST EXPERIENCES LOW SELF-ESTEEM?

When a narcissist experiences low self-esteem, they are more vulnerable to experience shame, and inevitably, shame follows defeat.  The narcissist’s violent emotions of anger, contempt, envy and depression can be better understood in terms of their unacknowledged shame (i.e. humiliation, embarrassment, mortification, despair, lowered self-esteem, etc), and how that shame is then transformed into their recognisable rage defences (i.e. projection, projective identification, denial, violence, etc.) whenever the narcissist cannot control their environment. 

Sadly, for us all, narcissists suffer regularly from violent oscillations of self-esteem and shame-proneness, making every victim’s life a nightmare.

Whenever my brother Gerard went into his killer rages, where he put three of his siblings in intensive care, he never felt any guilt or remorse.  He could defensively transfer blame away from himself onto his victim (myself or others) and maintain his perfection.  This he would do whenever anything went wrong, most especially when it showed up any lack in him. 

For example, when we were children, if he failed to jump as high as he had expected, he would rage and place the blame on me in some accusatory manner, “Why did you move, you put me off?” or “Now see what you made me do!”.   Or, on those occasions when he beat me to a pulp, he would blame me for upsetting him, saying, “You should have known better.” 

Of course, I can now see that he saved his face by masking his shame with anger and rage.   Thus, wiping out any humiliation or mortification he felt he would be exposed to.   Furthermore, his dissociated rages created the illusion of his having all the power.  By turning his perceived passivity into an active rage, he was able to reverse his unrecognised shame and successfully project it onto others. Thus, safeguarding himself from further shame.

As mad as this seems, his blaming me when I had done nothing wrong always activated intolerable shame in me. 

In some remarkable way, my internalised shame left me carrying the responsibility for his failure or need.   He had endless permutations of blaming, and that transfer of blame could be conveyed subtly in a look, a word, a reaction from him. 

Each time this shameful blaming happened; it shredded my dignity a little bit more. 

I eventually internalised this harsh relationship with Gerard to the relationship I formed with myself.  His voice became my inner critic, my internal voice of conscience.   Now my toxic shame led me to blame myself whenever I did anything wrong or indeed wronged by another.  

 THE NARCISSIST’S RAGE BECOMES A SOURCE OF PROTECTION:

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.   Protection that the task-master-false-self requires 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, or 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.

 ARE THE NARCISSIST’S RAGES A REACTION TO STRESS?

 No.  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 having 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 coldly and aggressively, 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 wave of constant anger (towards someone else), and the second layer being a fit of obvious self-aimed wrath (towards themselves).  Two specific identified forms of narcissistic rage are explosive and passive-aggressive.

The explosive form being a fit of 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 needs 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 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.

WHAT IS THE “BROKEN MIRROR” OF NARCISSISM?

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 relive 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 to intimidate and control others in ways that attempt to mitigate his pain and his 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 to survive.  Their rage reaches its height, and they want to kill off the source of their pain, this they do in several 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 who will provide them with perfect mirroring.   In effect, the narcissist’s rage is self-defeating as it leaves them feeling more loss, guilty and worthless.

 ARE NARCISSISTS ADDICTED TO RAGE?

 Yes, and their 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 an 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 defenses, like a double-edged sword, render any closeness or intimacy impossible, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

 The Narcissist is not only addicted to rage, but he also has a whole arsenal of multi-addictions that helps him maintain a sense of greater self-cohesion in his mind, all are designed to preserve his/her false inflated self by obliterating, medicating, and manipulating reality. Without such strategies, life would be too hard to bear.

 HOW TO DEAL WITH NARCISSISTIC RAGE IN RELATIONSHIPS (IN THE HOME/WORK/FRIENDSHIPS):

By now you are probably realising that narcissists are not only toxic, but their destructive behaviours are dangerous.  If you are to survive, you need to be able to protect yourself from their rages, and that takes not only courage but some work (psychoeducation and doing personal development work on yourself).

 The first beneficial task is to learn as much as you can about the subject of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), for example, their need for narcissistic supply, their fragile ego, their shame-proneness, anything that threatens their sense of self, and of course, their deepest core wounds.   It is with this knowledge that you can begin to protect yourself and avoid the traps and landmines narcissist’s set for you when they target you as a victim.

 For example, the narcissists deepest core wounds are “rejection and abandonment”. 

If you trigger those wounds (even accidentally), they will take it as a personal attack on them. This will affect their self-esteem and self-worth, and that is likely to guarantee an almighty rage to be directed at you.

 You will also need to establish strong boundaries, and recognise your vulnerabilities that will make you an attractive target for all narcissists (i.e. your agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism).   It also helps to understand what causes a narcissist to experience “narcissistic injury”. Perhaps then you can avoid accidentally causing one to a narcissist.

 When you can do this, you will be a lot safer in the company of all high-conflict narcissistic individuals. 

When you take away their power and control, they will be less likely to be in a position to bait you, and draw you into their web of deception (i.e whether in romantic situations, the workplace or friendships).   When narcissists do rage, see them as the 2-year-old child that they are, having a temper tantrum.  Do not be tempted to engage in their rage, rise above it and stay detached. Keep cool, calm and strong, and do not swallow the bait they want you to swallow. When it is safe to do so, walk away and stay empowered.  This way, you hold your boundaries and you are no longer their victim.  More importantly, they are no longer in the superior position with all the power and control.

 If you can remember, narcissists were victims of their childhood, victims who never learned how to trust others or have control over their emotions.   Their rage is a direct result of their upbringing or environmental experiences, it has nothing at all to do with you, so don’t let them overwhelm you. When you realise this, it is easier to have compassion for them while releasing their power over you. 

You must respect yourself and your mental health at all costs, and if the relationship you find yourself in is harming you, then it is time to get out of it as safely as you can.  Make sure you have a good “exit plan”.

 TO CONCLUDE:

Narcissistic individuals are unprincipled, and without doubt among the most difficult of the personality disorders to deal with.  To remain safe, everybody should be able to recognise the “red flags” that signal that one is in the company of a pathological narcissist.   Other than their behaviour, there is nothing to mark them out as being dangerous people.

  Therefore, knowing the tell-tale signs of the narcissist’s behaviour is the only way to protect oneself from being seduced and “hooked” by them as their source of co-narcissistic supply (their victim).  When one becomes the narcissist’s source of supply, it is important to realise that their role is to become “the narcissist’s personal caretaker”.   For as long as the relationship lasts, and, to their great shame, the victim must play by the narcissist’s toxic rules, or get out of the relationship.

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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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