Do you know that familiar whirlwind of the narcissist’s anger and impulsive behavior? Do you feel like you’re constantly pausing or second-guessing yourself because you’re afraid of their response? Does it seem like you’re being punished- even if you aren’t sure what you did wrong?
Let’s be honest. Dealing with a narcissist can be exhausting.
Narcissistic rage happens when the narcissist’s facade cracks. Because the narcissist has such a fragile ego, nearly anything can disrupt it. But most of the time, they reserve their rage for the people who love them the most- spouses, children, and close friends.
Understanding Narcissistic Rage
Narcissistic rage emerges when the narcissist doesn’t get what they want. But their rage isn’t the same as garden-variety anger. Everyone gets angry, but the narcissist’s reaction to this emotion is far more insidious.
Their rage happens in response to a narcissistic injury. A narcissistic injury occurs when the narcissist feels exposed. Because the exposure triggers such intense vulnerability, the narcissist only knows how to react one way: with anger and spite.
They need to feel powerful and in control, and they will do what they can to restore their equilibrium when it feels imbalanced.
The goal of the rage isn’t to simply displace emotion. It’s to hurt you- the narcissist is seeking revenge and wants you to feel guilty, upset, or confused for slighting them.
What Triggers Narcissistic Rage?
Sometimes, the narcissist’s trigger is apparent. For example, you might recognize how they feel threatened in an argument or when they don’t land an important promotion.
Other times, narcissistic rage seemingly comes out of nowhere. Something happened, but the narcissist may withhold their feelings to make you feel hurt or confused.
Let’s look at some common narcissistic rage triggers.
Real or Perceived Criticism
Any negative feedback can cause the narcissist to spiral quickly. Criticism is synonymous with rejection, and rejection causes a massive blow to the narcissist’s ego.
Even if someone’s trying to be helpful or constructive, the narcissist won’t see it that way. They will often perceive the behavior as a vicious attack against their character.
Someone Else Receiving Attention
As you know, narcissists love being in the center of attention. They want the spotlight on them at all times.
When someone (or something else) has the stage, they feel envious, angry, and insecure. They will often react by trying to sabotage the other person, demean them, or act egregiously to warrant attention onto themselves.
Needing To Conform
Narcissists want to do things their way. They have a perceived sense of entitlement over others, assuming that basic laws don’t apply to them.
In cases where they must comply with certain policies, they often grumble, complain, insult, or throw other forms of tantrums. They may also still try to weasel their way into getting special treatment.
Being Confronted or Held Accountable
Nothing enrages the narcissist more than being told how their actions affect others. At a minimum, they expect validation. But most of the time, they also expect adoration and excess praise.
If confronted, the narcissist often overreacts- denial, violence, rationalization- they’ll grab whatever defense mechanisms are most readily available.
Being Told No
Boundaries are a surefire way to trigger narcissistic rage. A ‘no’ feels like a straight rejection, and that often feels inconceivable for a narcissist.
If someone doesn’t enable their behavior, it sets off a chain reaction of feeling betrayed and disrespected. To compensate for these emotions, the narcissist feels the need to attack.
Ever wonder why most narcissists don’t usually like to try new things? It’s because they want to be masters- they want guaranteed outcomes of a successful performance.
You can tell a narcissist’s rage by how they react to failure or losing. Often, they will blame something or someone else for their misfortune. Or, they will deny caring about their performance in the first place.
Who Does It Most Impact?
Ever wonder how the narcissist gets away with such awful behavior? There’s a good chance other people don’t have a clue about their true self!
Unfortunately, when it comes to narcissistic rage, loved ones take the greatest beating.
Skilled narcissists know how to conceal their obnoxious behavior to manipulate others. They withhold, restrain, and put on a false front when they need. It’s a part of their survival strategy. It’s why many narcissists are so likable and attractive.
After all, if they were cruel all the time, they wouldn’t form any relationships. Therefore, they tend to act on their best behavior to lure people in.
This explains why narcissists can seem so kind and charming to the outside world- while also being so vicious to you. They know you’re sticking around- they know you have seemingly accepted their behavior.
In severe cases, narcissistic rage is so apparent that everyone notices it. But this is more of an exception rather than a fixed rule. Again, skilled narcissists know how to craft a desirable personality and maintain good standing within their communities.
What Does Narcissistic Rage Look Like?
Narcissistic rage can come in a few different flavors. Some narcissists react with the same rage after every injury. Others change it up because they want to keep you guessing and alert. They might use different tactics depending on the person or situation.
In the most severe case, the narcissist becomes explosive and volatile. They may emotionally or physically attack someone else. The goal here is obvious: they want to inflict pain to transfer it away from themselves.
This type of narcissist is always dangerous. They can be capable of serious harm, and because their mood can be so temperamental, you never know if you’re going to be in their way.
What are you talking about? I’m not angry.
It’s whatever- I don’t care what you do.
No. Nothing’s wrong.
In more covert cases, the rage manifests in a more subtle, aloof way. For instance, the narcissist may respond to you with one-word, passive-aggressive responses. If you ask if they’re okay, they’ll defensively insist that they’re fine.
Sometimes, they will stonewall you with silence and completely shut down. This is one of the most manipulative tactics a person can do. The narcissist knows this response will trigger your anxiety- they’re banking on you becoming more and more uncomfortable and reaching out to them.
As a result, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. No matter what you say or do, it seems like the wrong thing.
I’m not even angry right now. It seems like you’re the one getting upset!
I had to do it that way because I love you!
I wasn’t doing anything wrong- you’re just so suspicious.
Are you sure that actually happened? I can’t imagine I’d even see that.
Many narcissists engage in gaslighting to make you question your reality. They may deny, rationalize, withhold, or divert information. You are often left feeling like you’re overly sensitive. At times, this can lead you to feel indecisive or hopeless.
The gaslighting can end the moment the narcissist wants it to end. Suddenly, they may start acting “completely” normal. This on-and-off switch only solidifies more confusion. You’re left wondering if you really were overreacting.
She’s crazy! She’s the one who needs help.
Can you believe he said that to me, after all I’ve done for him!
Did you know she was on drugs this whole time? I should have said something earlier.
If you’ve really hurt the narcissist’s ego, they might try to smear your reputation by criticizing you to others. They want to stack people against you and gain empathy at the same time.
Smearing is always about punishment and power. Because you hurt them, they need to show you who’s in charge, and they need you to suffer from the consequences.
How To Deal With Narcissistic Rage
Above anything, you must remove yourself from the situation! Once you see the narcissist is upset, commit to becoming unavailable, both physically and emotionally.
Remember that this method will trigger even more rage, so be prepared for that response. The narcissist may become even more volatile or passive-aggressive. They might also try to elicit your sympathy. These are typical reactions- you’re exacerbating their injury, and they won’t know how to deal with that pain.
Don’t Take It Personally
This rage isn’t about you. It’s about the narcissist feeling disrespected or diminished. No matter what you do, it probably won’t be enough right now. Try to remove yourself from your emotions and remind yourself that it’s their problem.
Stay Calm and Neutral
Avoid giving into their drama. Even negative attention is attention, and the narcissist will thrive from your emotional state. Instead, act bored or unaware of their triggers. Don’t give in to their unquenchable thirst for the narcissistic supply.
Stick With Your Boundaries
Boundaries aren’t about protecting the narcissist. They’re about protecting you and keeping you safe. Your boundaries should be clear, concise, and non-negotiable. Remember- if you give them an inch, they expect ten miles! If you feel absolutely finished with the chaos, you may need to consider a no-contact approach.
You deserve more than manipulation and emotional abuse. You deserve the freedom to enjoy life and surround yourself with supportive people.
Recovery involves rewriting everything the narcissist has tried to make you believe. It requires rebuilding your identity – or in many cases building an identity for the first time.
Like someone suffering from substance abuse, you need a narcissistic abuse recovery program that can help you avoid relapse by learning about yourself, habits, and triggers.
The Essential Break Free Bootcamp may be the missing piece of the puzzle.
I know what you’re going through and I’m here to help. Learn more about the course and see what my students and neuroscience experts have to say about it.