Narcissistic rage can be defined as intense anger, aggression, or passive-aggression when a narcissist experiences frustration or a setback. When they are disappointed, it shatters their illusions of grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority, and triggers inner inadequacy, shame, and vulnerability. Feelings that threaten them and that they do not wish to experience. As a result, they lash out at others.
Stephen Johnson, a Psychologist talks about the narcissist as 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.
Here are ways that a narcissist expresses their narcissistic tantrum:
(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.)
1. The narcissist doesn’t get his or her way, even when it’s unreasonable. They are control freaks and want things their way. If something isn’t completed to their expectation, they cannot tolerate the frustration and perceived lack of control. They will take their frustration out on you, like a three year old. They are unable to regulate their emotions like the average adult can.
2. The narcissist is criticized in some way, even when the critique is made diplomatically, reasonably, and constructively. They immediately become defensive and will often retaliate by accusing the person who criticised them to even out the playing field. They rarely say sorry and rarely take responsibility for their actions or the negative impact they have on others around them.
3. The narcissist isn’t treated as the center of attention, even when there are other priorities. This doesn’t mean they want to be the centre of attention at a social gathering per se. What they do expect is that they will be central to all decisions and that their needs will be considered ahead of others – especially those close to them. They manage to control themselves far better around people they know less well as they care deeply what others think of them. If however, you are close to a narcissist, be prepared to be their ’emotional punching bag’.
4. The narcissist is caught breaking rules, violating social norms, or disregarding boundaries. Narcissists are adept at being hypocrites. They will reprimand you for doing something they think is unacceptable but they will never apply those same rules to themselves. You may not be allowed to flirt but they will do it and somehow justify it. They twist things and are good at gaslighting, such as “I never said that”. You need to keep your wits about you or they might affect your mental health negatively.
“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. Narcissists believe they can operate according to their own rules. They may set rules for you but these definitely won’t apply to them. They seem to be able to judge others for behaviour that they themselves engage in. This may be due to a lack of insight and self-awareness.
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”). Narcissists have created a mental reality where they see themselves as above others. They have done this to compensate for feeling belittle or unworthy earlier in life. They are extremely low in self-esteem underneath but will often act confident and even arrogant a lot of the time. Underneath that though is someone who feels a fraud and is afraid of being found out for who they really are.
7. The narcissist is reminded of his or her charade, manipulation, exploitation, inadequacy, shame, or self-loathing. A narcissist can’t take any negative feedback even if it is well-meaning or constructive in nature. They need constant adoration even if they behave appallingly. The real world doesn’t work this way and this often causes a narcissistic tantrum. These tantrums will more often than not only be witnessed by those close to them because they have become conditioned to put up with their awful behaviour. People close to narcissists also find subtle ways to make their nearest and dearest doubt themselves. This allows more manipulation.
8. The narcissist feels (fears) that they are not in control of their relational or physical surroundings. When a narcissist feels vulnerable they will go into grumpy ‘snappy’ mode. They will keep you walking on eggshells around them and in this way they control how you behave. Who wants to irritate a grumpy bear who could retaliate? So people around them try to please them and don’t call them out on their unreasonable behaviour. The perfect plan for a narcissist to behave as they wish and not have to explain.
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 being worshipped on a pedestal (narcissistic supply). The narcissist falls apart, psychologically and emotionally, at the prospect of not being “special,” “unique,” above others” or completely in control of others and their surroundings.
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. Narcissists create misery around them. They are hard work to be with and are almost akin to being emotional vampires. Now that may seem harsh but they exhaust people around them and rarely change their ways.
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. If they are lucky they find someone willing to manage their destructive behaviour. Usually, though, people who stay have low self-esteem, have possibly been in abusive relationships before or had an abusive childhood. Their partners may also be codependent. The average healthy person who values themselves will not stick around for constant emotional and possibly physical abuse.
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 essential for establishing healthy and mutually respectful relationships.