If you regularly interact with a narcissist, you already know what narcissistic rage is. A highly sensitive individual like that requires a steady supply of positive feedback. If they perceive a slight, it will trigger an angry outburst. With such thin skin, it does not take much to set their defense mechanisms in motion.
What does that look like? Well, it could range from gaslighting to verbal abuse. You could find yourself standing there alone because they stormed off. Just as easily, you could find yourself in physical danger. Needless to say, it’s important to know more and to cultivate methods to deal with this situation.
What Triggers a Narcissist?
Of course, this can vary widely. That said, there are some very common triggers, e.g.
- Getting caught doing something dishonest or mean
- Being held accountable for their actions
- Not being the center of attention
- Any form of criticism — no matter how constructive or accurate
- Being exposed as a manipulator or liar
- A sense of not being in control
- Not getting special treatment or getting their way
Any or all of these triggers cause the narcissist to experience an “injury.” Almost without fail, the next step will be an extreme expression of rage. How you deal with this rage is crucial to your mental and physical wellbeing.
4 Steps to Take When Targeted by Narcissistic Rage
1. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
Your initial task is to decide upfront what you will and will not tolerate. Once that’s been established in your mind, it’s time to set the boundary. Talk to the narcissistic person and be crystal clear about your needs. They will certainly begin to guilt you, blame you, shame you and try wearing you down. But hold fast to your commitment.
2. Enforce Your Boundaries and Establish Consequences
To a narcissist, boundaries are made to be crossed. They exist for other people. All the major fault lines in the narcissistic personality exist around the theme of specialness. Someone as special as them is exempt from such restrictions. And refusing to cater to the narcissist sense of entitlement will like spark an episode of narcissistic rage. This is when you must not bend. Enforce your boundaries, no matter what. Also, let the narcissist know what will happen if they violate your boundaries. When they inevitably do, take immediate, firm action.
3. Do Not Apologize For or Attempt to Justify Your Needs
One of the narcissist’s favorite tricks is getting others to doubt themselves. They’ll gaslight you until you begin questioning your every word and action. Therefore, it is essential that you never fall into the trap of having to defend yourself. The narcissistic rage is terrible but it’s better than surrendering to the abuse. Set and enforce your boundaries without justifying them.
4. Educate Yourself
A narcissist’s tactic can sometimes defy logic. However, if you’re well-versed in this mental health condition, you’re well-positioned to deal with it. Take the time to educate yourself so you never underestimate how far a narcissist will go. The more you know, the less likely it is they can drag you into their world of distortions and deflections.
What Does Narcissistic Rage Look Like?
Narcissistic rage can be overt or covert. For years, professionally I had a front row seat at the narcissistic rage circus. that’s because for almost 20 years, I facilitated mindfulness based anger management groups. Many of the women and men who attended these groups were sincere, hard working, loving people. They knew they had trouble controlling their tempers, and they wanted that to change. They were clear about the suffering their anger caused them and their loved ones.
But there were always several people in every group who had truly narcissistic personalities. They were antagonistic and took a kind of sadistic pleasure in punishing others. Blaming was a way of life for them, and deep inside they believed it was other people who had sole responsibility and control over their anger. They had what is called “an external locus of control.
Here is a sampling of some examples I’ve seen in my clinical practice.
Some examples of overt narcissistic rage include:
- The man who laughingly told the group that he was charged with making terrorist threats to a family court judge. In his view, this was because the judge “was unprofessional” and wouldn’t admit certain evidence. This man truly believed that he knew the law better than the judge did, and the judge “needed to be taken down a peg”. (Grandiosity and superiority) Basically, the judge had the temerity to say “no” to him, and he threw a tantrum.
- The woman who would scream at and insult the security guard in her office building because she thought she should be allowed to bring her bicycle on the elevator. Rules were for others, not for her. (Entitlement) I remember her saying “how dare someone tell me I can’t bring a bike on an elevator. Who does he think is talking to?”
- Men and women who regularly slapped or hit their partners, threw objects, broke I-Phones, screamed degrading insults at “loved ones” all because they didn’t get the control they wanted.
The covert rage was more hidden, but could be just as damaging. For example:
- The women and men who smeared their exes online- poisoning their friendships and soiling their reputations
- The woman who sent revenge porn pictures to her ex boyfriend new bosses- for years.
- The man who fabricated a sexual misconduct charge against his doctor, all because the doctor made him wait 20 minutes to be seen and would not “compensate” him by giving him the appointment for free. (This man laughed at how much time he spent posting these stories on internet review sites and other social media forums.) As is so common with narcissists, he had no hesitation about describing his doctor as “unethical and unprofessional”. He was outraged because “his time is worth just as much as the doctor’s time”. He seemingly had no recognition or concern about the ethics of his own behavior and the damage he was doing to his doctor.
- The women and men who punished their partners and children by giving them the silent treatment.
Can Narcissistic Rage Be Fixed?
Sometimes it can be. But be very cautious about getting your hopes up. It’s very rare that a narcissist changes. Why? Because despite the fact that they may believe they are more special, smarter and better than everyone else, they usually lack insight. In fact, the more severe the level of narcissism, the more invested in blaming and projection they will be. That mean they are allergic to feedback and usually will not accept it. Instead, they will see you as the bad one.
Narcissists masterfully blame and project. Often they literally believe that they are perfect, and everyone around them is seriously flawed and deficient. More than one narcissistic client has told instructed me to tell their spouse that they are the one who is “right” and “healthy”, and that all of the problems in the relationship stem from the fact that their partner is damaged. No one is a better finger pointer than a person who is narcissistic. And the more severe the narcissist is, the more they tend to believe they are the victim. This leads to what is called “offending from the victim position”; believing that you are justified in being hostile and antagonistic. Narcissists tend to tell a talk in which they are the innocent victim and you are evil perpetrator. And this is a story that will be vociferously defended. That doesn’t lead to good prognosis.
In fact, when a narcissist attempts therapy, it usually ends in one of a few ways:
- They go for few sessions then drop out
- They storm out in the middle of session
- They stick in therapy until their shame gets triggered. Then they get “too busy” for therapy or destroy the treatment with their rage.
- They magically get better in the first session or two (This is often referred to as the narcissistic flight into health.)
- They decide the therapist is not as smart as they are
Most narcissists only go the therapy as a short lived manipulation tactic. For example, after they have been caught betraying someone, they might try to win them back by “going to therapy”. Or, as a way to escape being fired from a job after they have let loose their rage on someone.
Getting Help For Them — and Most Importantly You
If the narcissist is not part of your daily life, it’s easier to avoid them. A good therapist can help you become a better gatekeeper in your life, so that you do not let harmful people in. But if you have grown up with a narcissistic parent, then you may very well have difficulty identifying narcissists that you might cross paths with. You might have a blind spot.
But you may have a narcissistic parent or sibling. Your partner may show glimpses of this problem. In other words, you have no choice but to find solutions. You may try getting them to therapy — with or without with you involved. But be warned again, narcissism is very resistant to treatment. Deep down inside, they usually believe everyone else is at fault. So a good therapist can help you learn how to minimize the damage the narcissist inflicts on you.
Be cautious about couples therapy. The blaming style, lack of insight, antagonism and low empathy combine to form a toxic combination. This trio of characteristics usually ensure that narcissists will not do well in couples therapy. If you are a person who is caring, sensitive and empathic, it can be extremely hard to wrap your head around the lack of empathy that the narcissist has. Who can imagine a person who truly does not care how they effect others? Or worse yet, a person who enjoys the power and control of always being in the one up position.
In most cases, the best option may be to seek individual counseling for yourself because narcissistic rage has become too much. Narcissists damage our society and our institutions. And the closer you are to them, the bigger the toll they take on you. So if you have been exposed to the narcissistic rage of a lover, boss, co-worker of family member, then it’s time to take care of yourself and heal your wounds.
Whichever therapeutic approach you choose, the process begins with a phone call. You don’t have to suffer at the hands of a narcissist. Read more about trauma therapy and get the support you need while they take steps to work through their condition. Let’s connect and talk about the many possibilities.