Narcissistic rage occurs when a narcissist is confronted with contrary beliefs about their perceived importance or grandiosity. The narcissist is injured, and responds with anger. Being on the receiving end of this rage can produce feelings ranging from anxiety to downright terror. Therefore, it is extremely important that your response does not trigger more anger from the narcissist.
What Is Narcissistic Rage?
Narcissistic rage, a term first used by psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut in the 1970s, is a sudden and powerful outburst from a narcissist that could include anger, aggression, and violence.1 The behavior occurs when the negative feedback that a narcissist receives causes great discomfort and their defense mechanisms are activated. The rage associated with a narcissistic injury ranges from mild irritation to outright physical attacks. Some narcissists will gaslight, deflect, project, verbally assault, or collapse. Depending on the severity of the injury, others may be physically aggressive, becoming incredibly dangerous. The question “Are narcissists dangerous?” can be a legitimate concern, so appropriate caution should be considered.
Once given a dose of their own medicine, narcissists will become emotionally, psychologically, physically, or verbally abusive. One reason they respond this way is they recognize that direct exposure is happening and discovery of their false identity is being threatened. In order to keep their true selves secret, narcissists will “blow up” to deflect from the underlying issue.
Typical Response to Offense vs. Narcissistic Rage
Any mild disagreement or negative remark can trigger feelings of rejection or mockery for the narcissist, far beyond a typical level of offense. The first line of attack might be brutal shouting, screaming, and ridiculous accusations against you. They may project how they feel and think about themselves onto you.
6 Signs of Narcissistic Rage
Narcissistic rage may not appear much differently than other sudden outbursts from friends and loved ones at first. When these behaviors occur repeatedly, observers can begin to notice the trends and patterns that emerge.
Some of the most common signs of narcissistic rage include:
- A bout of anger that is disproportionate to the triggering stressor, sometimes bordering hatred for the victim
- A rage that may quickly end and never be discussed again
- Anger that results in verbal or physical aggression towards another person or property
- Anger that results in self-harm
- Frustrations that seem to be brought on by the person not getting their own way, not receiving a wanted level of attention, or receiving the desired amount of praise
- Irritability triggered by being criticized by loved ones or coworkers, getting caught in a lie, or feeling out of control
The outside observer may struggle to understand the connections between triggers and anger, especially since the narcissist will likely blame other people and situations. Careful attention and analysis will point to signs of narcissistic rage.
What Causes Narcissistic Rage?
Narcissistic rage happens when a narcissist receives an injury. This perceived offense causes the narcissist to flare up with anger.
What Is Narcissistic Injury?
Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist thinks their self-esteem or self-worth are threatened.2 The narcissist’s false self is exposed, causing distress that leads to narcissistic rage.
Narcissists are extremely sensitive individuals with very low self-esteem. When their shortcomings are pointed out, they become defensive and frustrated. Their delusions of grandeur are put on display and their inadequacies are highlighted.
8 Triggers of a Narcissist’s Rage
Here are eight ways a narcissist’s rage could be triggered:2
- They don’t get their way, even if what they want is unreasonable
- They feel that they’ve been criticized, even if the critique is constructive or said kindly
- They’re not the center of attention
- They’re caught breaking rules or not respecting boundaries
- They’re held accountable for their actions
- Their idealized self-image was harmed in some way
- They’re reminded of their manipulation, inadequacy, or shame
- They feel out of control of their surroundings
6 Examples of Narcissistic Rage
Narcissistic rage can take infinite forms depending on the individual and the situation. Some possible examples of narcissistic rage include:
- The narcissist breaking all of the glasses in the house if a guest notices a smudge on one while taking a drink
- The narcissist punches a hole in the wall if their child does not finish first in a race at school
- The narcissist verbally abuses their spouse for three hours when they have not cleaned the house to their standard.
- The narcissist destroys a public bathroom after a stranger criticizes their dirty car
- The narcissist slashes the tires of the person at work who received the promotion over them
- The narcissist hits their spouse and/or children because they feel that they were embarrassed in front of coworkers
10 Ways to Avoid a Narcissist’s Rage
Dealing with any form of narcissist can be difficult, but when you see that the narcissist is enraged, do not continue engaging with them. Physically distance yourself from them as much as you can. Ignore them and avoid any interaction with them. Set your boundaries, remembering that they will try to manipulate you. Show empathy and validation, if possible, but it’s best to remove yourself completely from the interaction.
Here are 10 tips for when you’re faced with narcissistic rage:
1. Physically Distance Yourself
Once you see that the narcissist has become enraged, you should immediately remove yourself physically from the narcissist’s presence. Go to another room or office. Go outside or exit the car. With narcissistic rage, you can never be too careful.
2. Establish Your Boundaries
Firmly state your boundaries and stick to them. Remove yourself from the situation and disengage completely. Have a few phrases to help disarm the narcissist, and tell them that you would be willing to discuss the situation once they have calmed down and are open to a more positive discussion.
Consistently establishing and sticking to your boundaries will let the narcissist know that their manipulative tactics do not work on you. Once you deviate from your established boundaries, the narcissist will continue their abuse.
3. Stay Calm
This is for your own well being. The narcissist enjoys seeing you rattled and upset. Make every effort to stay calm. Try meditation—it can help you to slow down your breathing and calm anxieties, creating a sense of detachment from the narcissistic drama. Counting down, refocusing, or finding your ‘happy place’ will keep you calm when faced with narcissistic rage.
4. Don’t Overreact to the Narcissist’s Rage
The narcissist gets joy from watching you react to their rage. They know that you are experiencing great discomfort and anxiety. Don’t feed their need for supply. No reaction is the best course of action.
5. Empathize With the Narcissist & Validate Their Viewpoint
Try to understand the narcissist’s point and empathize with them. By agreeing with some of their points, you give the narcissist a sense of validation. Try to avoid any condescending tone to avoid enraging the narcissist. Agree with their key points for the moment, until a later time when you can actually discuss the issue and share your viewpoint.
6. Don’t Raise Your Voice
Narcissists are often triggered by aggressive actions and tones. To avoid or discourage their rage, don’t threaten or challenge them with an assertive voice.
7. Take a Break
Pause and explain to the narcissist that you need time to think about what they are saying. This also validates the narcissist’s point of view because you are taking time to understand them.
8. Remember This Is Not About You
Everything is always about the narcissist, their wants, and their needs. When you understand this, it is easier to deal with them and the narcissistic tactics that come along with them.
9. Understand Where the Fault Lies
Victims of narcissistic abuse tend to blame themselves for the rage given by the narcissist, often finding reasons why their behavior led to the rage. Understand that this is a personality disorder that has nothing to do with you. It was probably established well before they met you. There is nothing within you that you need to fix in order to appease the narcissist. This is not your fault. They have an insatiable appetite for attention and there is nothing you can do about it.
10. Follow Through
Establishing boundaries and following through are key to stopping narcissistic abuse and rage. Actions speak louder than words.The narcissist does not listen to your words, but they pay very close attention to your actions. Being steadfast, assertive, and bold with your actions is essential to overpowering their abuse and tempering their rage.
Dealing With Narcissistic Rage at Work
No one should have to endure the excessive and excuseless rage of a narcissistic at work, whether from a boss or coworker. When encountering narcissistic rage, you should consider:
- Communicating your concerns to the coworker. Let the person know that you are not interested in having any part of their irrational levels of anger.
- Establishing and maintaining boundaries. Whenever they exhibit unwanted anger, enact a set of behaviors that creates distance and separation between the two of you.
- Stating your concerns to HR. Make the situation known to your human resources department at the first sign of issues. This way, no one can blame you for the issues that eventually present.
- Setting your limits. Being around a narcissist will test your limits, so rather than constantly flexing your needs and wants, be stable and consistent. When the line is crossed, it’s time to move one.
- Quitting immediately. If the narcissist is in a position of power like your boss, you may want to walk away at the earliest opportunity. Engaging with a narcissist will often be a losing battle. End it early.
Dealing With Narcissistic Rage in a Relationship
If you have read the criteria, understand the condition and think that your romantic partner is a narcissist, you have very few options. You can either:
- Set your expectations very low. Of course not all narcissists are the same, and just because a person has narcissistic personality disorder does not mean they cannot love or have a successful relationship. It does mean, though, that there will be many challenges and obstacles to overcome. If you set your expectations of them low, you could appreciate the good and tolerate the bad.
- Break up immediately. You may learn of their narcissistic personality disorder and decide that the benefits of the relationship will never outweigh the risks. After all, it is a static and stable personality disorder – it’s very unlikely that a narcissist will change. Attempting to single handedly correct a personality disorder is a losing battle. Breaking up with a narcissist may be the best option.
Dealing With Narcissistic Rage in a Friendship
Just like with romantic relationships, having a friend with narcissistic personality disorder will pose some unique challenges. They will often ask for elaborate favors or consistently see you as inferior.
When confronted with narcissistic rage from a friend:
- Leave the situation immediately.
- Let them know you will not stand for these actions.
- Allow a cooling off period of several days or weeks before reestablishing contact.
- Impose a cutoff to let them know you will not stand to be the target of rage over and again.
From a Stranger
Identifying a stranger’s rage as narcissistic in origin may be extremely complex, but under no circumstances should you accept the rage of another person. No matter what their excuse, you deserve to always be treated with dignity and respect.
If a person should ever confront you with narcissist rage:
- Leave immediately
- Call the police
- Stay away
Coping With Your Own Rage as a Narcissist
Everyone suffers from a narcissist’s rage. This includes the narcissist as well as the target. If you happen to have narcissistic personality disorder and you wish to cope with your rage, consider:
- Seek professional treatment. Narcissism is too intense and too challenging to manage without mental health treatment, but it is possible to change your behaviors. Start therapy and attend consistently.
- Letting people know your patterns. Rage is not acceptable, but if you warn people ahead of time, it could help maintain your relationships.
- Use your coping skills. Therapists will offer a wide range of healthy coping skills for anger. Accept them, practice them, and use them when the situation calls.
- Isolate when necessary. If you are feeling like a bomb just waiting to explode, stay by yourself for a bit to limit the collateral damage. Once the period of rage or time of feeling easily triggered passes, test yourself by reemerging into your relationships.
Managing narcissistic rage is a tall task, but hopefully people appreciate the steps you take towards self-control.
Narcissistic rage is 100% about the narcissist ego, not the victim. You cannot control how they act, feel, or respond but you can control how you act and respond to them. If you think you have or are suffering from narcissistic abuse you can seek help from a licensed, trained mental health professional.
Narcissistic Rage Infographics