Narcissistic rage is a sudden, explosive eruption of anger that occurs when a narcissist experiences something called a narcissistic injury. Of course, the presence of a personality disorder, like narcissistic personality disorder, doesn’t predict violence in a relationship, but it certainly adds to the risk factors. To say the least, watching a narcissist erupt in an outburst of anger is disconcerting, and it’s no wonder you might fear for your physical safety.
Such rageful responses occur when a narcissist fears their true self is at risk of exposure. This usually happens due to a narcissistic injury where their self-esteem is hurt, or their sense of self-worth is threatened. So what should you do after a narcissistic rage?
My narcissistic mother used to erupt in a rage frequently. It seemed like every little thing would trigger her anger, and all I wanted to do when that happened was run away and hide. That’s not such a bad strategy, after all. She was never physically violent, but she often walked right up to the line.
It’s hard to know what to do, but there are several strategies you can use to defuse their anger. It’s important to know some of the most effective responses to avoid escalating the situation. Let’s take a look at several strategies you can employ to defuse the situation.
What is Narcissistic Rage?
Narcissistic rage is a sudden eruption of explosive anger that is disproportionate to the situation. The connection to the situation can also be tenuous at best.
Narcissistic rage is defined as the tendency for people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to fly into a rage with what might seem like the slightest provocation or no obvious provocation at all.
Heinz Kohut, M.D
My friend’s narcissistic husband would often erupt in an incoherent rage for a completely innocent or off-hand remark. She recounted asking him what he was planning to do during the day on one occasion, and he flew into a rage.
Over time, she noticed a pattern that made her think the narcissistic injury he was suffering when she asked something along those lines had to do with being called lazy in his childhood. He had, as a result, infused his false self-image with a superior work ethic, and any perceived slight to that image resulted in his unbridled rage. This video has some helpful tips for protecting yourself from a rageful narcissist.
What is a Narcissistic Injury?
The term narcissistic injury was first used by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s. It can be defined as the emotional distress, pain, or wound caused by a perceived threat to a narcissist’s grandiose sense of self-worth, entitlement, or pride.
Narcissistic injuries are often caused by something that is not obvious to a healthy person. My friend’s simple question, “What are you going to do today, Honey?” was met with an outraged response about whether or not she thought her husband was lazy because of a perceived threat to his grandiose ideas of his work ethic.
She came to realize that his father had been emotionally abusive to him as a child and had often accused him of being lazy. He would predict that his son would never amount to anything. As a result, her husband had developed an extreme sensitivity to any suggestion he was not a diligent worker.
Of course, she wasn’t suggesting any such thing. She was merely inquiring about his plans for the day, but his distorted interpretation of the question and his subsequent rage shows just how sensitive a narcissist can be when they feel threatened.
It’s not whether or not you’re threatening them that counts; it’s if they believe they are being threatened. That’s when the rage erupts.
What Causes Narcissistic Rage?
The reality is that what causes narcissistic rage is the narcissist’s distorted perception of enemies all around them. It’s sad, but they truly believe that everyone around them is looking to bring them down.
That’s due, in part, to the fact that’s what they do. They look for ways to manipulate and undermine the people around them, and they use everyone in their life to prop up their own self-esteem.
They assume everyone else is doing the same thing. They become hypervigilant for any perceived threats to their self-worth and pride as a result. They also tend to misinterpret even the most innocent remarks.
Of course, the narcissist also has their triggers. Narcissists have suffered emotional wounds in their own childhood, and as with the example of my friend’s husband, those can be triggered to result in a rageful response.
What are Some Examples of Narcissistic Rage?
As already mentioned, an explosive rage that is disproportionate to the situation that triggered it is one example of narcissistic rage, but it’s not the only one. Here are some common rageful responses.
Obvious Expressions of Rage
- Bouts of rage when the attention is not on the narcissist – this is a pattern you might notice over time. The narcissist becomes angry every time someone else is in the spotlight.
- Screaming and yelling – this is the typical rage response that is characteristic of narcissistic rage. They use it to distract you from digging any deeper.
- Overly intense anger in response to a minor trigger – the anger is overly intense and can develop suddenly. The narcissist might, for example, be joking and seemingly happy one minute, but suddenly they become serious and angry.
- Sudden fits of anger that come from nowhere – there isn’t always an obvious trigger. For example, my mother would become inexplicably angry with me, and I wouldn’t find out until later that she was angry because I didn’t say or do something she wanted. She wouldn’t tell me what she wanted, but she expected me to somehow now, and when I didn’t, she erupted in rage.
- Verbal or physical aggression – the narcissist can become physically dangerous at this time.
- An inability to control their anger – they don’t seem able to calm themselves down, and nothing you say will help.
- Intentionally trying to hurt the people around them – this is where they lash out even if you are not the target of their anger.
Subtle Expression of Rage
- Passive aggression – passive-aggressive tendencies can be something like taking your time when you know your partner is in a hurry.
- Giving the “silent treatment” – the silent treatment is one of the narcissist’s favorite tools, though they hate paybacks.
- Withdrawing or being aloof – the tortured loner is a stereotypical narcissistic theme, and it’s a way for them to exclude the people they. It keeps them from getting too close.
- Avoiding someone with no apparent reason to do so.
- Hidden resentment that comes out in so-called jokes or sarcasm.
- Neglecting to do things – particularly when the narcissist knows that someone needs them done.
- Righteous indignation – my friend’s husband used this on several occasions when she found out he had an affair. He would become indignant as he responded that he had only done that because she had dinner with an ex-boyfriend several years ago. He felt that justified his actions.
- A sense of entitlement – the narcissist always believes they are entitled to do whatever they need to do to protect their fragile sense of self.
- Becoming hostile or bitter – this becomes apparent in the way they are treating close friends or family members. Every word out of their mouth is dripping with venomous toxicity as they express their hostility toward someone.
- Cutting people off – to protect their self-esteem, the narcissist may disappear from your life for a while. They usually come back, but the unpredictability is jarring.
- Dissociation – this means they feel disconnected from reality. They are also disconnected from their feelings, and of course, without empathy, they don’t see how their actions affect others.
What are Strategies for Responding to Narcissistic Rage?
Narcissistic rage has a variety of expressions, but in each case, it represents a disproportionate response to the triggering offense. It’s often a sudden eruption that is designed to stun the victim and distract them from pursuing the activity or topic further.
While not all narcissists are physically abusive, it’s during a rage when they can become violent. It often does work to distract the victim, given the narcissist’s extreme response to whatever happened.
How you respond after a rageful episode can determine not only the outcome of the current situation but whether or not the narcissist will use that tactic in the future. Here are 11 things to do after a narcissistic rage.
1. Stay Calm
The most important thing you can do is to remain calm following a narcissistic rage. There are many things that can trigger a narcissist’s rage, including the following:
- You didn’t give them what they want.
- They feel as if you have or are criticizing them.
- You, or someone else, took the spotlight off of them.
- They got caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing.
- You are holding them accountable for something they did.
- They feel like they have no control.
You may not even realize what you’ve done, and it may be something that someone else did, but no matter the trigger, if you lose your cool, it will only intensify their rage.
That’s why it’s imperative that you stay calm. This video below offers some useful tips on just how to do that when you’re dealing with a narcissist.
Many times, they are trying to get a rise out of you as part of their desire to manipulate and control you. So don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing they got to you.
If you stay calm and cool when responding to them, it takes the fire out of their behavior. They realize that their rage doesn’t do what they want it to do, and they will give that strategy up.
Staying calm also helps to make you less interesting as a target. Narcissists love to create drama, and if you respond in a boring fashion, they lose interest. It’s a technique known as the ‘gray rock’ technique.
The gray rock technique is a strategy for becoming like a gray rock: dull and uninteresting. It works well to make toxic people look for another victim.
2. Get Some Distance
Another important strategy to employ when a narcissist erupts in a violent rage is to simply leave. This is, of course, important if you feel they might become physically violent, but it’s also a good strategy to make them realize you won’t put up with that.
You can go to another room in the house, go to another office in the building, or go someplace else altogether. There’s no need to say you’re leaving, argue any further, or try to fix anything. Just leave.
By distancing yourself, you take away the object of their rage. You also deny them the satisfaction of hearing what they have to say. This is not to say you’re not interested in what they have to say, but it’s about the way they’re choosing to say it.
The simple truth is that a narcissist will do what has worked for them in the past and if raging at their victim produces the results they’re looking for, they’ll keep doing it.
If you deny them that result, however, they will pick another target of their rage or move on to another strategy. The intent of their rage is to manipulate and control you, and you never want to allow them to do that.
It’s a very effective strategy because the narcissist fears losing their narcissistic supply, so they will stop and think about their actions.
Narcissistic supply refers to the constant supply of attention and admiration needed by narcissists. To gain this attention, narcissists will often use a “false self” that is likable to attract people to them. However, because narcissists are unable to make healthy connections, they tend to target people who are more vulnerable in order to feed their supply.
Nakpangi Thomas, Ph.D., LPC, TITC-CT
3. Establish or Reinforce Your Boundaries
After a rageful eruption, it’s a good time to establish or reinforce your boundaries. You should never have to be the victim of such treatment, and therefore, it’s important to set strong boundaries around this type of behavior.
Setting boundaries is really about respecting yourself, so you should determine what you will and will not accept. Once you’ve done that, it’s important to communicate those boundaries clearly.
A narcissist often distorts what they hear, so it’s also helpful to present them with a written list of boundaries and the consequences for any violations.
It could look something like this:
|1. Yelling||I will leave the room until you calm down. You will talk to me rationally.|
|2. Name Calling||I will refuse to respond and leave. You will treat me with respect.|
|3. Silent Treatment||I will assume nothing is wrong and leave you alone. You are responsible for calmly communicating your needs.|
|4. Physical Violence||I will call the police and press charges. You will not physically abuse me.|
Presenting them with a copy of your list removes any possibility they can claim they didn’t understand or were never told the consequences of their actions.
It’s important to remember, however, that this is not about modifying their behavior as much as it is about respecting yourself. Notice the statements after each consequence. You deserve to be treated in a respectful, rational, and non-abusive manner.
Anyone failing to do so is not someone who has your best interests at heart, at least not at that moment. When you enforce a boundary, you let your own inner child know that you respect them and will protect them. That’s an empowering and healing message to send to yourself.
4. Don’t Raise Your Voice in Return
Raising your voice and trying to argue with a narcissist, particularly when they’re in a rage, is an exercise in futility. They won’t hear what you’re trying to say, and they certainly won’t respond logically.
Narcissists are masters at twisting an argument to their advantage. Nothing you say will deter them from distorting your meaning, and you’ll never hear them say, “I understand what you’re saying” or “I hear you.”
They don’t care what you have to say. They only care that you hear what they have to say. They are focused solely on their own needs, and they have no desire to hear what you might need.
Raising your voice or arguing with them will only escalate the situation. Moreover, anything you might say in anger will be used against you in the future. Instead, respond to them in a calm voice and let them know that you really want to hear their thoughts when they can present them calmly.
Here are some ideas for what you might say:
- I care about you and why you’re angry, but I won’t talk to you when you’re in a rage.
- I want to know your thoughts, but not until you can present them calmly.
- I will be in my office when you calm down; we can talk then.
- I love you, but I will not accept being treated like this. When you’re calm, let’s talk.
- I want to hear your side, but only when you can speak to me in a calm manner and with respect.
Calmly insisting on a respectful demeanor will help set a boundary with the narcissist, and it will show them you refuse to buy into their manipulation.
5. Use Empathy
Narcissists famously lack empathy. They don’t have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. This is due in part to the fact that they are consumed by the fear that someone will expose their hopelessly flawed true self.
They buried that true self long ago and spend the remainder of their lives protecting their buried secret. To prevent anyone from discovering the truth about them, they can’t admit guilt, allow themselves to be vulnerable, or make amends for anything they have done.
They must constantly protect the self. It becomes their sole focus, and as such, they are unable to see what other people need or how their actions affect them. It is truly a perfect storm for abuse.
“Sadly, they (narcissists) are the most ungodly of God’s creations because they don’t show remorse for their actions, take steps to make amends, or have empathy for others. They are morally bankrupt.”
Shannon L. Alder, author and therapist
But some narcissists can increase their ability to at least intellectually empathize with the people in their life. They can learn by watching others. When you model empathy for them following a rage, you educate them about how their rage has affected you.
The key is to empathize with the reason they’re angry without accepting the manner in which they have expressed themselves. They are not allowed to violate your boundaries simply because you empathize with their anger.
When you do empathize with them, however, it can help to both defuse the situation and help them understand how you feel. You can say something like, “I understand why you’re angry, and I want to help resolve this situation, but I can’t do that until you can discuss the problem calmly. Your anger scares and upsets me. It’s not respectful.”
6. Don’t Overreact
The narcissist just loves to get a rise out of you, so if you overreact, you’re giving them exactly what they want. It’s not easy because they usually know how to push your buttons, but it’s imperative that you don’t overreact.
The best way to do this is to not react at all at the moment. There are several tricks you can use. Just remember to tell yourself, ‘BRAVO!’
|The Art of Not Reacting|
|1. Breathe: Take 10 Deep Breaths Before Responding|
|2. Release: Release Emotional Energy in Positive Ways|
|3. Assess: Think About the Appropriate Response|
|4. Vanquish Judgment: For Yourself and Others|
|5. Overlook the Small Stuff: Choose Your Battles|
If you can follow the BRAVO model, it can calm their rage and help you get your message through. Give yourself a moment to collect yourself with mindful breathing, and release your emotional responses by letting the feelings flow.
Try to find positive ways to release your emotions. For example, anger is an emotion, but rather than responding with rage, express your anger with a simple statement: “I am very angry right now, and it won’t do us any good to discuss the situation until I can calm down. I am leaving.”
This might not seem like a satisfying way to release your anger, but when it comes to a narcissist, it will be far more effective than anything else you could say. It will stop them in their tracks and set a firm boundary.
It will also give you time to assess the situation and determine an appropriate response as well as let go of judgment both against them and yourself. Instead, you can view the situation from a compassionate perspective.
Finally, don’t fight over every little slight. Pick your battles wisely, and you’ll have much more success with a narcissistic opponent.
7. Take a Break from the Action
Taking a break from the action is always a good strategy when someone is in a rage. It’s different from simply leaving the discussion because you don’t walk away, but you let the narcissist know you need time to think.
A good strategy is to say something like, “I need some time to think about what you’ve said. You’re important to me, so I want to make sure I understand and respond appropriately.”
This can calm the situation down, and it gives you time to formulate your response. By the time you’re ready to talk about what happened, the narcissist will have calmed down significantly.
They better be able to really hear what you’re saying. When they’re in the midst of rage, they really can’t take anything in. By telling them you need a break from the argument because you value them and want to think about what they’re saying, it validates their emotions without devaluing yours.
It also models a more appropriate way to deal with anger and hurt feelings. Over time, you might see them change the way they approach you when they’re angry.
8. Understand Where It’s Coming From
Narcissistic rage is the result of a personality disorder, and it’s important to realize that. Many victims try to blame their own behavior for causing the rage, but it’s not your fault.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “a personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning, and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. This causes significant problems and limitations in relationships, social activities, work, and school.”
The problem is the result of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). This particular form of rigid and unhealthy patterns of thinking includes delusions of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Most of the time, symptoms manifest in the teen years or early adulthood, although the disorder began forming before that time.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5) states that to be diagnosed with NPD, a person must persistently manifest at least 5 of the following 9 symptoms:
- A grandiose logic of self-importance
- A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love
- A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
- A desire for unwarranted admiration
- A sense of entitlement
- Interpersonally oppressive behavior
- No form of empathy
- Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
- A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes
Narcissistic rage falls under oppressive behavior, so it’s not something you’ve done. You can’t stop it by changing your behavior. It’s not your fault, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. Realizing this truth will help you respond to a narcissist’s rage in a healthier manner.
9. It’s Important to Remember It’s Not About You
Everything a narcissist says or does is about the narcissist and nobody else. It’s vital to realize that is the motivation behind everything they do.
When they rage at you, it’s an attempt to manipulate or control you for their own gain. It’s an effective distraction technique to keep you from delving further into something they might have done.
It’s also a way to get you to be more submissive. Victims often start walking on eggshells to keep the peace. They don’t want to face another violent eruption of rage, but the truth is that won’t help.
There is nothing you can do to stop an eventual rageful outburst from occurring again and again. That’s because it’s not about you. It’s not about something you did or said; it’s all about how the narcissist interpreted what you did or said.
Changing your behavior will never solve the problem. The only way to stop rageful outbursts is to set strong boundaries and enforce them every time.
10. Follow Through on Consequences for Boundary Violations
Once you’ve set boundaries with a narcissist, you must follow through on the consequences you named for violations every single time. If you let it slide just once, the narcissist will violate that boundary again and again.
Moreover, they will see you as weak. That will make them more likely to use techniques like a rageful outburst to try and manipulate your behavior.
We discussed setting boundaries earlier and providing the narcissist with a written version of your boundaries and the consequences of violating them. To be truly effective, you have to follow through on those consequences, even if the violation seems minor.
Remember that boundaries aren’t about forcing the narcissist to respect you; they’re about respecting yourself. Once you know the narcissist is aware of the consequences for inappropriate behavior, don’t hesitate to implement those consequences every time.
11. Call for Assistance
Not all narcissists are physically abusive, but they can be, and if they are, it’s more likely they will become physically violent during a rageful outburst. That’s why it’s important that if you fear for your physical safety, you don’t hesitate to call for help.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, one-fifth of women killed by an ex-partner were never hit by their significant other until the actual murder. Narcissistic rage likely accounts for at least some of these cases.
You should never have to live in fear of being physically abused. If you are dependent on a narcissist who is physically abusive, you need to get yourself out of that situation. There are options available to you, like shelters where you can recover from your abuse in safety.
Don’t hesitate to call the police for help if you are harmed or you’re afraid you will be. Reaching out for help is the first step on the road to recovering from abuse.
Narcissistic rage can be a frightening response to a minor event, and it’s designed to be exactly that. Narcissists use their rage to make their victims more submissive and open to manipulation and control. They want to make you feel afraid to go against them. It definitely creates emotional wounds that can then become triggers. Emotional triggers are also something the narcissist will use to control you.
But you can prevent that from happening. I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help. This free guide is designed to help you recognize, defuse, and even heal emotional triggers so that toxic people can’t use them against you. If you would like a copy, just click here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox. You can stop the abuse today and start healing!
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