Why do narcissists explode with frustration and anger at what seems like nothing to us? Narcissistic rage can be a frightening feature of narcissistic personality disorder—especially when it’s aimed at you.
The narcissist’s rage is different from regular levels of frustration and anger. It is irrational and often seems either unprovoked or overblown, given the circumstances. If you trigger shame in a narcissist or scratch against the surface of their low self-esteem, you can be assured that the narcissist will overreact in an unacceptable manner. It’s important to know how to defend yourself against this rage and that begins with understanding.
Read on to understand how narcissistic rage differs from anger, to identify the variations of narcissistic rage, and to recognize the triggers and responses to that irrational rage.
Difference Between Anger and Narcissistic Rage
Usually, when people are driven to anger, it follows a series of emotional steps that gradually builds into anger. Everyone else in the vicinity can typically recognize the signs that someone is about to get mad. Not so for the narcissistic rage. It usually happens suddenly, often without any warning at all.
A general pattern for someone who displays anger is that they are stressed by some event or anxious over certain feelings. This then progresses into agitation or irritation, wherein they physically or verbally express some dissatisfaction or discomfort. Finally, they openly express frustration through facial and vocal cues or outright anger with loud or dramatic demonstrations.
The narcissist doesn’t follow this usual pattern of development. Once they are triggered, they can move directly into frustration or anger, which is then often eclipsed by full-blown rage. This signifies a loss of control beyond anger that might involve physical aggression or verbal abuse.
Explosive Rage versus Passive-Aggressive Rage
Narcissists also have two very different methods by which they express their rage. The grandiose narcissist will react with explosive and unpredictable rage, while the vulnerable narcissist often reacts with subtle, manipulative, and a desire to punish others emotionally.
In the first example, the grandiose narcissist often displays an explosive temper, blowing up in outrageous ways at the slightest provocation. This volatility often leads to physical confrontations with others or with objects. Explosive rage is violent, threatening, and should be taken seriously—remove yourself from the situation.
In the second case, the vulnerable narcissist will often express their rage via more manipulative ways. In an attempt to control the situation and everyone involved, this passive-aggressive display of rage will involve sulking, pouting, or the silent treatment for unreasonable periods of time. Basically, this is a quiet adult temper tantrum, performed until the narcissist gets their demands met.
Unreasonable Demands and Thwarted Attention
So, what triggers a narcissist’s rage? There are many potential causes, though a few general categories are almost certainly going to result in a raging response. Any affront to their exaggerated confidence and inflated ego, whatever the form, will almost certainly trigger a rage response.
First, when the narcissist’s demands, however unreasonable, are not met, they can fly into a rage like a spoiled child. The same applies to their reaction over being criticized, even if that criticism is constructive and offered with kindness. They cannot stand it when they aren’t catered to.
Second, if the narcissist isn’t at the center of attention—no matter what other, more important things are going on—they will often respond with rage. This is also the case when they aren’t given preferential treatment of the sort they believe they deserve. Their sense of entitlement is powerful, and they will rage against any obstacle, whether it be a person or an object, that gets in their way.
Accusations and Accountability
Narcissists are also triggered by being accused of breaking the rules or behaving inappropriately. Their sense of superiority, coupled with their underlying insecurities, won’t allow them to acknowledge they’ve done anything wrong. If pushed, they will frequently fly into a rage.
They are also easily triggered when their façade is questioned or if they are asked to be accountable for their inappropriate and destructive behavior. They cannot abide any threat to their carefully curated self-image, because they lack a central sense of self; their image is all they have. And, just as they cannot apologize, they cannot even be asked to explain their behavior.
Finally, the narcissist is triggered when they do not feel that they are in control of the situation. Without full control, they risk being discovered for the fraud that they really are. They must be able to have the upper hand in order to maintain their image. When that’s threatened, the reaction is often rage.
Handling Narcissistic Rage
If you’ve ever been subjected to narcissistic rage, you learn pretty quickly to back off or get away. In my experience, responding to their shocking rage with an equal amount of calm energy helps to diffuse the situation. Forcing yourself not to react to their overreaction will cause their anger to fizzle out. Without an opponent, the narcissist loses interest.
While you may not be able to do this, depending on the irrationality of their rage, if you can bring yourself to validate their feelings or perspective, then that will also help to deflate the intensity of their anger. Letting them know that they have a right to be upset soothes their wounded ego and helps them to calm down.
Still, though, you are not at the mercy of their inappropriate rage, and you should not feel obligated to stick around or to give credibility to a crazy response. You should certainly remove yourself from the situation altogether if their rage devolves into destructive actions or threats of physical violence.
A narcissist’s rage is always very close to the surface, with all its irrational energy. The narcissist doesn’t merely get angry; rather, they fly into a rage whenever they feel their sense of self-esteem or inflated importance are questioned. There are numerous triggers to be mindful of when dealing with a narcissist.
Remember to protect yourself from the narcissist’s rage, both physically and emotionally. It is not your fault or your problem that the narcissist is driven to explosive or manipulative behavior. Use these explanations and techniques to keep yourself centered and safe, should you need to.
Understanding what triggers narcissistic rage is really important for managing your interactions with a narcissist. A free copy of my “Narcissistic Rejection Guide” can also help. You will learn how to say no and even push back against their manipulative tactics. Just click on the link and I’ll send it directly to your inbox for free!
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