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Rage—Coming Soon From a Narcissist Near You

Sound like anyone you know, if so, get out.

Hell hath no fury or contempt as a narcissist you dare to disagree with, tell they’re wrong, or embarrass

There are all sorts of disagreements regarding people like Steve Jobs*, Newt Gingrich and Bill O’Reilly, but one thing most people are in agreement about is that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Why is that? It’s because there is a belief (correct or not) that if you do, they are capable of a rage (even if it doesn’t cross over into violence) that is chilling.

Other characteristic traits of such narcissists** (and this also applies to the female variety) include:

  • Control freaks
  • Irritability
  • Short fuses
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Argumentative
  • Need to have the last word
  • Unable to lose
  • Won’t take “No” for an answer
  • Quick to anger if you don’t accommodate them
  • Quick to being aggressively defensive if you call them on any deficiency, fault or responsibility
  • Can’t apologize or if do, can’t do it sincerely
  • Rarely say, “Thank you” or “Congratulations”
  • Don’t feel or demonstrate remorse
  • Feel entitled to enthusiastic and appreciative approval, adoration, agreement and obedience
  • Gloat in victory, sullen in defeat
  • Quick to rage if you humiliate them

What is the connection between narcissism and rage?

There is a saying that when you’re a hammer the world looks like a nail.  When you’re a narcissist, the world looks like it should approve, adore, agree and obey you. Anything less than that feels like an assault and because of that a narcissist feels justified in raging back at it.

What is at the core of narcissists is not what is often referred to as low self-esteem.  I don’t think that is accurate, but something that the people around them say to themselves to mollify their own rage at the narcissist, i.e. “Oh, they only act that way, because they lack self-esteem.”

What is really at the core of narcissists is an instability in their ability to feel and sustain feeling bigger, larger, smarter and more successful than everyone else which they need to feel stable.  And just as Hamlet’s mother said, “the lady doth protest too much,” “the narcissist doth brag, scorn, talk down, primp and belittle too much” in order to continually prove to the world and themselves that they are larger than life.  This is not to increase their self-esteem as much as it is to continually spackle the holes in their core that lead to a feeling of instability—and that, if not spackled, will lead to brittleness followed by fragmentation.

Narcissistic rage occurs when that core instability is threatened and furthermore threatened to destabilize them even further.  Not unlike a wounded animal being the most vicious (because they think the next wound would kill them), narcissistic rage occurs when narcissists believe the next insult/assault to their grandiose based stability would shatter them.

In essence the reason narcissists are so self-centered is that their grandiosity based center needs to be constantly reinforced to remain stable.

What to do when a narcissist rages at you?

Don’t let them cross over the line to physical violence, but if it looks like they will follow you to keep verbally assaulting you and then maybe escalate, just listen to them until they sputter out.  Don’t try to engage them verbally.

After they calm down—or better, the next day—say to them: “I didn’t want to say this when you were yelling at or being sullen with at me, but going forward the next time you get so angry at me and verbally yell at me, speak contemptuously or act sullen, I will say once, ‘Please speak to me or act in a respectful manner,’ and if that doesn’t stop you, I will walk away and go to some other part of the house, office, or company.  Following that conversation, if it happens again, I will simply walk away saying, ‘I have other things to do.’ This is not an ultimatum, but just a heads up of what I will do if those exchanges happen again.”  (Please modify as you see fit to sound more like your words, but I hope you get the idea.)

One of the takeaways from this is that “words sometimes respond to words, but actions (which narcissistic rage is) respond to actions in the form of consequences.”  The challenge is to make your action response just right and not go to overkill, which you will have to take back, or underkill, which will only allow them to keep raging at you.

The more important takeaway is to weigh what such people bring to your life: If what they take from it and inflict on you is much more, get out.

* Regarding Steve Jobs and why he seemed to have gotten away with being such a rageaholic is that his perfectionism about products was more about, “This is great… see for yourself” vs. “I am great.”  And with regard to Apple products’ ability to delight, seeing has been believing.  With regard to Gingrich and O’Reilly, neither of them have a tangible product, they have an intangible and highly reactive point of view, where there’s nothing to see to believe.

** There are other less rageful narcissists who rather than raging, will act out in usually devious ways to get what they feel are entitled when denied it in their real life.

Mark Goulston, MD, is the author of the new bestselling book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

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