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Have You Been the Victim of Narcissistic Car Drama?

Driving in a car with an angry narcissist can be dangerous and scary.

Key points

  • Many narcissists pick fights when you are stuck in a car with them.
  • Narcissists may use the car as a weapon to try to win the fight.
  • They may risk the safety of everyone in the car because they are enraged and not thinking clearly.
  • It is common for narcissists to threaten to kick you out of the car or leave if you do not do immediately apologize and do what they want.
Karolina Grabowska/pexels
Source: Karolina Grabowska/pexels

Many of my clients who are in a relationship with a narcissist tell me some variation of the following story:

We were driving to dinner. One minute everything was fine and the next minute we were arguing. It was about something trivial. When I didn’t back down, he started yelling at me. When I refused to agree or apologize, he started threatening me. He sped up the car and started driving erratically.

I was really getting scared. I said, “please keep your eyes on the road.” That just made him angrier. He said, “Don’t tell me how to drive!” He pulled over to the side of the road and said, “You decide. Either shut up and let me drive or get out here and walk home. I don’t care. You have five seconds to decide and then I am leaving with you or without you.”

We were in the middle of nowhere and I was scared, so I said, “Please keep driving.” He restarted the car and said, “Why do you always have to be so difficult? If you want us to have a nice evening, then don’t piss me off!"

What is narcissistic car drama?

This is what I mean by “car drama.” You are trapped in a car with a narcissistic mate, and you're in an escalating fight. The car is moving. You are scared. Your partner starts yelling, then threatening, and then finds a way to use the car to scare you into giving in.

Here is another common variation of narcissistic car drama:

We were on our way to visit our children at camp. We got a late start. I was driving. By the time we were in the car, my wife was fuming. She said, “This is so you! You can never be on time. What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Please don’t speak to me like that.” She got furious. “It’s okay for you to make us late, but it’s not okay for me to complain about it?” It just got nastier and nastier from there.

Then she said, “I don’t want to be in this car with you another minute. Slow down and pull over, I’m getting out.” I said, “You can’t get out here. It’s the side of the highway. There is no place for you to go. Please don’t do this. We’re on our way to see the kids.” She said, “You should have thought of that before you picked a fight with me. Pull over, I am getting out.”

I thought she was kidding and just being dramatic, but I pulled over and she opened the door and got out. She started walking away. Meanwhile, the cars behind me are honking and the people are watching. My wife just kept walking slowly forward.

Well, I couldn’t leave her there. It wasn’t safe. So, I followed in the car, begging her to get back in. I didn’t know what to do. I told myself that this was crazy and dangerous and to just apologize. So, I told her she was right and I was wrong and to please come back into the car. Eventually, she decided that she had made her point and tortured me enough, so she got back in the car and we drove off.

Note: In this article, I am using the terms "narcissist", "narcissistic", and "NPD" as a shorthand way of describing someone who has narcissistic personality disorder.

What is going on here? Why would a narcissist do something so dangerous?

I have had the opportunity to ask many otherwise intelligent people with NPD about why they were willing to risk injuring themself or their mate by weaponizing their car in order to win an argument. I generally hear one or more of the following reasons:

  • Rage: I lost my temper. I was so angry that I didn’t care what happened next or who got hurt.
  • Dominance: If I let them get away with talking to me like that, they will know they have the upper hand. I have to show that I am the boss.
  • Control: I just wanted to show them that they cannot control me. When I make a threat, I have to follow up until the other person gives in. Otherwise, I look weak.
  • Winning: In this world, there are only two types of people: winners and losers. If I give in, they win, and I lose. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a loser, no matter what it takes.
  • Denial: It wasn’t really as dangerous as it sounds. I knew no one would get hurt. I was only joking when I told her to get out of the car. I didn’t think that she would take me seriously.
  • Blame Shift: It is their fault that I had to take it so far. If they hadn’t done (fill in the blank), I wouldn’t have had to do what I did.

What do all these reasons have in common?

All of these reasons are typically narcissistic and extremely self-centered. They are about how the narcissistic person feels and what the narcissist wants to happen. None of these reasons show any real concern for the narcissist’s mate. Instead, there is a preoccupation with winning at any cost and dominating the mate.

What makes narcissists willing to go to such dangerous lengths to win a fight?

People with narcissistic personality disorder lack what normal, non-narcissistic people have: whole-object relations, object constancy, emotional empathy, and the ability to regulate their own self-esteem.

  • Whole-object relations (WOR): This is the ability to see yourself and other people in a realistic, stable, and integrated way that simultaneously contains both liked and disliked traits. A lack of WOR means the person can only see others as either all-good or all-bad.
  • Object constancy (OC): This is the ability to maintain your good feelings towards someone you care about despite feeling hurt, angry, disappointed, frustrated, or physically distant from the other person. A lack of object constancy is a major cause of abuse. Love can turn to hatred as soon as the narcissist feels disrespected or disappointed.
  • Emotional empathy: If you have emotional empathy, you are less likely to hurt other people because you automatically feel bad when they feel bad. Without emotional empathy, narcissists need to rely on cognitive empathy to understand what their mate is feeling. This is unlikely to happen once they lose object constancy during a fight.
  • Self-esteem: Narcissists need external validation in order to stabilize and regulate their self-esteem. This means that narcissists’ self-esteem goes up and down depending on how other people treat them. This is why even a trivial event, like leaving 10 minutes late or their mate asking them to drive slower, feels so important to people with NPD. They see it as a sign of disrespect and a danger to their self-esteem.

What should I do?

Narcissistic car drama is a common form of narcissistic abuse. If the narcissist in your life does it to you once, he or she is likely to do it again. While it is going on, I suggest that you focus on staying safe. Do your best not to escalate the fight, even if you are 100 percent right. If you have another way to get where you are going, do not get back into the car. However, if you are out in the middle of nowhere, do whatever you can to pacify the person so that the two of you are safe.


Once the day is over, give your situation some thought. If your mate is abusing you in a car, it is likely that this is the tip of the iceberg, and you are also being abused in other ways. You may want to rethink whether this is the right relationship for you. People with narcissistic personality disorder are highly unlikely to change without many years of appropriate psychotherapy.


Greenberg, J. R. & Mitchell, S. A. (1983). Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Masterson, J. F. & Lieberman (2004). A Therapist's Guide to the Personality Disorders: The Masterson Approach--A Handbook and Workbook. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker, & Theisen, Inc.

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