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Understanding Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage

Why some narcissists will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Source: vectorfusionart/Shutterstock

Owing to the frequent media attention it has received during the past few years, the mental illness called “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (NPD) has entered into the public consciousness with ever-increasing focus.

While terms like "narcissist" and "narcissism" are commonly used these days, very few people are actually aware of what pathological narcissism is. What's more, even fewer are aware of NPD's most common and potentially dangerous features, namely "narcissistic injury" and "narcissistic rage."

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (the DSM-5), NPD is defined as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least five of the following nine criteria:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Interpersonally exploitive behavior (takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

Keep in mind that to satisfy the criteria for a diagnosis of NPD, a person has to have only five of these features. Yet many pathological narcissists far exceed the diagnostic threshold—meaning that not just five but often all nine of the criteria apply to them.

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism. They always have to be right, proclaim they know more than they actually do, never take any responsibility for their wrongful acts, and always blame others for their mistakes. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is why they:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don't receive special treatment
  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation

As suggested above, what the Mayo Clinic and most other legitimate and authoritative sources of psychiatric information fail to adequately emphasize within their diagnostic criteria for NPD are what’s called “narcissistic injury” and “narcissistic rage.”

Briefly, a narcissistic injury happens when a narcissist perceives a threat to their self-esteem or self-worth. Narcissistic rage is the narcissist’s reaction to a narcissistic injury.

In other words, narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden, "true self" has been revealed. And since their true self is massively insecure, envious, deceitful, manipulative, and incapable of empathizing, they deeply resent having a mirror held up to them. Thus, when their hidden deficits, manipulative tactics, or dishonest behaviors or motivations are revealed—or when their importance is questioned—they feel injured and react with rage.

Narcissistic rage occurs on a continuum, which may range from passive-aggressive aloofness and expressions of irritation or annoyance to serious outbursts, including extreme antisocial behavior like violent attacks and even, in rare cases, murder. Hence, narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable anger that results from a narcissistic injury—a threat to a narcissist's self-esteem or worth.

And while the rage comes in many forms, it almost always pertains to getting revenge against the injuring person. Indeed, an extremely pathological narcissist will use every resource and means available to them to exact revenge. Because it is only this way that they can emerge as the "winner." And the need to be the "winner" is, perhaps, the most fundamental factor that shapes the personality and drives the life of an extreme narcissist.

Narcissistic rage is a very dangerous thing, even in typical narcissists. Sadly, as I've blogged about before, there is anecdotal information that suggests narcissists gravitate to certain professions where they can feed their insatiable appetites for admiration and garner power to exert over others. Unsurprisingly, the careers that attract narcissists are chiefly politics, the financial service industry, and big business. Imagine how destructive NPD and narcissistic rage can be in someone who wields the power of a Fortune 500 CEO or holds the highest ranking elected position in the federal government. We need only look at people like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, or tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un, to get a peek through that keyhole.

To get a sense of how narcissists actually think see this post:…

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Copyright 2019 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified health professional. The advertisements in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me.

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