Why is Narcissistic Rage So Shocking?
What is feels like to be on the receiving end of narcissistic rage.
Posted Sep 18, 2020
"Narcissistic rage" is a term that was first used by psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut in 1972.1 Narcissistic rage can take the form of extreme open aggression in the form of screaming, shouting, and violence. It can also take the form of passive-aggressiveness, with the narcissist finding ways of sneakily causing you pain. Sometimes, it can take the form of the silent treatment.
Being on the receiving end of someone else’s anger is never pleasant—but when it comes to narcissistic rage, it’s particularly shocking for the following reasons.
1. You have no idea why they are in such a rage.
Lauren told me about an incident recently with her narcissistic sister. “There was a minor change of plans around visiting our father in the hospital and, when I let her know, she went completely ballistic. She screamed and screamed about how I had no rights and didn’t respect her. Except for the fact that she has a history of exploding for no reason, I wasn’t expecting this outburst at all. I had no idea I’d done anything to offend her.”
Narcissists respond to perceived threats to their fragile sense of self and something seemingly minor can trigger their narcissistic rage. The important word here is perceived. A narcissist’s perception is very narrowly focused in on themselves. Their worlds become small and self-centered. It’s very easy to have no idea that you’ve inadvertently burst their narcissistic bubble until you’re on the receiving end of a screaming match.
2. Their rage is intense and extreme.
"Narcissistic wound" is sometimes used to describe the root cause of a person’s narcissism—the experience or experiences which shamed or damaged them to the extent that, deep down, they believe they are not “good enough.” The narcissistic behaviours which they develop over a lifetime are attempts to hide their vulnerabilities in a swashbuckling display of grandiose gestures and delusional thinking.
When you do something that touches that original wound, the narcissist experiences this intensely and deeply—like having a finger jabbed into an open cut. Their response is suitably intense and extreme. Another reason for the intensity of their rage—whether it’s open aggression or a highly damaging passive-aggressive response—is that they don’t care that much (if at all) about the impact it is going to have on you. If they feel justified in yelling at you, they will do so.
One narcissistic client told me, “I hate people who pussyfoot about. I’ll let you know it as it is. If that means I need to shout in your face, I’ll do so.” He had no understanding of what motivated other people to approach conflict more cautiously in order to protect the feelings of the person who they were in conflict with.
3. They lie, cheat, and distort the facts.
If you know someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you know someone who is delusional. The narcissist’s entire world is formed around delusional thinking. They have to keep any less-than-perfect aspects of their lives so carefully hidden and work so hard to create a seemingly-perfect version of themselves that they need to have belief in that version. Narcissists are fantastic at lying, cheating, and fact distortion—they need to be in order to present their version of themselves to the external world.
When you fall prey to narcissistic rage, if you try and defend yourself, you’ll no doubt be accused of various things you didn’t do—and shouted down even further if you try and state your case.
What Can You Do?
Arguing back is just going to fan the flames of the rage even more. Not only have you already threatened their sense of ego, you’re now disrespecting them and questioning their authority! Trying to reason with them isn’t going to be any more successful when you think of how deep the narcissistic scar is that you, perhaps completely inadvertently, injured. They probably aren’t capable of listening to reason and, given the manipulative nature of narcissists, they may even have manipulated you into a situation where they can present themselves as the injured victim, fully justified in their vengeful response.
One option is to stick around and let them think they’re in the right, perhaps offering an apology to placate them. One client told me how, even as a little girl, she would apologise to her emotionally abusive, narcissistic mother—even when she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong. “I would say, ‘I’m sorry, mum’, even when she’d been horrible to me. An admission that I was in the wrong was the only thing that would calm her down.”
Sticking around an abusive narcissist who has repeated episodes of narcissistic rage means staying in an abusive relationship. If you are in this type of cycle with a narcissist who doesn’t believe they need to change, your only option is to avoid them and their uncontrollable outbursts. If you need help and support, please seek out a suitably qualified therapist.
1. Kohut, H. (1972) Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In the search for the self. Madison, Connecticut
2. Freud, S. (1991)  On Metapsychology. Penguin: London