Know the Signs of Narcissism, Including Narcissistic Anger
Recognizing the dynamics of narcissism can protect you from narcissistic anger.
Posted March 23, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- There are three types of narcissists, and while all may exhibit anger, those with vulnerable narcissism are most prone to rage.
- Understanding the reasons why we may be attracted to narcissists, and the challenges of living with them, can help us protect ourselves.
Narcissism has garnered increased attention in recent years, whether with regard to personal relationships, the workplace, or politics. This is a good thing. Because the more quickly we recognize the dynamics of narcissism when we encounter it in our lives, the faster we can act to protect ourselves from the anger and manipulation associated with it.
The three types of narcissism and anger
In general, research suggests there are three types of narcissism: grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Each form entails heightened self-absorption and contempt for others. Additionally, aspects of each form of narcissism might appear in individuals who are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, the clinical type.
Grandiose narcissism includes an exaggerated sense of self-importance, an ongoing need for admiration, and ever-present fantasies of increased power, wealth, intelligence, and physical appearance. It is also marked by a belief that one deserves special treatment. Additionally, it entails a tendency to take advantage of others and a lack of care, empathy, or compassion for others.
By contrast, vulnerable narcissism–often called covert narcissism–may include anxiety, shame, depression, and introversion. It encompasses envy and resentment of others, hypersensitivity to even mild criticism, and a constant need for attention. Additionally, it is often associated with passivity that only fosters a sense of victimhood.
Narcissistic personality disorder is the clinical diagnosis of individuals exhibiting five or more of those qualities defining grandiose personality disorder.
Research emphasizes that while both forms of narcissism can make one susceptible to anger arousal, “narcissistic rage” is most often associated with narcissistic vulnerability (Krizan and Johar, 2015). Suspicion, dejection, and angry rumination associated with narcissistic vulnerability fuels rage, hostility, and aggressive behavior. This same study showed that narcissistic vulnerability was strongly associated with anger internalization and externalization, a heightened degree of shame, as well as poorer anger control.
One study involved victims of narcissistic partners in the context of domestic violence (Green and Charles, 2019). It suggested that both grandiose and vulnerable narcissists’ injuries were covertly and overtly aggressive and violent. However, their motives were different—with violence being triggered by threats to self-esteem for those with grandiose narcissism, and by injury and fear of abandonment for those with vulnerable narcissism.
In one study, those participants who scored high on the NPI responded with greater changes in anxiety, anger, and self-esteem following a failure (Rhodewalt and Morf, 1998). Participants completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and were then asked to complete a series of tasks in which they succeeded and failed. Their differences were reflected in attributions regarding their as well as their moods.
Potential reasons for being attracted to a narcissist
- “He’s so charming."
- "He's the life of the party.”
- “He exudes charisma.”
- “He is so confident.”
- “He is special.”
These are a few of the reasons why narcissists are so attractive. They believe in their own value, at least on the surface. This includes a sense of “deserving” the best in life.
Over years of seeing clients, I believe it is often this factor that is a powerful draw. Especially in the early part of the relationship, just as those who are narcissistic idealize themselves, they also idealize their partners. This is experienced as a powerful wave of love and caring that may lead the new partner to feel special as well — until they don’t, when the narcissist again seeks the attraction and attention of others.
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With and without awareness, we tend to gravitate toward what is familiar. As such, for some, the relationship with a narcissist represents an echo of a significant past relationship as a child. When a parent is narcissistic, the child often grows up with a longing to get the care and attention that was not adequately provided. The adult relationship may then be viewed as a corrective experience for what did not occur, as if getting that caring as an adult can fully make up for what was absent as a child.
The fact that narcissists are self-absorbed may be attractive to those who derive self-worth primarily from trying to satisfy the needs of others. Yet, it can be a powerful distraction from developing a more informed and healthy connection with oneself, whether it be one’s suffering, desires, meaning, or purpose.
Living with someone with pathological narcissism
It is extremely challenging to live with someone with serious issues associated with narcissism. Narcissistic vulnerability inhibits one’s capacity for genuine presence with others, as they are too focused on their own needs and desires. For example, when one of my clients told her boyfriend she felt somewhat ignored while at a party, he exploded, “How can you say I ignored you? I can’t talk to other people? I can’t do anything right according to you!” and “You’re just so insecure!”
In another instance, one of my clients described an interaction she had with her husband. He was playing a piece on the piano and started over each time he made the slightest mistake. She observed this and suggested, “Why don’t you just continue and enjoy playing. I think you can be too harsh on yourself.” This was followed by his slamming down the cover over the keys and saying, “I can’t even play the piano without you watching over me! Thanks a lot; you just ruined it for me!”
Such challenges prompted a study of 436 individuals who were in a relationship with someone high in narcissistic traits (Day et al., 2020). They included responses concerning romantic partners (56.2 percent), former romantic partners (19.7 percent), and family members (21.3 percent). An analysis of the responses identified the following attributes of highly narcissistic relatives: requiring admiration, showing arrogance, entitlement, lacking in empathy, hypersensitivity and insecurity, affective instability, rage, emptiness, devaluation, hiding the self, and victimhood. Those with vulnerable narcissism were reported to have the most insidious impact.
Besides being prone to covert rage and self-referential thinking, those with narcissism are also likely to engage in gaslighting, a form of behavior that leads the target to question their own reality or foster self-doubt about what they experience. Gaslighting occurs when the target is told, “No, that’s not what happened,” or “That’s not what I said.” Such messages are meant to undermine the memory of the target. While it may not feel like an overt expression of anger, gaslighting is a violation of the other person's spirit.
Protecting yourself from the impact of narcissism
Fortunately, while it may not be easy, there are approaches you can take to help free yourself from the impact of those with narcissism.
- Learn to recognize the characteristics of narcissism.
- Be attentive to exploring how your self-doubts might be played upon. Find someone with whom you can discuss your experiences, someone who might help you validate your feelings and thoughts about your experience.
- Consider regular journaling of your experiences in an effort to become more objective about them.
- Remember that those who are narcissistic will never admit accountability, so be aware of the need to shift your expectations for them.
- Be aware of your needs to please and avoid conflict, whether related to fear of being the target of anger or rejection.
Attraction to a narcissist, whether in a personal relationship, at work, or in the political arena, reflects a dominance of the emotional over the rational mind. This same fact makes it difficult, but not impossible, to end a relationship with a partner who pervasively exhibits narcissistic traits. As such, it is helpful to be aware of narcissism to protect yourself from their anger and the pitfalls of their self-absorption. You may need the help of a friend or professional help to make such a break. But ask yourself, from your most caring and self-compassionate self, “What is in my overall best interest?”
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Krizan, Z. and Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic rage revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 108, No. 5, 784–801
Green, A. and Charles, K. (2019). Voicing the victims of narcissistic partners: A qualitative analysis of responses to narcissistic injury and self-esteem regulation. SAGE Open
April-June 2019: 1–10. DOI: 10.1177/2 582 4401 984669 3
Rhodewalt, F. and Morf, C. (1998). On self-aggrandizement and anger: A temporal analysis of narcissism and affective reactions to success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 74, No. 3, 672-653.
Day, N., Townsend, M., and Grenyer, Brin (2020) Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, Vol. 7:19 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8