What Can I Do to Control My Narcissistic Rage?
Self-help tips for Narcissists who are ready to make changes.
Posted May 26, 2018
One of the surprising things about the many articles about Narcissistic Personality Disorder on the internet is how few are actually aimed at helping people with Narcissistic issues. I have decided to try to remedy this situation by writing about some of the psychotherapy interventions that my clients with Narcissistic Disorders have found helpful.
As my client Bob said:
I hate getting triggered so much. Almost any small slight can get me enraged. Then I make these public scenes—like the time I tried to get a waitress fired because she brought me mayonnaise instead of mustard on my sandwich. At the time I felt justified. I told myself that she obviously didn’t feel that I was important enough to pay attention to. Later, at home, I felt like a jackass. Like usual, I had a “rage hangover.” I felt depleted and stupid. I do this over and over again and I am sick of it! How do I stop?
Here are a few suggestions that I developed to help Bob and my other Narcissistic clients get control over their rage.
Note: I am using the terms “Narcissist” and “Narcissistic” here as shorthand for the much longer phrase: a person who has made a Narcissistic adaptation to a childhood situation and who now manifests a pattern of responses that is generally called a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. No disrespect is intended. Narcissism describes a pattern not a person.
- The Simple Way: 4 Steps
I invented a simple 4 step procedure to help my clients reign in their impulsive destructive behaviors. I call it “The Simple Way.” You do not have to be a Narcissist to use it. I put it on the back of my business cards so that my clients can carry it with them as a helpful reminder whenever they need one. Here it is:
Have a problem?
- Slow down.
- Calm down.
- Think it through rationally.
- Choose the most constructive alternative.
Step 1: Slow down—Delay Acting
The main recipe for not lashing out when you get triggered involves slowing down your reaction. Do everything in your power to delay acting on your first impulse. If you act immediately on that angry impulse, you are likely to do something that you regret later. If you are in a social situation or work situation, you may find it useful to say something like the following:
I would like to take some time to think it over before I respond.
Then immediately remove yourself. Take a walk around the block, count to 2000 backwards, do anything that keeps you from voicing your rage until you have had a chance to calm down and think through your options rationally.
This also means: Do not send that scathing email. Do not text. Do not phone the person. You are likely to express yourself more effectively once you are calmer.
Step 2: Calm down
When the emotional parts of our brain are highly active, it can be difficult to think clearly. As Euripides, the Greek dramatist (484 BCE – 406 BCE) wrote:
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
Therefore, after you slow down and inhibit the immediate expression of your rage, the next step is to find a way to calm down your nervous system. Luckily we live in the computer age and at a time when information about meditation and other forms of stress reduction are available practically everywhere.
Most of us already know some stress reduction techniques, such as yoga breathing, mindfulness meditation, or other forms of meditation. If you do not, I highly recommend two apps that I personally use: Insight Timer and Head Space. Each has a variety of meditations to suit every occasion—even when you literally only have 1 minute to calm down.
If using an app on your phone or computer does not appeal to you, choose another method that suits you better. It does not matter which method that you choose as long as you use it when you feel yourself losing it.
Step 3: Think it through rationally
Instead of focusing on your emotions and how hurt and enraged you feel, switch to using the analytical powers of your prefrontal cortex. Ask yourself the following:
- What is my ideal outcome?
- Has my past behavior helped or hindered me?
- If I blast this person, will it make anything better in the long run?
- What are some alternative behaviors that I can do instead?
Step 4: Choose the most constructive alternative
Please note that I did not say the “perfect alternative.” Sometimes nothing is perfect, but something will stand out as more constructive than the rest.
Once you have gotten a better grip on your rage, you may want to explore where all this rage came from originally.
- Dealing with the Feelings Beneath the Rage
Most of my friends and clients with Narcissistic Personality Adaptations (I prefer the word “adaptation” to “disorder”) are ultra-sensitive to anything they perceive as a slight or a criticism. This usually turns out to be the result of poor parenting and a childhood filled with unfair parental criticisms and devaluations.
You Have a Pre-Existing Wound
The reason that your rage is so disproportionate to the situation that triggered it is that whatever is touching off your rage in the present is touching a deep, extremely painful, pre-existing wound that has never healed.
Your rage is not only about the present situation. It is likely to be so extreme because the present situation resonates with ALL your past hurts and disappointments that have something in common with it.
I see this in Group therapy a lot. Someone will make what they think is an innocent remark or a mild criticism and the person on the receiving end feels hurt and furious. He or she now attacks back without stopping to think about what is going on. Unless I step in and stop it, this can quickly escalate until the whole group is drawn into the fight. Before this can happen, I like to explain:
Your sore spot got touched by his (or her) dumb spot and now the whole situation is hot.
Of course, my larger intention is to teach the whole group that sometimes people can hurt you without intending to do so—and that sometimes you can hurt someone accidently because you do not understand their sensitivities.
- EXERCISE—Trace the Origins of the Wound
You can do this exercise with pen and paper in a therapy journal or on your computer.
Step 1—The Present Situation
Write down the details of the present situation and the feelings it brought up for you.
Step 2—Identify Previous Similar Situations
- Ask yourself: When have I felt provoked like this before?
- Write down the details of the previous incidents that come to mind.
- Put the incidents in chronological order, going from most recent to the earliest that you can remember.
Step 3—The Pattern
- Notice what these events have in common.
- Notice where it all started.
Step 4--Write down as much as you can remember about the earliest situation:
- How old were you?
- Who were you with?
- What did they do?
- How did you react?
- How did the other person (or people) react?
- Did you make any decisions based on this situation?
Pay attention to how you feel as you do this—and please let yourself feel. You may want to cry. If so, that is a good thing and may drain off some of the angry energy that propels you to rage at people now.
- The Role of Shame
You may find that underlying your angry outbursts is a lot of shame. Many of my Narcissistic clients had Narcissistic parents who saw nothing wrong in using shame, devaluation, and public humiliation to control or punish their children.
I know this exercise is likely to be hard for you as it involves directly facing some of the worst incidents in your life. Do as much of it as you can. If you feel overwhelmed, stop. Save the page and go back to it when you feel ready.
Punchline: The basic recipe for dealing with Your own over-the-top Narcissistic rage is two-fold:
- Delay expressing your rage and take time to think it through and act in your own long-term best interest.
- Try and understand the pain that gave birth to your rage and where it began.
If you find this too hard to do on your own, find a therapist to work with who will accompany you without judgement on your journey to wholeness. I stress no judgement because, if you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you are likely to have your own introjected harsh inner critical voice. You need to feel safe, accepted, and understood by your therapist.
Good Luck on your Journey!
This article is based on a Quora.com post: What can a self-aware narcissist do to cope with rage and the feelings beneath it? How can I stop lashing out? (May 7, 2018).