It’s Narcissist Friday!
Sometimes a term becomes popular simply because it makes so much sense. “Narcissistic rage” just makes sense. Most of us have seen it, experienced it. It reveals itself when the narcissist feels threatened, they say. Sudden, intense, pointed, ruthless, cruel, hate-filled, vengeful, and oddly uncontrolled.
I remember a friend telling me how he put something of his on the top of the narcissist’s car as he was getting into the passenger seat. It was something any of us might have done, and it did no damage. But the narcissist went ballistic! He ranted and raved and shouted, then he referred to the act several times throughout the trip. And, get this, it wasn’t even his car. The car belonged to the company.
So what was that? Was the narcissist so afraid that the car would be scratched? Not really. He might scratch it himself later without concern. Was he feeling disrespected or attacked by what my friend did? The answer may not be easy to determine. Narcissists exhibit rage sometimes without much reason.
But why rage? Why is this sudden, explosive anger so common among narcissists? And why do some narcissists rarely show it?
First, it comes naturally. The narcissist is an angry person. He feels that he has been neglected, disrespected, abused throughout his life. Everything that has happened to him is someone else’s fault. People cannot be trusted and, except for certain uses that serve the narcissist, have no value. The narcissist lives with this victimized anger constantly.
Rage acts as a release valve for the narcissist’s anger. The pressure builds until she cannot, or does not want to, control it. Then it erupts as something ugly and loud until the pressure goes away. Many have reported that the narcissist seems to feel better after the rage, with little or no concern about what it has done to others.
Sometimes, perhaps with more covert or more subdued narcissists, the rage is not explosive. The fire burns underground. Instead of being loud, the rage shows itself with acts of quiet vengeance or pernicious fantasies. Not all narcissists are able to get by with overt rage. But they can hate, and they can still find ways to destroy.
When the rage is explosive, the narcissist might be controlled by it. He/she might do things honestly regretted later. Punching a hole through the wall or throwing a lamp across the room—these things have consequences. So does saying those cruel things to the boss. In these times, when the rage seems uncontrolled, victims wonder if physical abuse is next. After all, who knows what someone with that kind of rage will do? Not even the narcissist really knows. Rage that is uncontrolled may be very dangerous and victims have the right to remove themselves. In other words, get out before you get hurt.
But I suspect that most narcissistic rage is actually under the narcissist’s control. Remember that control is everything for the narcissist. Losing control is weakness and exposure. So the chances are that the narcissist knows just how far he can go and when to stop. He stops just short of physical abuse or evidence that could be used against him. He goes far enough to terrify his victim, but not far enough to get in trouble.
Rage became one of the most useful tools in the narcissist’s toolbox when he/she was young. The people around didn’t know quite how to handle this apparently violent youngster. They were afraid, and they did whatever they could to make sure it didn’t happen again. Maybe they gave in to the demands. Maybe they showed their fear. But the narcissist learned that rage worked. In fact, it worked very well.
The suddenness and intensity of rage does frighten us. It should. We never know what it could bring. The narcissist knows this about us and—surprise!—uses rage to manipulate. We want to make it go away, so we do what the narcissist wants. It works.
But the rage may not be the thing for us to fear. In fact, watch it closely to see what happens afterward. Often the narcissist seems to forget that it ever happened. He/she seems to think you should forget it also. It either revealed the underlying anger of the narcissist in an uncomfortable way, or it was just a tool for manipulation. In either case, you don’t need to be afraid.
The anger we should be more concerned about is the cold anger, often seen in the covert narcissist, but also felt by the overt. The cold anger calculates and plans, schemes and plots. By the time you see that cold anger, you have probably already lost your job or your place as a spouse. Narcissistic anger moves toward a goal, usually with stealth and patience.
Narcissistic rage, on the other hand, may simply be the blustering noise of someone who doesn’t care about what they say or who they hurt, the barking of a dog safe behind the neighbor’s fence. As a friend of mine used to say, “All blow and no go!” That isn’t to say there is no reason for concern, just that you may not need to be afraid.
(Now, I cannot leave this subject without repeating a strong caution. Most narcissists do not physically abuse, but most abusers are narcissists. If you are afraid, or if there is evidence in your mind that your narcissist might hurt you or someone else, do something! Get out of there. Remove yourself from the anger, or take your child away from it. Doing so might send a message to the narcissist who uses rage as a means of control. It might also save your life from the one who will go too far.)