July 29, 2009

Perceived Threat plus Narcissism equals Rage

Hour between Wolf and Dog by Marc Chagall

"For the narcissist, it's all about me, my needs, what I want. Such pathological narcissism, grandiosity or excessive selfishness is evident from early adulthood, and can be seen as a pervasive characterological defense against deep feelings of inferiority, helplessness, sadness and unlovability stemming from childhood needs not having been adequately met. When this inflated persona is inevitably deflated by stressful life events such as divorce, rejection, abandonment, failure and loss, narcissistic rage is triggered, along with other long-buried emotions.

"The desire for revenge, retaliation, and other compulsive needs to repay the hurt no matter what it takes is characteristic of narcissistic rage. These overwhelming emotional reactions are sometimes so severe as to engender or exacerbate what we diagnostically define as a major depressive episode, mania or even psychosis, causing significant impairment of perception, rationality, judgment and impulse control. In such debilitating, disorienting and dangerous states of mind, anything can happen."~Dangerous States of Mind by Steven Diamond

Rage and Anger

I've been thinking about the distinctions between narcissistic rage and anger, especially since I've felt more anger the last few years than the sum total of my entire life. I finally got mad and stayed mad for longer than a day, which I consider to be major progress for a 'pleasing' personality such as mine.

Perhaps many of you have also had difficulty getting angry when you should get angry, or sustaining your anger long enough to take appropriate self-protective action. Anger can be frightening if we haven't learned to manage it without betraying ourselves. But if we allow ourselves to feel anger without reacting inappropriately, we can better understand the original emotion precipitating our anger. Like being disrespected. We might not know immediately that we’re being demeaned, but our first emotional response is anger. If we can pinpoint the original reason why we’re angry, we have a better chance of choosing a healthy response.

Familiarizing ourselves with anger is a challenge we face in the healing process---especially if we've silenced our anger for fear of the narcissist's retaliation. The double standard is that the narcissist can react angrily and we're supposed to take it, understand, and forgive; but the reciprocal isn't true. The angrier we become, the more the situation escalates and overtime, we learn to repress our anger rather than risk the uncertainty of the narcissist's retaliation.

I wonder how many of us diffused the narcissist's rage instead of engaging because we intuitively knew that we'd end up backing down anyway? We knew at some point, we'd be more worried about the passengers on the bus than our wounded widdle ego.

When I get angry, I visualize myself as an old school bus loaded with passengers warning me to slow down. My kids are hanging on for dear life, my folks are shouting "Stop!", and my grandparents and Aunties are reminding me about unbridled anger refusing to yield right-of-way to oncoming traffic. Blind fury tends to miss seeing the Stop Signs.

Maybe a rule I figured out during the narcissistic relationship is that safety-first-school-buses are no match for gas-guzzling race cars. Don't even try to keep up with 'em because you can't. Or you WON'T. Why not? Because YOU are focused on being a good driver, not winning a race or participating in a demolition derby to 'even the score'. Good bus drivers pay attention to Stop Signs and obey the law of their conscience.

How far will the narcissist go to Get Even?

“The combination of narcissism and insult led to exceptionally high levels of aggression toward the source of the insult. Neither form of self-regard affected displaced aggression, which was low in general. These findings contradict the popular view that low self-esteem causes aggression and point instead toward threatened egotism as an important cause...

"There is ample reason to suggest that narcissism could be associated with increased aggression, especially in response to insults or other negative evaluations. On theoretical and clinical grounds, Kernberg (1975) proposed that narcissism includes patterns of rage that began in response to parental rejection, and rejection by others during adulthood could reactivate that rage.

"Millon (1981) proposed, contrary to Kernberg's view, that narcissism stems from an individual having parents who overvalued him or her as a child and instilled an inflated sense of entitlement and deservingness, which clearly could generate rage whenever events fail to confirm this inflated sense. Such aggressive responses seem parallel to patterns of shame-based rage that have recently been demonstrated (Tangney, 1995; Tangney, Wagner, Fletcher, & Gramzow, 1992). Kernberg (1975) observed that narcissists seem inordinately sensitive to slight insults or criticism, and they are prone to react with hostility.” ~Threatened Egotism, Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and Direct and Displaced Aggresssion

Perceived threat (shame) + pathological narcissism (ego) = 
increased aggression (rage) 

If we have been the recipient of the narcissist's rage, we might feel guilty about our reactionary anger---even when the situation calls for anger as a protective response. I think it's important to distinguish between RAGE and ANGER because they are frequently spoken of as one and the same.

They aren’t.

This pdf article is a good start for defining the difference. It's only a couple of pages long but I found it useful:

"Frequently the underlying anger is related to a perceived loss of control over factors affecting our integrity—our beliefs and how we feel about ourselves. In some cases, the anger has to do with the inability to meet unrealistic expectations (our own or those who have expectations of us). Rage is a shame-based expression of that anger. Rage is the accumulation of unexpressed anger and perceived disrespectful transactions that after multiple “stuffings” finally flow to the surface. When we become enraged, usually there is the belief that someone is deliberately attempting to incite us to become angry. Within this ego-bruised state, we are convinced that trying to be reasonable will prove to be ineffective, and therefore we will need to “even the score” or methodically disarm the offending party." ~Crossing the Line by Jim Platt (pdf)

I usually think of my resistance to harm others, no matter how angry I might be, as ‘applying internal brakes’. Getting angry is similar to stepping on an accelerator and picking up speed (best used for a quick get-away!). Call me an old school bus with a load of passengers, but at some point, I apply the brakes to my aggressive instincts. Maybe empathy is the reason why I can only go so far before stopping myself. For normal folks, there's a certain point when we back down rather than cross a moral boundary and risk harming other people. How can an empathic person NOT consider the impact of their behavior on others? We know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone's anger.

Rather than discussing how to deal with our anger (and if you are not angry about being mistreated, manipulated, and disrespected, you might want to figure out why not), I'd like to talk about the narcissist's out-of-control rage: did you experience intermittent explosions; did you placate the N to keep from escalating his-or-her rage? Rage Attacks that probably put you on high alert that the narcissist was not in reality but was caught up in a freaky sort of time warp. You might have even realized you were no longer ‘real’ to the narcissist, but had been objectified as a recipient for his-or-her aggressive rage.

Narcissists not only lack empathy for the object of their aggression, they also feel justified to exact punishment, defending themselves from what they perceive to be a humiliating threat to their grandiose self-perceptions.

In keeping with the vehicular analogy, we might describe the narcissist as having a lead foot on the accelerator.

Full speed ahead.

No intention of applying the brakes.

No matter who they have to run down in order to win.

Even school buses.




Steven Diamond. Dangerous States of Mind

Jim Platt. Crossing the Line


  1. I progressively lived in a constant state of high alert. I always had hope when the calm times would come, but in my gut, I always knew that the bad would come back, no matter what I did. Like they say "love and fear cannot live in the same house".

  2. I'm so upset by this I cant....hot tears and I have my hand resting on my mouth, subcbnsciously I guess I am trying to keep myself from speaking. This is such a sore topic for me.....................

  3. I remember being raged into my face, verbally pummeled, feeling nothing but somehow being the reason my husband was enraged beyond human sanity. The more I tried to apologize or explain the angrier he became. There was nothing I could say or not say that would appease him. Eventually, I just stared down, tears dripping onto my meal, hoping the ground would open up and swallow me. Having nothing left to bully, he left the kitchen. Me & my 7month old fetus left my family home and drove to a 24 hr diner. I spent the night in a motel. Door so thin I could hear all sorts of visiting types. I felt beyond pathetic. A once Professor of Molecular Biology, now attorney, too confused and psychologically tortured to stand up for myself and baby.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...