The explosiveness, unpredictability, and unjustifiable reasoning of narcissistic rage is to blame for the continuation of many narcissistic relationships. 

It makes you feel as if you have to constantly walk on eggshells around the narcissist in your life to survive both physically and psychologically, because their entire physical presence changes into something demonic. 

It’s a very peculiar aspect of the narcissistic realm because while it is a manipulative behavior pattern, it’s not as intentional as gaslighting, scapegoating, flying monkeys, or financial abuse. 

A common misconception is that narcissistic rage is the same as anger. The thing about anger is that anger is a normal response that we all have. 

When we are angry we may say something that we regret later on, raise the tone of our voice, refuse to communicate, break something, or even cry. But eventually we come to our senses, regulate our emotions, and move on accordingly.

A non-narcissistic woman apologizing because of how angry she was.

You may also be under the impression that narcissistic rage is essentially rage that comes from a narcissist. Unfortunately that’s not true either. 

While it’s rarely justifiable, rage is also a common emotion among non-narcissistic people. Rage can manifest anywhere in someone screaming at another or physical violence. But again it is rarely a justifiable response to any given situation. 

Narcissistic rage is rage out of control and what differentiates it from non-narcissistic rage is that it can be caused by something as insignificant as drinking a juice box that a narcissist may have bought for themselves.

It’s the equivalent of being caught in a monstrous lightning storm while holding a metal pole, you’re going to get struck. 

Table of Contents:

Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Rage?

There is a strong correlation between an unhealthy/abusive childhood and the development of narcissistic personality traits, especially narcissistic rage. 

We’ve spoken about this in our article How Are Narcissists Made, but many researchers believe that narcissists are created by primary caregivers like the following:

  • Primary caregivers who are consistently unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent with a child. 
  • Primary caregivers who are narcissistic/abusive themselves.
  • Or primary caregivers who shame and humiliate their children especially when their child expresses an emotion that they deem as weak or undesirable.

There isn’t a correct theory. It is much more probable that narcissists are created by a combination of all three possibilities I mentioned above, and some that I’m not aware of. 

Nevertheless, the correlation this has with narcissistic rage is that their upbringing causes them to be so emotionally stunted that they are unable to build their own self-esteem. 

A narcissist in a black shirt failing to build their own self-esteem because of their emotional immaturity.

When the narcissist’s primary caregiver was unable to accurately mirror their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and needs, they would do things like cry, act up or other maladaptive coping mechanisms in an attempt to have their existence validated, admired, and accepted

In adulthood, because of their emotional immaturity, they do the exact same thing except that now they seek the approval, validation, and admiration of society rather than their primary caregivers. 

Meaning that they build their self-esteem of their ability to conform to and exceed societal norms. This is the reason why narcissists are attracted to materialistic things like money, social media, appearance, and status rather than their own emotional stability. 

As you can imagine, this causes them to have incredibly fragile egos. When they experience an ego injury, they rage because they are incapable of regulating the emotional distress that comes from having their identity challenged.  

What makes narcissistic rage so explosive, unpredictable, and unjustified is that because they are constantly building their self-esteem and identity off of insignificant, inconsistent, and materialistic things, they experience narcissistic injuries on a daily basis over the most trivial things you could imagine. 

“It was during the last time he hoovered me. He had made me breakfast and brought it to my bedside to wake me up. The food was amazing but he had put cashews in the muffins and I’m allergic. I told him I couldn’t eat it and before I had the chance to remind him that I’m allergic he lost his mind. He took the tray out of my hand, threw it against the wall, tried to force me to eat the muffins and proceeded to trash the room. I was in shock and the hope that things were going to be different was destroyed. I packed what I could and ran out of his apartment and haven’t seen him since.” – Tammy a Survivor of 6 Years of Narcissistic Abuse

What Should You Take Away From This Section?

Narcissist rage because they experience ego injuries and are unable to regulate the emotional distress that comes with having their identity contradicted, challenged, invalidated or devalued. 

The reason narcissistic rage has been characterized as explosive, unpredictable, and unjustifiable and differentiated from rage and anger is because the fragility of their egos and emotional immaturity makes them prone to rage over anything and everything on a daily basis. 

Four of the most common precursors to narcissistic rage.
Four signs you’re about to witness narcissistic rage.

How Does Narcissistic Rage Make It Hard to Leave a Narcissist?

There’s so many different reasons why escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is a challenging task, but narcissistic rage has come across our radar a numerous number of times. 

Narcissistic rage makes escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle very hard for two reasons: it is so unjustifiable that it forces non-narcissistic brains to make illogical rationalizations, and it creates a pervasive environment of fear. 

How Do People Make Illogical Rationalizations for Narcissistic Rage?

Narcissistic rage is one of the most commonly overlooked red flags in the beginning of narcissistic relationships. 

A man in a black and white shirt ignoring red flags in the beginning of his narcissistic relationship.

The reasoning behind this can be found in the way the narcissist in your life accumulates narcissistic supply, the validation and admiration of others.

I want you to think back to the beginning stages of the relationship with a narcissist in your life and try to remember what made them so intriguing? 

If they were a grandiose narcissist they’re most likely to be the life of the party, the talk of the town, or have a very captivating social status so you were very flattered that they chose to give you all of their attention. 

There were so many spontaneous moments, intimacy, gifts and trips, or they might’ve even paid for your family vacation the first time they met your parents. They made you feel amazing and it understandably made you want to stay.

A grandiose narcissist love bombing by giving incredibly grandiose gifts.

Communal narcissists tend to draw you in with their charitable nature. They are very generous with their money, they’re adamant about supporting local schools and businesses. 

They may even go to developing nations to help out where they can. The idea of being able to save the world and do good things for other people with the person you love may have been what drew you into the relationship. 

A man in an orange shirt describing his relationship with a communal narcissist before he knows how abusive his partner is.

Covert narcissists draw you in by triggering your desire to be a good person or a rescuer. They come off as very depressed and underrated/undervalued by the world. They make you feel as if you’re their savior. 

To others they come off as someone who enjoys sucking the life out of the party, but in your eyes, you had a special connection that no one else saw. You thought that if you could just help him/her out of the low part of their life you would have a fantastic future together. 

A woman with brown hair comforting a covert narcissist because she believes that he’s depressed.

Malignant narcissists are a force to be reckoned with. Their behavior patterns circulate around their insecure need for control, money, dominance, and power. 

They are often very successful and make you feel secure so your desire to be with them is very instinctual. 

They’ll likely buy you these extravagant gifts that make you feel very special when in reality they bought you the new car, house, or apartment to have something to hold over your head. 

A malignant narcissist in blue pants buying his spouse a car.

How Does This Correlate With the Way People Make Illogical Rationalizations For Narcissistically Abuse

The reason that the origin of the narcissistic relationship is so significant is because it lays a foundation on which you may normalize, justify, and rationalize the forthcoming abuse. 

If you’re a few months into a relationship with a covert narcissist and they go into a narcissistic rage, a common excuse that you may use is that they’ve had a very rough upbringing and their behavior is justifiable because of it. 

A man drinking a cup of coffee rationalizing, justifying, and normalizing narcissistic abuse because he believes the narcissist had a rough upbringing.

With a malignant narcissist you may justify the narcissistic rage by claiming that they’re just a very intense, high-performance person.

A man in a red shirt justifying narcissistic behavior by labeling the narcissist as a high-performance person.

It’s very common for those who suffer narcissistic abuse from a grandiose narcissist to blame themselves for the narcissistic rage because their partners are too elegant, popular, admirable, and desirable to have the malicious traits associated with narcissism. 

A woman in a beautiful yellow dress blaming herself for narcissistic abuse.

In all honesty the red flags of communal narcissism are the hardest red flags to identify. Communal narcissists do many charitable things on a daily basis. It’s very hard to be cynical when you have someone who is truly an amazing person in public but distant, cold, and passive aggressive behind closed doors. 

The reason being that the moment you call them out for their abusive behavior they’re going to shame, guilt, and berate you for having the audacity to hold accountable for their actions. 

So, it’s very common for those who coexist with a communal narcissist to rationalize and justify and normalize their abuse because they’re such a “good” person.

A woman in a blue shirt being confused about whether or not she is being abused by a communal narcissist.

How Does Narcissistic Rage Create a Pervasive Environment of Fear? 

Let’s circle back to the difference between non-narcissistic rage and narcissistic rage. 

When a non-narcissistic person rages the reasoning behind their explosive behavior usually aligns with something as significant as a threat to their life with a threat to the lives of their loved ones. 

Due to the fragility of their ego, when a narcissistic person rages it’s because of something along the lines of a flight being delayed, a restaurant losing the reservation, or not receiving validation and admiration for something they’ve done.

In other words, if you steal someone’s life savings and runoff to some island in Central America you should expect rage. 

But you shouldn’t expect someone to throw themselves into a rageful, adult temper tantrum because you drank their last Gatorade. 

Because the triggers for narcissistic rage are so trivial, it makes those who suffer narcissistic abuse feel as if they constantly have to walk on eggshells around their abuser. 

Narcissistic rage is so terrifyingly unpredictable that many decide to remain silent rather than deal with the wrath of a break up, quitting a job, leaving a family system, or ending a friendship with a narcissist. 

A woman with blue hair deciding whether or not she wants to leave the narcissistic relationship and experience their rage or endure the abuse.

What Happens During Narcissistic Rage? 

The interesting thing about narcissistic rage is that it actually answers two very common questions among those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse: do narcissists know that their behavior is wrong and do narcissists ever feel ashamed?

These are two very controversial topics among those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse but hear me out because what I have to say is true. 

In the beginning of this article we spoke about how the fragility of a narcissist’s ego makes them prone to ego injuries and their emotional immaturity causes them to rage, instead of regulating the emotional distress they experience. 

But there’s much more to this than meets the eye…

Have you ever argued with the narcissist in your life for days at a time? They go into a narcissistic rage, they calm down a little bit then BOOM, they are back into a rage again.

Well, here’s why…

A narcissist’s well-being is vitally dependent on their ability to maintain a reality they fabricated that portrays them as admirable, desirable, respectable, attractive, intelligent, and successful.

When a narcissist goes into a narcissistic rage, they are contradicting their own reality because of how trivial the triggers for their outbursts can be. 

A narcissist in a yellow dress raging at a woman with blue hair because she didn’t do laundry.

Someone who becomes emotionally and/or physically violent over something as small as a restaurant losing their dinner reservation is not anywhere near the personality traits I listed above.   

What ends up happening is that the narcissist rages, realizes they’ve contradicted their own reality, and then feels a tremendous amount of negative emotions along the lines of shame.

But there’s a catch…

The negative emotions that a narcissist feels after contradicting their own reality causes a huge amount of emotional distress, which they can’t manage because they’re emotionally inadequate, so they throw themselves back into a rage and the cycle repeats. 

This dynamic is known as the shame-rage cycle but it doesn’t only happen when a narcissist rages. It can happen when someone disagrees with them, criticizes them, ignores them, holds them accountable or anything else that contradicts their sense of specialness. 

It doesn’t stop there…

The information I just provided can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse. 

The reason being that the same awareness narcissists use to see that their rage has contradicted their own superficial reality, is the same awareness they use to see the power they hold from raging

As I mentioned previously in this article, narcissistic rage keeps many narcissistic relationships in place because of how terrifying it is and on some level, a narcissist knows this. 

Oftentimes they’re able to literally see the fear and horror on others’ faces after one of their rage episodes, but instead of being ashamed, they gaslight you into rationalizing, normalizing, and justifying their behavior. 

A narcissist with a blue and yellow hoodie minimizing his abusive behavior.

From this perspective it is very understandable why the concept of a narcissist feeling ashamed is hard to wrap your head around, but it is important that you understand that they don’t feel ashamed because they’ve made you feel horrible. 

They feel ashamed because they’ve contradicted their own reality. Their reasoning behind their shame is just as superficial as their existence so please do not use the shame-rage spiral to rationalize, justify, and normalize narcissistic behavior. 

431 Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse Describe What Narcissistic Rage Looks & Feels Like

A study about what narcissistic rage looks and feels like among 431 survivors of narcissistic abuse.
  • Passive-Aggressive
    • Roughly 151 Unfilteredd Participants reported that the narcissistic rage they experienced was passive aggressive. The most common passive aggressive behavior patterns they reported were the silent treatment and the weaponization of insecurities and vulnerabilities.
      • “My ex-husband used the silent treatment on a weekly basis. It was such an uncomfortable feeling and looking back, very abusive. There were so many times where I had criticized him for yelling at me or our daughter, been upset when he spent a lot of money on his video games, or even once when he called my mother a (bleep) right in front of my daughter but I would end up apologizing just so he would stop the silent treatment!” Amy
      • “My ex-wife would HUMILIATE me whenever she suffered a narcissistic injury, even if I wasn’t the one who caused it. Using my vulnerabilities and insecurities against me was a routine habit in our household.” Mike
    • The silent treatment is a form of manipulation and narcissistic rage. It is a manifestation of a narcissist’s emotional immaturity and inability to regulate their own emotions. If you noticed what Amy said, it has the same triggers as the traditional concept of narcissistic rage, an ego injury.
    • The usage of one’s insecurities and vulnerabilities against them is a very common dynamic in the narcissistic realm and is most defiantly a form of narcissistic rage as it’s sole purpose is to project the narcissists negative emotions onto those they deem fit.
A narcissist and a blue shirt and black pants eating cereal using the silent treatment to punish his partner and and a narcissistic woman with brown hair using her partners vulnerabilities and insecurities against him.
  • Dominant
    • Around 138 Unfilteredd Participants reported that the narcissistic rage they experienced was very dominant. This manifested in thing along the lines of intense yelling, intimidating posturing, and threats.
      • “My ex-boyfriend was on the smaller side but felt HUGE when he would rage. It was honestly like he grew a few feet which made me feel so vulnerable and dominated. I’m really thankful that I never experienced physical violence because I know so many others have, but he would scream the most vile things at me, bang his fists on the table, and make a lot of threats.” Sarah
    • Narcissists are very talented at using their size, both literally and figuratively, to almost tower over you during a rage episode. Many of those who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse have reported that their abuser’s presence was somewhat demonic for lack of a better word.
Three narcissists raging.
  • Violent
    • Nearly 142 Unfilteredd Participants reported that the narcissistic rage they experienced was violent. This had the same attributes that dominant rage has but what differentiates the two is that violent rage manifested in physical actions ranging from breaking plates, windows, and toppling furniture all the way to person on person violence.
      • “My ex-wife was a violent person. I actually calculated the cost of all of the things she has broken over the years and it is somewhere around $40,000. We are talking car windows, phones, laptops, my arm, my foot, windows in the house….” Enrique
    • The pathway from dominant to violent rage is very direct. Not to minimize dominant rage but for lack of a better explanation, dominant rage is almost like an act. They are flexing their muscle, making noise, pushing the boundaries, and being scary. But more often than not, their act reaches its climax and it spirals into a violent rage that damages you physically and psychologically.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The continuation of many narcissistic relationships is because of the fear narcissistic rage fosters. It is so important that you don’t personalize their rage because it never has been nor ever will be your fault

One of the most interesting things about narcissistic rage is that at its core, it is also a form of projection. A narcissist’s grandiose or victimized sense of self is almost like a suit of armor protecting their fragile ego. 

When they experience something that contradicts their reality, all of the convoluted negative emotions begin to ooze out of them and it makes them furious. 

Their vindictive nature causes them to use narcissistic rage as a tool to make the person who triggered the narcissistic injury feel as bad as they do when their reality was contradicted. 

Meaning they are trying to project their agony onto those who trigger their narcissistic injury. I hope you use this to understand why you should never personalize narcissistic rage.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic rage revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 784–801. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000013

Kohut, Heinz (1972). “Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage” (PDF). Mindsplain. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Retrieved 2020-09-06.

Suggested Readings:

Why Do Narcissists Bring Up the Past?

How Do Narcissists React to Criticism?