Being a victim of narcissistic abuse is nerve-wracking, especially when it comes to how quickly a narcissist can fly into a terrifying rage. Many victims of narcissistic abuse spend a majority of their time in a crippling state of anxiety because they aren’t sure what makes the narcissist in their life angry so they feel as if they constantly have to walk on eggshells to stay safe.

The root cause of a narcissist’s anger are contradictions to their false sense of self. These contradictions trigger the negative emotions that they have about themselves. However, they are too emotionally inadequate to manage their negative emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation so they rely on anger.

In this article we are going to go over the most common contradictions to a narcissist’s false sense of self that causes them to be angry. We have also created a short video (see below) that summarizes a survey we conducted, What Happens During Narcissistic Rage (Survey With 100 Survivors) so that you can grasp a comprehensive understanding of a narcissist’s anger/rage from this article.

A Short Video About the Different Forms of Narcissistic Rage

Narcissists Get Angry When Their False Sense of Self Is Contradicted

There are an endless number of ways that a narcissist’s false sense of self can be contradicted. However, they can all fit under three main categories: healthy boundaries, lack of narcissistic supply, and emotional intimacy. 

The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these other features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which sets it apart from other kinds of aggression – Heinz Kohut 

It is important to keep Heinz Kohut’s quote about narcissistic rage in mind when learning about narcissistic anger/rage. The reason being that his quote highlights the fact that narcissistic anger/rage is a form of projection. 

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes a part of their identity that they find unacceptable and places it onto someone else. A simple example of this would be a narcissistic father who feels weak and inadequate because he can’t hold down a job punishing his son for being “weak” instead of acknowledging his own sense of self. 

When it comes to narcissistic anger/rage, the negative emotions that narcissists feel when their false sense of self is contradicted are aspects of their identity that they find unacceptable. By getting angry or going into a rage, a narcissist is trying to make the person who triggered their negative emotions feel as badly about themselves as the negative emotions make the narcissist feel.

By successfully doing so, the narcissist will be able to point their finger at someone else and think to themselves, “…they are the weak, inadequate, abandonable, stupid, and desperate one, not me!” This behavior shows how emotionally stunted and immature narcissists really are but also offers a unique perspective on narcissistic anger/rage that will help victims of abuse process the abuse they experienced.

A victim of narcissistic abuse learning about narcissistic rage and scapegoating

Healthy Boundaries Contradict a Narcissist’s False Sense of Self and Make Them Angry 

When a victim of narcissistic abuse sets a healthy boundary with a narcissist, it contradicts their grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and uniqueness. These are three very important elements of narcissistic personality disorder because they help keep the negative emotions that narcissists have suppressed.

10 Healthy Boundaries That Make Narcissists Angry

  • Being held accountable for their actions.
  • Being asked to take responsibility for things that they’ve done wrong.
  • Being asked to ask permission to do something that affects those around them instead of doing whatever they want, whenever they want.
  • Being required to be honest at all times.
  • Being required to make compromises instead of expecting things to always go their way.
  • Being asked to take the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of others into account before acting.
  • Someone finding their identity outside of the relationship that they have with the narcissist. (e.g. someone focusing on their job, spending time with friends and family, and participating in their favorite hobbies instead of having their full attention on the narcissist)
  • Someone asking the narcissist for space.
  • Someone communicating their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs with the narcissist.
  • Someone expecting the narcissist to have a certain level of mutuality, respect, empathy, and compassion in their interactions with one another.

A Lack of Narcissistic Supply Contradicts a Narcissist’s Sense of Self and Makes Them Angry

The false sense of self that narcissists have has been constructed by the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from their external environment. You can read our article How Are Narcissists Made for more information about this but it is believed that narcissists construct their sense of self like this because of an unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing. 

This upbringing consisted of primary caregivers who were emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. This means that the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, or reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self. 

What this does is it forces the narcissist to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to construct a sense of self. A simple example of this would be a narcissist constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from people by being really popular in their high school.

They use this false sense of self to suppress all of their negative emotions but because of their emotionally inadequate approach to constructing a sense of self, their false sense of self is extremely fragile and needs a consistent flow of narcissistic supply to remain intact. 

When they don’t get enough narcissistic supply, their false sense of self will begin to erode, exposing all of their negative emotions. A narcissist will use anger/rage to project the negative emotions onto others because it is their only form of emotional regulation that they can use to prevent their emotional stability from being compromised.

10 Things That Limit the Amount of Narcissistic Supply That a Narcissist Can Get

  • Being criticized/receiving constructive criticism/receiving feedback that doesn’t align with their grandiose sense of self-importance, specialness, and/or uniqueness.
  • The gray rock method.
  • Being held accountable for their behavior.
  • Going no contact.
  • The yellow rock method.
  • Not being the center of attention.
  • Being caught breaking the rules or someone’s boundaries.
  • A lack of control of their surrounding environment/victim.
  • Losing a competition/friendly game/or at life (e.g. being fired).
  • Being ignored.

Emotional Intimacy Contradicts a Narcissist’s Sense of Self and Makes Them Angry

In our articles Are Narcissists Afraid of Commitment and Do Narcissists Enjoy Intimacy, we spoke about this a lot but narcissists are terrified of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that come with emotional intimacy. 

A narcissist afraid of commitment and intimacy

The reason for this can be traced back to their unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing. As mentioned before, it is believed that narcissists grew up with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who didn’t give them the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self.

This forced the narcissist to get validation, admiration, and reassurance from their external environment and use it to construct a false sense of self. This approach to developing a sense of self caused the narcissist to develop many powerful negative emotions about themselves. 

Generally speaking, narcissists feel unloveable, abandonable, unwanted, inadequate, and weak. But if you remember correctly, they do not possess the emotional skills that are required to handle intense negative emotions like that. That is why they use their false sense of self to suppress them with the help of a consistent flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance. 

We talked about this a lot in our article Why Do Narcissists Accuse You of Lying, but when a narcissist is in a situation where they are expected to have a certain level of emotional intimacy with someone else, it triggers all of the suppressed negative emotions about themselves because deep down they are still a neglected child that feels unlovable, abandonable, unwanted, inadequate, and weak.

They respond to emotional intimacy with anger/rage, or sometimes even accusations of lying, because it is easier to vilify someone showing them empathy, compassion, and love than it is to accept the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that come with emotional intimacy. 

10 Forms of Emotional Intimacy That Make Narcissists Angry

  • Someone genuinely caring about their well-being.
  • Someone encouraging them to share their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs freely.
  • Someone truly listening to them and offering advice because they care.
  • Someone trying to be interested in their hobbies.
  • Someone expecting the relationship to be 50/50.
  • Someone trying to have a deep conversation with them.
  • Someone trying to truly be their friend.
  • The words, “I love you”/”I care about you”/ “I want to spend my life with you”.
  • Someone being vulnerable with them and encouraging them to be vulnerable as well.
  • Someone holding them accountable because they care, not because they want to be right.

It is important to note that there’s a fine line between emotional intimacy and trying to please a narcissist. We mention this because some of the items from the list above would make a narcissist really happy, if they had complete control over the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their victim. But this is not true emotional intimacy. It is power, control, trauma, and dominance. 

When a narcissist is in an environment where they are not in total control, true emotional intimacy terrifies them, triggers their suppressed negative emotions, and causes them to get angry and/or rage.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

When it is all said and done, narcissists get angry because something in their life has contradicted their false sense of self. These contradictions could be as insignificant as someone drinking one of their sports drinks without asking or it could be something more serious like being fired from a job. A narcissist’s anger/rage is nothing more than a manifestation of just how emotionally stunted and immature they are.

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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:

American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)