Merriam-Webster defines aggression as, “a forceful action or procedure (such as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master” and “hostile, injurious, or destructive behavior or outlook especially when caused by frustration.”1 With that being said, narcissists are some of the most aggressive people on the planet and it is very important that you understand why. 

Narcissists are aggressive because they have high levels of neuroticism and low emotional intelligence. Meaning that they have more depressed moods and suffer from feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety more frequently and more severely than others but struggle to control, understand, and express their emotions.

The information in this article is going to help you understand a narcissist’s aggression and where it originates from. In a short video (see below) we’ve put together some information about narcissism and sadism just in case you are dealing with an aggressive narcissist who is also sadistic!

A Short Video About Narcissism and Sadism

What Is Neuroticism? 

Neuroticism is a personality trait from the five-factor model of personality (FFM). The FFM, which is also known as “The Big Five” model of personality, is a theory based upon the Big Five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Neuroticism is characterized by mood dysregulation and high emotional reactivity. We mentioned this in the beginning of this article but people with high neuroticism have more depressed moods and suffer from feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety more frequently and more severely than others. 

In addition to this, people with a high level of neuroticism have a higher risk of both physical and mental health problems, low-self esteem, poor work performance, low levels of life satisfaction, difficulty in their relationships (e.g. marriage), and substance use disorders (e.g. legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications).

A man talking to another man with high levels of neuroticism

Why Do Narcissists Have High Levels of Neuroticism?

Neuroticism is a personality trait and personality traits are believed to be influenced by a combination of genetic, social, and environmental factors.2

With that being said, people who experience trauma, stress, and adversity are more likely to develop neurotic personality traits and behaviors.3 This is particularly true when someone experiences trauma, stress, and adversity early on in life (e.g. a childhood upbringing).

This is important to remember because it is believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

It is important to know that “emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent” covers a lot of ground. It could mean anything between physical abuse (e.g. slapping, spanking, punching, etc.) and primary caregivers who show very unhealthy forms of emotional availability, responsiveness, and consistency (e.g. overprotective, lack of boundaries, too much pampering, etc.)

Our article How Are Narcissists Made is a thorough exploration of all the different theories pertaining to a narcissist’s origin story but there’s no denying that their childhood upbringing had a lot of trauma, stress, and adversity, causing narcissists to have high levels of neuroticism. 

A narcissist speaking to a therapist about their aggression.

Why Do Narcissists Have Low Emotional Intelligence?

As we mentioned before, narcissists are believed to have had an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

These type of primary caregivers were incapable of mirroring the narcissist’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs, so the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development.

This was the beginning of a narcissist’s low emotional intelligence because the emotional neglect that they experienced eventually led to them developing a deeply rooted hatred for themselves that made them extremely stunted and immature emotionally. 

You see, when the narcissist couldn’t get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed from their primary caregivers, it manipulated them into believing that their true identity wasn’t good enough to be validated, admired, and reassured by others. 

As a result of this they developed many painful emotions (unloveable, unwanted, weak, worthless, and inadequate) and a self-loathing attitude. 

A child feeling many negative emotions about themselves

This would be difficult for anyone to manage but since narcissists had an unhealthy cognitive development, it was impossible for them to use healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude. 

So, instead of relying on healthy forms of emotional regulation, narcissists used mirroring to create a falsified identity that was designed to get validation, admiration, and reassurance from their external environment so they could construct a grandiose self-perception powerful enough to suppress their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude. 

The term “mirroring” refers to a narcissist’s ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about the identity of a person or group of people and use that information to create a falsified identity that portrays them as “perfect” to others.

We spoke about this a lot in our article Why Are Narcissists So Popular but their ability to mirror others places them up on a social pedestal and gives them access to an unlimited amount of validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control, which is also known as narcissistic supply. 

In a perfect world, this approach to getting validation, admiration, and reassurance would help a narcissist manage their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude in a healthy way, but all it did was make them even more emotionally inadequate, stunted, fragile, and immature!

The reason for this is because the emotional neglect that narcissists experienced left them so emotionally stunted and immature that they were incapable of looking past society’s superficial, materialistic, and trivial exterior when mirroring to create a falsified identity. 

A narcissist talking about being well-liked.

So, they ended up constructing themselves out of the most superficial, materialistic, and trivial aspects of life. A simple example of this would be a narcissistic boy/girl constructing their self-perception out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being popular in school and a fantastic athlete. 

How Does a Narcissist’s High Levels of Neuroticism and Low Emotional Intelligence Make Them So Aggressive?

The grandiose self-perception that narcissists have (special, unique, charming, successful, admirable, desirable, superior, etc.) is their primary form of emotional regulation. We already established this but they use it to suppress their painful emotions (unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak) and self-loathing attitude. 

But because they constructed it out of the most materialistic, superficial, and trivial forms of validation, admiration, and reassurance that society has to offer, it is one-dimensional, makes them emotionally weak, immature, and stunted, and needs a consistent flow of narcissistic supply to stay intact. 

When their grandiose self-perception gets contradicted, which often happens on a daily basis because of how fragile it is, they experience a narcissistic injury that triggers their painful emotions, self-loathing attitude, and reminds them how unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak they feel inside. 

Since their grandiose self-perception is their primary form of emotional regulation, when it gets contradicted it compromises their emotional stability. As we mentioned before, their low emotional intelligence prevents them from utilizing healthy forms of emotional regulation, so they rely on aggression to protect their emotional stability.

An aggressive narcissist

We are going to explain the reason that aggression is a narcissist’s go-to form of protection but first you should be aware of the most common forms of aggression that narcissists use: narcissistic rage, baiting, and scapegoating

Narcissistic Rage

Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustifiable response that narcissists have to narcissistic injuries. It can manifest in the form of:

  • Emotional/Psychological Abuse (e.g. invalidation, devaluation, etc.)
  • Physical Abuse ( e.g. hitting, throwing objects, punching walls, slapping, etc.)
  • Sexual Abuse (e.g. penetration with objects or weapons, forced pregnancy or abortion, forced marriage, sexual torture etc.)
  • Neglect (e.g. not providing basic items such as food, water, a safe place to live, medicine, or health care etc.)

Suggested Reading: What Happens During Narcissistic Rage? (Survey With 100 Survivors) and 5 Examples of a Narcissistic Injury

Baiting

Baiting is when a narcissist uses your vulnerabilities and insecurities against you in an attempt to manipulate you into engaging in a negative confrontation with them. They want this negative confrontation to happen because it will allow them to twist reality to portray you in a negative light and victimize themselves. 

A narcissistic mother baiting her daughter

5 Things That a Narcissist Will Say to Bait You

  1. “Are you seriously going to wear that? You should try to look like we are going to a nice restaurant, not like you ate the entire restaurant.”
  2. “Can you please stop complaining? Gosh, it is no wonder your father k*lled himself”
  3. “I am not going to listen to your complaining anymore, I should have just given you up for adoption and made you someone else’s problem.” 
  4. “I can’t believe that you actually thought that I could ever love someone as worthless as you.”
  5. “I cheated on you because I wanted to feel like I was with a real woman/man.”

Suggested Reading: How to Respond to Narcissistic Baiting

Scapegoating

A scapegoat is a person who is ridiculed, mocked, and punished for the shortcomings of the narcissist. A scapegoat gets the worse of the narcissist’s abuse in comparison to the other people that the narcissist abuses.

In our article How Do Narcissists Choose Their Scapegoat there’s a lot more information about this but scapegoats are not chosen randomly. They are chosen because parts of their identity remind the narcissist of how weak, worthless, unlovable, unwanted, and inadequate they feel. 

A simple example of this would be a narcissistic father targeting his son as a scapegoat because he views his son as weak and this reminds him of how weak his emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers made him feel when he was younger.

A narcissistic father using his kid as a scapegoat

Aggression Allows a Narcissist to Attack Parts of Their Identity That They Find Unacceptable

When a narcissist gets aggressive (e.g. narcissistic rage, scapegoating, baiting, etc.) they are trying to project their painful emotions and self-loathing attitude onto the person that they are being aggressive towards.

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others (e.g. a man who feels insecure about his masculinity mocking other men for acting like women).

What is happening here with aggression is that the narcissist is trying to invalidate, devalue, degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize the person that they are being aggressive to so they can figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “I’m not the unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless one, they are.” 

This allows them to attack parts of their identity that they find unacceptable without ever truly acknowledging that they exist because in their mind, the person that they are being aggressive towards is the unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, weak, and worthless one instead of themselves.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists have high levels of neuroticism and low levels of emotional intelligence. This causes them to suffer from feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety more frequently and more severely than those with low levels of neuroticism would and struggle to control, understand, and express their emotions.

A family in counseling

Aggression gives them an opportunity to regulate their suppressed painful emotions and self-loathing attitude without having to acknowledge that they exist. Since they have such low levels of emotional intelligence, this is very important for them because if they were to acknowledge that they exist, it would destroy their emotional stability.

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  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • 4 Helpful Tips for a Successful Healing Journey

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:

[1] Merriam-Webster’s Definition of Aggression

[2] Neuroticism: What It Is, Causes, & Ways to Cope

[3] Barlow, David H., et al. “The origins of neuroticism.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 9.5 (2014): 481-496.