A narcissist’s need for control is intense. They use some of the most intrusive forms of manipulation to put themselves in positions from which they control everyone and everything in their life, but they don’t always work. When a narcissist can’t control you they get furious. It can be terrifying and terribly uncomfortable but it is really important to understand the reason why they get so mad. 

Narcissists get mad when they can’t control you because it contradicts their sense of specialness and triggers their suppressed negative emotions that they’re too emotionally inadequate to manage on their own, forcing them to use anger or rage as a form of emotional regulation.

The reason that anger and rage is a narcissist’s response to not being able to control others is quite complex but really important for victims of abuse to understand if they are to protect themselves from the narcissist in their life as much as possible. This article is going to guide you through all of the confusion and hidden aspects of the psyche of a narcissist to give you the best understanding possible. 

a victim of narcissistic abuse learning about control

The Reason Behind Why Narcissists Get Mad When They Can’t Control You

If you have a relationship of any kind with a narcissist then we’re sure that you know that narcissists don’t just get mad when they can’t control you, they get mad over just about anything and everything. 

It can make you feel as if you have to constantly analyze what you say and do around the narcissist which can lead to you feeling like you have to neglect your own thoughts, feelings, needs, and emotions if you want to avoid narcissistic rage.

This section of the article is going to guide you through the complex reasoning behind a narcissist’s explosive anger and hopefully give you the information needed to navigate your narcissistic relationship safely.

Narcissists Weren’t Able to Develop a Realistic Sense of Self in Their Childhood

Because of the work of psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg, psychiatrist Alexander Lowen, psychiatrist John Bowlby, and psychologist Mary Ainsworth, it is widely believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive upbringing with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

A neglectful narcissistic parent

These types of primary caregivers are incapable of “parental mirroring” which is when a primary caregiver reflects or “mirrors” their child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs back to the child. Parental mirroring gives the child the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. 

To Develop a Realistic Sense of Self, Narcissists Prioritized Their External Environment Over Their Internal Environment

The upbringing that narcissists had with unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers pushed them to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they couldn’t get from their primary caregivers. 

For example, a child who comes from a deeply invalidating and neglectful household may feel as if their need for validation, admiration, and reassurance is fulfilled whenever they receive praise from their teacher for doing well in school.  

What this does is it teaches the child that their true identity isn’t good enough to get the validation, admiration, and reassurance they need to build a realistic sense of self. This misguided belief is reinforced by the fact that they get praise, acknowledgment, encouragement, and so on, when they achieve something in their external environment. 

This is particularly true for children who have unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who are narcissistic. We spoke about this in our articles What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Mother, How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children, and What are the Signs of a Narcissistic Father, but the relationship that narcissistic parents have with their children is just as superficial and transactional as the relationship that they have with others. 

A narcissistic mother on the brink of rage because her son didn't do well in school

Remember, narcissists spend every second of every day accumulating as much validation, admiration, and reassurance, also known as narcissistic supply, as humanly possible to help manage their suppressed negative emotions. They do not have any interest in anything that isn’t a viable source of narcissistic supply, including their children. 

Children of unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers who are narcissistic will learn very quickly that the only way they can get the validation, admiration, and reassurances that they need to develop a realistic sense of self is to be a viable source of supply which leads to them prioritizing their external environment over their internal environment. 

A Narcissist’s Approach to Developing a Realistic Sense of Self Makes Them Shockingly Fragile and Vulnerable

Once a child develops a belief that their true identity isn’t good enough to be validated, admired, and reassured and then has that misguided belief solidified by the response they get from others when they achieve something in their external environment, they’re going to develop a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity and that is exactly what we see with narcissists. 

Narcissists fear and believe that they are unlovable, unwanted, rejectable, abandonable, inadequate, ugly, disgusting, and disposable. Sadly, their upbringing left them so emotionally inadequate that they’re incapable of regulating the deeply rooted negative emotions that they have about themselves. 

What this means is that as the narcissist goes from childhood, to adolescenthood, to adulthood, they continue to suppress their true identity with the falsified identity that they build out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance they receive from their external environment. 

This creates a person who hates themselves, is emotionally inadequate, ashamed, vulnerable, and insecure and hides behind a falsified identity that is superficial, materialistic, and trivial because it has been built by their misguided belief that one’s value is determined by their achievements in their external world. 

a child searching their external environment for validation

This makes narcissists shockingly vulnerable and fragile because they don’t have a solid foundation of emotional competence that would be able to support them in the event of their falsified identity being contradicted, invalidated, or devalued. 

Instead, the slightest contradiction, invalidation, or devaluation to their falsified identity triggers all of their suppressed negative emotions and serves as a constant reminder of their overwhelming sense of being unlovable, unwanted, rejectable, abandonable, inadequate, ugly, disgusting, and disposable. 

The fragility of a narcissist’s sense of self causes them to experience contradictions, invalidations, and devaluations to their falsified identity on a daily basis but when it comes to not being able to control you they get mad, angry, or rageful because it contradicts their sense of entitlement to having what they want exactly when they want it. 

This serves as a constant reminder that they are not the grandiose, larger than life, superstar that they desperately wish they were, they’re just a neglected child who feels unlovable, unwanted, rejectable, abandonable, inadequate, ugly, disgusting, and disposable.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

A narcissist will get angry when they can’t control you because it contradicts their sense of entitlement, contradicts their falsified identity, triggers their suppressed negative emotions, and causes them to go into a narcissistic rage in an emotionally inadequate attempt to regulate their own emotions. 

The sense of entitlement that gets contradicted when a narcissist comes across someone that they can’t control is actually one of the nine personality traits that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. A belief that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
  4. A need for excessive admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement
  6. Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  7. A lack of empathy
  8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

In our article Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Rage we dive a bit further into this subject and outline how a contradiction, invalidation, or devaluation to any of the personality traits listed above could cause a narcissist to use anger or rage to regulate their suppressed negative emotions like they do when they can’t control you.


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References:

Narcissistic Rage.” Psychiatric Annals, 16(8), pp. 489–490.

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