Most people driven to anger begin gradually with emotions of stress and annoyance that progress into a more heated confrontational state. Emotionally healthy people give warning signs that they are frustrated, and they attempt to communicate before their feelings develop into full-on anger.

Narcissistic Rage

Those familiar with narcissistic rage, on the other hand, know that it is always at the surface ready to blow, far beyond a “normal” person’s anger, and at light speed. The overt narcissist’s outburst feels like a cataclysmic detonation requiring a duck-and-cover reaction for sheer survival.

Put another way, narcissists are scary as h*ll to be around because they are always tensed on their way to an eruption of sudden scorching fury. Skipping normal stages of anger, they leap to 100-mile-an-hour rage in a half-breath as flattening as a tornado, often involving some kind of physical violence.

space explosion--Narcissistic rage

The narcissist’s explosive rage

Adding to the devastation, narcissists never take responsibility for their rage, never apologize for let alone acknowledge their actions. Rather, they project their own irrational attacking behavior onto the others they have traumatized, typically a scapegoated child or partner, further increasing the abused person’s trauma. In the narcissist’s own eyes, she is always the victim, never the victimizer, and her behavior is always justified.

Narcissistic Injury

The narcissist’s rage is the flip side of his “narcissistic injury,” an early childhood deprivation thought to arise from having a highly sensitive nature in an invalidating, possibly abusive, negligent, and/or overindulgent home environment. Such a child fails to develop a resilient self or emotional skills beyond primitive reactions. His relationships with others are fundamentally ambivalent: Another person represents the promise of fulfilling his deepest unmet needs, or the unbearable hurt of reexperiencing the invalidating pain of those needs going unmet again.

The narcissist is a complex picture of grandiose entitlement and constant defensiveness against real or perceived threats to her inflated but fragile identity. The overt narcissist’s duality of superiority and vulnerability is expressed aggressively through arrogance and a host of manipulative abuses, such as competitiveness, ridicule, shame, blame, and denial, designed to deflect responsibility and get her way. The introverted, or covert, narcissist has the same self-contradictions and ruthless agenda but manipulates more passive-aggressively through guilt trips, sulking, silent treatment, and displays of self-pity and unjust victimization.

The Developmentally Stunted Narcissist

rage face--narcissistic rage

The narcissist’s “defensive” rage

Like the very young child that he is emotionally, the narcissist never learns to “play nice.” He never learns how to share, compromise, or empathize with others. He never learns accountability or self-sacrifice. He never learns unconditional giving or loving. Furthermore, he projects his primitive understanding of human emotion onto others, unable to recognize that they may be operating at a far more developed level of emotional awareness, attunement, and compassion than he is capable of. Instead, he assumes that others share his primally selfish motives, however covertly or overtly expressed.


The narcissistic personality operates with a terrible hypervigilance that she, ironically, engenders in others. Her sense of emotional vulnerability is so intense that she is always guarding her “self” against humiliation, which she continuously interprets around her as real experience. Day-to-day lows or minor rejections that all of us endure are magnified for the narcissist as shattering seismic disturbances. Life’s smallest slights can trip the narcissist’s alarm system, leading to rages and/or vengeful reactions.

People within the narcissist’s sphere quickly acquire their own form of hypervigilance to “read” the narcissist’s moods and try to avoid triggering his rage. Family members in particular become hypervigilant, learning how to placate the narcissist and, if possible, prevent confrontation. Hypervigilance and avoidance, along with a host of other debilitating emotions, especially in developing children, nearly inevitably cause emotional and physiological problems that can last a lifetime.

The Narcissist Volcano: It’s Not Your Fault

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the person living with a narcissist, even worse than enduring the narcissist’s primitive emotional violence, is learning not to blame yourself. Whether you are the child, adult child, spouse, or even another family member or friend of a narcissistic personality disordered person, you are likely to doubt yourself about and take responsibility for things the narcissist does that not only are not your fault but, in fact, hurt you.

The narcissist’s mantra is You made me do it.

Whatever harm the narcissist does, if you are her primary scapegoat she finds a way—however twisted—to hold you responsible. Wherever you are along your path with or without the narcissist in your life now, particularly if you have a narcissist parent, your most important lesson is to understand that the narcissist’s disorder, unhappiness, and rage are not your responsibility. Repeat: It is not your responsibility, not your fault, and not your hurt to carry.

Read real-life accounts of narcissist rages here.

Julie L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Carry You, about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). Her articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post.

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Images courtesy of Felix Montino and www.ttufo.com.