The Narcissistic Rage Cycle
Hell hath no fury or contempt as a narcissist you dare to disagree with, tell they’re wrong, or embarrass.
Rage is a destructive action. It is intended to hurt, actually break someone or something. It is also blind and the attack is often against an innocent helpless person or child. We speak of a person being ‘in a blind rage,’ or being ‘blind with rage.’ Rage is also explosive, which means that it cannot be easily steered once it blows. Rage develops when a person feels that his power is thwarted or frustrated. In rage, memory is laid down differently. For all these reasons, rage is often called dissociative rage.
Rage works by short-circuiting the experience of shame that is, the feeling of being inferior or not enough, or not good enough. Rage can be contrasted to a healing and universal experience and emotion: anger. Rage can be thought of as a kernel of anger distorted by internalized shame.
While any rage is very damaging in relationships, unless rage is truly rare, it tends to develop into a pattern or cycle. This has been called the “cycle of violence” the “cycle of abuse,” or the “rage cycle” The most visible part of the rage cycle is the outburst, which may include verbal violence, physical violence, addictive behavior, or dramatic exits. An outburst can occur several times a day, or every few months. The outburst is followed by a period when the primary aggressor’s arousal is low and they may act kindly or remorseful. This is sometimes called the honeymoon period. The desire for control remains however.
A tell-tale sign that rage is serving the purpose of power and control is that the primary aggressor is unwilling to discuss the outburst later in any meaningful or honest way. Apologies don’t count. Fairly soon, the raging person’s expectations are not met and the tension phase starts. Tension further distorts perception, and routine events or small frustrations are seen as large offenses by the raging person and an outburst results
In an episode of rage, the flight or fight system is strongly activated. This makes everyone around the raging person to be perceived and then treated as a threat or an enemy. In this distorted perception, it makes no sense to be fair or accountable to ‘enemies.’ That means that even if irresponsibility does not fit with the primary aggressor’s own self-image, a frequently raging person will by definition be irresponsible. Others will stop asking anything that ‘sets off’ the primary aggressor. This becomes an additional reinforcement, and frequently, any request to be accountable sets off an episode.
Survivors that are in relationship with a raging person feel the effects of the rage all the time because they are walking on eggshells trying to prevent an outburst. The primary aggressor, on the other hand, after an episode both tends to feel better, and to quickly develop ‘amnesia’ about what happened.
Other characteristic traits of such narcissists** (and this also applies to the female variety) include:
- Control freaks
- Short fuses
- Low frustration tolerance
- Need to have the last word
- Unable to lose
- Won’t take “No” for an answer
- Quick to anger if you don’t accommodate them
- Quick to being aggressively defensive if you call them on any deficiency, fault or responsibility
- Can’t apologize or if do, can’t do it sincerely
- Rarely say, “Thank you” or “Congratulations”
- Don’t feel or demonstrate remorse
- Feel entitled to enthusiastic and appreciative approval, adoration, agreement and obedience
- Gloat in victory, sullen in defeat
- Quick to rage if you humiliate them
What is the connection between narcissism and rage?
There is a saying that when you’re a hammer the world looks like a nail. When you’re a narcissist, the world looks like it should approve, adore, agree and obey you. Anything less than that feels like an assault and because of that a narcissist feels justified in raging back at it.
What is at the core of narcissists is not what is often referred to as low self esteem. I don’t think that is accurate, but something that the people around them say to themselves to mollify their own rage at the narcissist, i.e. “Oh, they only act that way, because they lack self-esteem.”
What is really at the core of narcissists is an instability in their ability to feel and sustain feeling bigger, larger, smarter and more successful than everyone else which they need to feel stable. And just as Hamlet’s mother said, “the lady doth protest too much,” “the narcissist doth brag, scorn, talk down, primp and belittle too much” in order to continually prove to the world and themselves that they are larger than life. This is not to increase their self-esteem as much as it is to continually spackle the holes in their core that lead to a feeling of instability—and that, if not spackled, will lead to brittleness followed by fragmentation.
Narcissistic rage occurs when that core instability is threatened and furthermore threatened to destabilize them even further. Not unlike a wounded animal being the most vicious (because they think the next wound would kill them), narcissistic rage occurs when narcissists believe the next insult/assault to their grandiose based stability would shatter them.
In essence the reason narcissists are so self-centered is that their grandiosity based center needs to be constantly reinforced to remain stable.