What Is Narcissistic Rage?

Signs of narcissistic rage

Verywell / Laura Porter

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Narcissistic rage is a term that was first coined by author Heinz Kohut in 1972 to refer to the tendency for people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to fly into a rage with what might seem like the slightest provocation or no obvious provocation at all.

People with NPD require that others give them consistent admiration and positive feedback. When this doesn't happen, it can elicit underlying feelings of shame that trigger an instant angry response and cause them to lash out without considering how it impacts the recipient.

It is the narcissist’s thin skin and sensitivity that leads to this rage because of a deep-seated fear of being "found out" for not being the person they portray themselves to be.

Signs of Narcissistic Rage

Are you wondering if someone you know might be exhibiting signs of narcissistic rage? Or are you somewhat aware that you may have this tendency yourself? If you’re not sure, take a look at this list of the signs and symptoms of narcissistic rage. While it might feel as though the attack is calculated, most often, narcissistic rage is reactive in nature.

An episode of narcissistic rage derives from a threat to a person's sense of self and is characterized by intense anger. In a relationship, for example, this could manifest in physical or verbal abuse, manipulation, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Narcissistic rage is different from other forms of anger in that narcissistic rage is disproportionate to the perceived slight; it’s as though the person has a hair-trigger response. It’s completely out of proportion to what provoked it and often takes the other person by surprise.

Narcissistic rage can be active or passive with corresponding outward or inward signs of the problem. Below are the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Outward Signs

  • Bouts of rage when not given the attention they feel deserve
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Angry or explosive outbursts
  • Intense anger
  • Sudden fits of anger
  • Becoming verbally or physically aggressive
  • Inability to control the rage
  • Intentionally trying to inflict pain (emotional or physical) on others

Inward Signs

  • Passive aggression
  • Giving the "silent treatment"
  • Withdrawing or being aloof
  • Avoiding someone
  • Hidden resentment
  • Neglecting to do things
  • Using sarcasm to cut people down
  • Righteous indignation
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Becoming hostile or bitter
  • Cutting people off as a means to protect their self-esteem
  • Dissociation or feeling disconnected from reality

Causes of Narcissistic Rage

If you suspect that someone you know has problems with narcissistic rage or that you may have this problem yourself, you might also be curious as to the cause. While we don’t know precisely what causes narcissistic personality disorder, which is often an underlying factor in narcissistic rage, it’s likely that a combination of genetics, upbringing, and life experiences play a role.

If you’re confused about whether someone you know might have NPD, it’s helpful to learn more about this disorder. NPD tends to disrupt all areas of a person’s life and can be overt (obvious), covert (hidden), or even high-functioning (the person is successful in life despite the disorder, such as a high-powered business person who is known for flying into fits of rage).

Personality Traits

The criteria for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder require a pervasive and long-term pattern of certain personality traits, including:

  • Grandiosity
  • Need for power and control
  • Lacking empathy
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Being envious of others
  • Arrogance
  • Need for attention

People may struggle with these types of narcissistic vulnerabilities without meeting the full criteria for narcissistic personality disorder.

Additional Contributing Factors

In addition, there are a number of specific factors or causes that can be identified when it comes to NPD and narcissistic rage in particular. We know that narcissistic rage happens when a person experiences "narcissistic injury," which equates to the sense of self being threatened.

Below are some other factors to consider:

  • Early childhood trauma, such as abuse or neglect and invalidation of the person's emotions, can cause them to bury their true self and hide internal injuries behind a false or alternate persona built on lies.
  • A highly sensitive temperament that is very reactive to feelings of shame can exacerbate rage responses.
  • Failure to develop critical emotion regulation skills can result in a childlike way of reacting to situations.
  • An unstable sense of self-esteem that makes them feel as though they are at risk of being "found out" can result in rage when triggered.
  • Facing a setback or disappointment that triggers shame and shatters one’s self-image can then trigger anger.
  • Being envious of someone else having something that they don’t have (i.e., material things, relationships, status) may prompt a rage response.
  • Memories of early experiences of shame can be triggered by current events leading to intense anger.
  • "Splitting" (also known as black-or-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) or viewing other people as good or bad (i.e., narcissists shift between idealizing someone and then degrading them; seeing someone as all good and then all bad) can explain the sudden nature of rage responses.
  • Having a sense of self that is split into two parts (true self and false self) can complicate a person's ability to manage emotional responses.
  • A fragmented sense of self that requires the adoration of other people (narcissistic supply) creates a fragile situation in which their entire sense of self is based on what other people think of them rather than a true internal self.

Types of Narcissistic Rage

As mentioned previously, there are two different types of narcissistic rage: outward or explosive and inward or passive.

  • Explosive rage: The person hurls insults, screams and yells, and may even threaten other people or harm themselves.
  • Passive rage: The person retreats into a period of sulking and refuses to engage with you.

A narcissist can engage in both types of narcissistic rage rather than being solely outward or inward in their actions and behaviors.

Narcissistic Rage Cycle

Unlike typical anger, narcissistic rage does not go through a series of stages. For example, psychiatrist Adam Blatner identified the following seven stages or levels of typical anger:

  1. Stress: Feelings of anger under the surface that are not consciously acknowledged or acted upon
  2. Anxiety: Anger starts to leak through with subtle signs
  3. Agitation: Outward signs of being displeased without any blame assigned
  4. Irritation: Showing more displeasure to get others to respond and change
  5. Frustration: Showing anger with an angry face or using harsh words
  6. Anger: Increasing how loudly you speak and being more expressive
  7. Rage: Losing one’s temper and flying into fits of aggression

In contrast, there is no progression through a series of steps. Rather, what happens during narcissistic rage is more of a child-like response in which the person goes straight from feelings of stress to a full-blown outward or inward expression of rage.

Some refer to this as the narcissistic rage cycle. In this cycle, others don't live up to the person with narcissism's expectations, causing them to feel disappointment, then leading to anger which is followed by feelings of shame. This narcissistic rage cycle repeats, resulting in emotional dysfunction.

Examples of Narcissistic Rage

Still not sure if what you are experiencing is narcissistic rage? Below are some examples.

Not Getting Their Way

Your boss might make an unreasonable request such as asking you to work long hours over the weekend on a project at the last minute. If you refuse this unreasonable requisition, they may lash out with narcissistic rage.

Not Getting Enough Attention

A friend might always direct the conversation back to talking about themselves, even in the case when someone has shared something important and listening would be more appropriate. They might even become jealous and sulk or lash out if everyone is giving attention to someone else’s problem and ignoring them.

Feel Like They Are Losing Control of People/Situation

Someone might lash out at you if they feel as though they have lost control of you or the situation. 

Reacting to Criticism

Narcissistic rage can result from even the most gentle of criticism because of the unstable sense of self-esteem

Getting Caught Doing Something

If you point out that someone is lying or cheating and they react by turning the tables and making you feel as though you are in the wrong or mistaken, that could be a sign of narcissistic rage. 

Consequences of Narcissistic Rage

What are the consequences of narcissistic rage and why is it such a problem? The truth is that narcissistic rage has negative effects on the person who has the problem as well as everyone else who is subjected to the rage.

Below are some of the possible negative outcomes of narcissistic rage:

  • Rifts in families
  • Breakups of relationships
  • Other people not wanting to be around you
  • Having success but at the cost of friendships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Problems sustaining employment or attending school
  • Problems with the law
  • Physical harm (e.g., to others with outward violence and to the self with self-harm such as cutting, burning, or headbanging)
  • Feelings of guilt, loss, and being worthless
  • Inability to adapt to change
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Problems with physical health
  • Substance use and addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Control Your Narcissistic Rage

If you are the person who has a problem controlling narcissistic rage, you may or may not be aware of what is happening internally. Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you have a better sense and are interested in ways to interact with the world in a healthier and more fulfilling way.

While narcissistic rage might feel good at the moment as it helps relieve feelings of fear and shame, in the long term, it only serves to drive good people away from you, interfere with your success, and leave you fragile and at risk.

While treatment of narcissistic conditions can be challenging, here are some things to try if you want to get a handle on your narcissistic rage.


Psychological therapy is the main treatment for narcissistic personality disorder with psychoanalytic therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) being the most common. Other options include schema therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and mentalization-based therapy. 

Seeing a therapist can help you better understand your behavior, reduce the inner turmoil that you experience, address underlying causes, and prepare you with better coping strategies to deal with future situations. A therapist could help you:

  • Become willing to go through a process of understanding yourself and move toward your true self through therapy
  • Decide that the costs of staying the same are greater than the costs of making a change
  • Develop a more resilient sense of self and feel good about who you are, regardless of external sources of validation
  • Deal with past traumatic memories or experiences of shame that are triggered when your narcissistic rage becomes a problem
  • Support you as you deal with life without using your old strategies of self-inflation and manipulation
  • Understand that your rage is driven by fear of rejection and that this is actually a vicious cycle that creates actual rejection
  • Develop your own sense of individuality, be a whole person, and feel empowered
  • Learn how to have healthy relationships, both with yourself and with other people
  • Work through the pain of confronting your feelings of inadequacy and fragile self-image

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Tips for Dealing With Narcissistic Rage

Are you on the receiving end of someone else’s narcissistic rage and you’d like to know how to better handle the situation? If so, below are some tips for dealing with bouts of narcissistic rage, whether it’s from a family member, partner, friend, co-worker, or stranger.

General Advice

The following includes good general advice for navigating another person's narcissistic rage.

  • Become familiar with NPD

  • Seek therapy for yourself

  • Avoid triggering a reaction

  • Call 911 if the person is a threat

  • Know you aren't to blame for their behavior

  • Stay calm and set personal boundaries

  • Escalate conflicts

  • Take things personally

  • Share too much personal information

  • Try to use logic or get into a debate

  • Apologize or accept their behavior

  • Stay in the situation if their anger becomes explosive

  • Seek revenge

  • Become familiar with narcissistic personality disorder so you can recognize triggers and outcomes. This includes recognizing the qualities that may make you a target for narcissists (e.g., being overly agreeable and accepting).
  • Seek therapy for yourself when warranted based on past events. Find support for yourself, such as a support group or a person you can confide in.
  • Avoid triggering a narcissistic reaction. Potential triggers include giving direct criticism or feedback and escalating conflicts that could lead to personal harm. Don’t try to use logic or get into a debate with the person or try to argue that they are overreacting. Also, don't take things personally, seek out revenge, or share too much personal information that could be used against you.
  • Recognize that they aren't behaving or acting in a rational manner, their judgment is impaired, and they are not thinking straight. Rage will tend to show up when the narcissist is stressed by circumstances, so it’s best to avoid them during these times as a form of self-protection. If you feel as though the person is a threat to themselves or anyone else (including you), call 911 or the emergency number in your area.
  • Realize that you are not to blame and are not responsible for their moods or behaviors. Don't apologize or accept their behavior, which may just lead to more abuse. And don't become angry yourself; try to stay calm, cool, and collected.
  • Respond according to their actions. If you are given the silent treatment, do your best to ignore it. If their anger becomes explosive, leave the situation to protect your own safety. Validate their feelings without going along with bad behavior; for example, say "you are entitled to feel that way."
  • Set personal boundaries to be clear about what is acceptable behavior for you. If you feel like you might be being gaslighted, find an outside perspective. Protect your self-esteem and self-worth from being affected by the narcissist.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.


If the narcissistic rage you experience is from a person you don't know:

  • Walk away from them and do not engage further.
  • Recognize that the interaction is not your fault and you are not obligated to stay and argue.


If you're subjected to narcissistic rage from a co-worker:

  • Verify things they tell you to make sure you are getting the full story.
  • If your work is being affected, speak to your manager or the human resources (HR) director to share what has happened.
  • Report any instances of harassment at the workplace immediately.
  • Keep records of your interaction with the person so you can argue your case.
  • Avoid being alone with the person.

Spouse, Partner, or Family Member

If it is your spouse, partner, or another family member who is the perpetrator of narcissistic rage:

  • Attend couples therapy when warranted to work on communication skills.
  • Set personal boundaries as to what behavior is acceptable to you in your relationship.
  • Put space between you and family members who engage in narcissistic rage; give them time to cool off before re-engaging.
  • Attend family therapy to get at the root causes of issues and help your loved one understand themselves better.
  • End the relationship if you feel physically, mentally, or emotionally threatened.

A Word From Verywell

If you know a narcissist or feel you may be one yourself and are having trouble with narcissistic rage, the best options are usually self-reflection and awareness, understanding the problem, recognizing triggering situations, and developing coping skills. It’s only when the person who has a problem with narcissistic rage wants to change that change will happen.

Often, change will only come when there has been a breaking point of some sort, such as the development of another mental health issue. However, you don’t have to wait to hit a breaking point before taking steps toward meaningful change.

Whatever your circumstances, reach out for help. Whether you are the perpetrator or victim of narcissistic rage, getting help will benefit those around you as well as your own life circumstances.

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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."