Narcissistic Rage: Identifying & Protecting Yourself From It

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Written by:Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

Published On: September 27, 2023

Medically reviewed by: Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Reviewed On: September 27, 2023

Updated On: September 27, 2023


Narcissistic personality disorder affects about 6% of the population, according to research. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a type of personality disorder that causes someone to have an extreme need to be admired. People with narcissistic traits also tend to lack empathy, exhibit patterns of grandiosity and an inflated sense of self-worth, and can have episodes of intense, uncontrollable aggression and rage.

Multiple studies found that a common aspect of narcissistic vulnerability (as opposed to narcissistic grandiosity) is rage. What is narcissistic rage? When someone with this multifaceted personality disorder is challenged, they commonly react with outrageous, uncontrollable, out of proportion outbursts. This is frequently referred to as narcissistic rage, and anyone in a relationship with someone who has NPD should learn to recognize the signs so they can protect themselves.

Continue reading to learn more — we’re sharing some specific narcissistic rage examples and covering how to identify and cope with a rage episode.

Identifying Narcissistic Rage

To recognize narcissistic rage signs, look for extreme emotional reactions that occur after somebody receives what they feel is a threat to their self-esteem or sense of superiority. Rage can be triggered by criticism, perceived rejection, or any situation where they feel they’re not being treated as the special and important person they believe themselves to be.

Signs of narcissistic rage

Narcissistic rage may look like:

  • Intense anger outbursts that are disproportionate to the situation
  • Verbal attacks that try to belittle or humiliate someone else
  • Demeaning behavior towards someone who’s perceived as being an inferior person
  • Blaming someone else for their failures or shortcomings
  • Extreme unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions

Tips on how to recognize narcissistic rage in yourself or others:

  1. Use self-reflection: Evaluating emotions during conflicts can help identify if a reaction is over the top. If you’re overreacting without considering someone else’s perspective, it’s time for introspection and a self-check.
  2. Look for patterns of behavior: Try to identify recurring instances where there have been overly extreme reactions to criticism or a perceived slight
  3. Pay attention to language: Consistently using demeaning language towards others, especially when feeling threatened, can signify narcissistic rage.

Examples of narcissistic rage

Some possible scenarios could look like any of the following:

  • A coworker gets constructive and positive feedback on a project, yet they lash out at colleagues in response.
  • A friend isn’t invited to an event they believe they should’ve been included in. They become irate, berating the host and accusing them of disrespect.

What Triggers Narcissistic Rage?

Narcissistic rage is a direct response when someone with NPD perceives threats or attacks on their self-esteem, sense of entitlement, or grandiose self-image. When you know how to help someone with narcissistic personality disorder by understanding the triggers for this extreme and over-the-top emotional reaction, you can manage your emotions and respond effectively to narcissistic behavior.

Common triggers of narcissistic rage

  • Criticism: Even if it’s intended to be helpful or constructive, people with NPD tend to see criticism as an attack. Couple this with a fragile ego, and it can lead to defensive anger.
  • Rejection: When somebody with NPD feels rejected or abandoned, especially by someone they’re in a close relationship with, their sense of self-worth will feel threatened and feel a sense of shame, often resulting in rage.
  • Failure: People with narcissistic tendencies don’t experience failure or disappointment in healthy ways. Their emotions cause them to feel vulnerable and exposed, and in turn, they’ll lash out.
  • Betrayal: Even perceived acts of betrayal can provoke a narcissistic rage. The feeling of being lied to or cheated on can result in humiliation and powerlessness, which are typical triggers for a narcissist’s ego, causing rage.
  • Inferiority: When someone with NPD feels inferior — either socially, professionally, or physically — it’s a direct threat to their self-image and will often lead to an intense, angry outburst.

Understanding the Cycle of Narcissistic Rage

Narcissist rage isn’t an isolated event. Instead, it’s a cycle that can be dissected and broken down into stages. When you can understand the cycle, you can manage and treat rage, whether you are experiencing it yourself, or you’re on the receiving end.

The following are key stages of the narcissistic rage cycle:

  1. A threat is perceived: A cycle starts once someone perceives a threat to their self-image or sense of superiority. This might be from feeling criticized, rejected, or slighted.
  2. Reaction: In response to the threat, there will be intense anger and resentment — this is the narcissistic rage.
  3. Punishment and control: To regain control over their emotions and reestablish their sense of power, it’s common to punish anyone they believe to be responsible for causing their distress. Punishment can come in the form of manipulation, isolation, or emotional abuse.
  4. Cool down period: Once the punishing is complete, there will typically be a calm period. Note that this stage is generally temporary since unresolved issues remain.
  5. New perceived threat and recurrence: Unfortunately, the narcissistic rage cycle will repeat itself as soon as another perceived threat arises. The threats can be real or imagined but will ultimately trigger the next rage episode.

How to Deal with Narcissistic Rage When It Occurs

Understanding how to respond to narcissistic rage and learning how to get a narcissist to respect you can diffuse tension and prevent further escalations.

iconExpert Insight

“Narcissistic rage is relatively challenging to deal with because people with narcissism have extreme difficulty taking responsibility for their actions or recognizing how their behavior played a role in creating turmoil.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

These effective strategies can help you navigate how to respond to a narcissist.

Remain calm and composed

The next time you’re confronted with a narcissistic rage episode, try to remain calm and composed. Resist the temptation to get defensive or be aggressive in response. This will only fuel the anger and prolong the rage.

iconExpert Insight

“Avoid reacting in front of someone with narcissism — play it cool.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

Avoid arguing or confronting them

When someone is in a narcissistic rage, arguing or confronting them will most likely escalate the situation. Don’t try to prove them wrong, and don’t try to defend yourself against any accusations they might be making. They’re likely unfounded and arguing will do no good. Rather, acknowledge their feelings to defuse the situation — note this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them.

iconExpert Insight

“Redirect attacks, by either not acknowledging them or changing the topic.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

Seek professional help 

If repeated narcissistic abuse is interfering with your relationship or affecting your mental health, it might be time to seek professional help from a therapist. Look for someone who has experience in dealing with personality disorders and can provide you with valuable insights and coping strategies specific to your situation.

How to Protect Your Peace

Protecting yourself is an essential part of navigating a narcissistic relationship. Especially if the person tends to rage often, you must know how to preserve peace in your environment.

Set boundaries

Boundaries are crucial in any relationship, but even more so when you’re in a relationship with someone with NPD. Learning how to set healthy boundaries doesn’t need to be overcomplicated.

iconExpert Insight

“Limit phone calls, texts, and emails — wean off of them if there are currently a lot.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

Be sure to communicate your limits and boundaries so a clear line is drawn about what is acceptable behavior. Make consequences known, and be willing to remove yourself from the situation if things escalate too far.

iconExpert Insight

“Determine what you are willing to accept and what you adamantly refuse to accept. Defend your boundaries to the best of your ability.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

Create an exit strategy

Occasionally, getting out of a situation might be best until the rage has subsided. Before you need it, develop an exit strategy so you have the plan to get yourself — physically and emotionally — to a safe place.

iconExpert Insight

“The best way to protect our peace when dealing with someone with narcissism is to increase our distance between us and them very slowly.”
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD.), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Meaghan Rice

Learn to Manage Narcissistic Rage with Talkspace

Narcissistic rage is a complex, serious issue that can cause harm to both parties involved. Thus, you must be aware of how this rage might manifest and learn to deal with it effectively and safely when it happens.

If you need help or support, the mental health professionals at Talkspace understand how to treat and manage narcissistic rage episodes. If someone you care about struggles with narcissistic rage, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting support easy, affordable, and convenient.

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Meaghan Rice

Meaghan Rice is a mental health consultant specializing in professionals who are looking to close the gap between where they are and where they envision themselves being. With a decade of experience in the mental health field, working in a variety of different capacities, Dr. Rice has found her niche amidst the therapist, consultant, and trainer roles.

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