What Triggers Narcissistic Rage? What Happens During It?

— Reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy.

Whenever a narcissist feels humiliated or belittled, they react as if they are facing an acute survival hazard. This is narcissistic rage.

It is an emotional outburst of anger and frustration in response to a perceived loss of self-esteem or self-worth.

Narcissistic rage is often uncontrollable. It is extremely difficult to calm down the raging person with logic or explanation.

It may sometimes be shown by the narcissist’s victim, who realizes they have been wronged. They erupt in a rage because they feel they wasted their time and energy trying to form a relationship with the narcissist.

The term “narcissistic rage” or “narcissistic anger” was coined by Heinz Kohut in 1972 and popularized by Otto Kernberg in 1975.

what triggers narcissistic rage

What Triggers Narcissistic Rage?

Narcissistic rage can be triggered by criticism, disapproval, envy, humiliation, abandonment, or rejection. It may also be motivated by a desire to coerce a victim into compliance. It can also be triggered by an unrelated emotional event, such as news of disrespect to someone the narcissist admires.

“A characteristic sign of narcissistic people is fits of anger or tears when what they do is not perfect enough in their eyes, or when something questions their pride and self-love. Heinz Kohut first coined the term “narcissistic anger” to indicate these fits of anger, generally disproportionate to why they occur, which are motivated by wounded pride.”

Stranieri & De Stefano, 2021

Here are some instances that could trigger a narcissistic rage:

1. When narcissists do not get preferential treatment.

When narcissists do not get their way or receive preferential treatment, they erupt in narcissistic rage.

Narcissists expect to have their way in everything, even if it is unrealistic.

They expect special treatment wherever they go because they deeply believe they are unique and superior to all around them.

Not getting special treatment causes them humiliation.

2. When they are criticized or given negative feedback.

When a narcissist gets criticized, they become outraged.

Criticizing a narcissist is like declaring war on them, no matter how mild or fair your critique was.

And if you publicly criticize them, they will do everything in their power to destroy your reputation and credibility by starting a smear campaign.

3. When they are not being treated as the center of attention.

The narcissist gets into a fit of rage if they aren’t treated as the focus of attention.

When communicating with others, narcissists require complete attention to themselves.

When they are not getting undivided attention, they usually try to shift the spotlight back to themselves through conflict, charm, or conflict followed by charm.

What Causes Narcissistic Rage?

4. When they are caught breaking rules and norms of honesty.

When a narcissist has been discovered breaking rules, disrespecting social norms, or acting dishonestly or meanly, they become enraged.

Narcissists have poor self-control which makes them regularly violate the rules. They enjoy breaking the rules and defying the norms.

If you point them out that they are lying or cheating, they will react by denying it flatly that they did it on their own and alluding someone made them do it.

5. When they are asked to explain their wrongful behavior.

When a narcissist is pressed to explain their behavior, they get enraged.

Narcissists are not to be held accountable for their behavior. They frequently use blame-shifting to divert attention away from themselves and their mistakes.

They are known to make you feel like you are the one to blame because you were too harsh in scrutinizing them.

6. When they get exposed as liars or manipulators.

When a narcissist is exposed as a liar or manipulator, they become furious.

When confronted after public exposure, a narcissist will play the victim.

And if you call them out in private, they can resort to anything to get back at you, from manipulation to violence.

7. When their control is taken away from them.

When the narcissist’s sense of control is taken away, they become outraged.

Narcissists have a strong need to control the people around them.

They will try to control their spouse, children, coworkers, friends, and even neighbors.

If they sense there they are about to lose control over their people, or already have lost their control, they will try hard to re-establish control over something or someone in their life.

But if they were to fail, their inability to regain control leads to narcissistic rage.

8. When they face a loss, failure, or setback.

When a narcissist experiences a setback or loss, it can emerge as intense fury, violent animosity, or insidious hatred.

The first line of defense against you could be vicious yelling and screaming, as well as baseless charges.

Any minor dispute or unfavorable remark might make them feel rejected or mocked, triggering far more hurt than they usually cause.

They could project their own feelings and insecurities onto you.

What Happens During Narcissistic Rage?

When you trigger a narcissist, you should anticipate extreme cruelty. Here are some things that happen during narcissistic rage:

  • Narcissists will have fits of rage that are out of proportion to the cause of their rage. Their rage can be so intense that you will find it hard to believe that you can leave the scene unharmed.
  • You may witness their hatred in ways you could have never imagined. The ugliness of their rage may even numb you and freeze you on the spot.
  • Some narcissists may experience rage that passes quickly and is never mentioned again. This type of narcissistic rage eventually fades and vanishes.
  • Some narcissists may hide their rage by adopting cold silence (silent treatment). They may not speak to you for days and weeks believing you deserve such punishment for acting in a way they despise.
  • Some narcissists provoke their victim’s rage before retaliating with verbal or physical violence. They will emotionally manipulate you, incite your fury, and then use verbal or physical violence against you when you are unable to control your outburst.
  • They may yell, bully, shame, and threaten at first. Then they can resort to hitting their victims with objects or their hands to intimidate them and establish their dominance and superiority.
  • Narcissists will detach or disconnect from reality. They are the only ones who exist in their parallel universe. During a narcissistic rage, they will withdraw from reality, making no one else’s perspective count or be correct. Their reality may be distorted and unrealistic, but they will never accept or listen to your point of view because they believe they are in control and you are not.
  • Some narcissists will harm themselves in their fit of rage. Narcissists love dramas and strive to be the best performers in each scene they are in, even when venting their rage.
  • Many people believe that narcissists would never injure themselves because of their inflated egos. This, however, is not always the case, and narcissists may hurt themselves to manipulate or exploit their victims.
  • They will be constantly cursing you, screaming at you, throwing objects, calling you names, threatening you, and even hitting you – all because they felt you disrespected them.
  • Narcissistic rage can linger for days or weeks, and they may bring it up from time to time.
  • Of course, they do not apologize for their cruel behavior.
  • They may slander you. If they are angry with you, they might quietly begin to spread rumors about your character, create difficulties in your life, or use a person in a position of power over you to take action against you.
What is "narcissistic rage"? (Glossary of Narcissistic Relationships)


  1. Are there different types of narcissistic rage?

    Narcissistic rage typically comes in two forms:

    1. Explosive narcissistic rage: It usually manifests as an intense verbal outburst of anger followed by an aggressive physical attack on the victim. It frequently involves a complete loss of self-control.

    2. Passive-aggressive narcissistic rage: It usually manifests as covert, underhanded tactics that can include intimidating someone or sowing seeds of doubt in their minds (narcissistic gaslighting).

  2. What is narcissistic rage?

    Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth. Narcissists and people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) often lash out at others and become aggressive when they feel their sense of superiority has been undermined.

Final Words

The intensity and duration of narcissistic rage can vary from person to person. It depends on how embarrassed or belittled the narcissist has been made to feel.

Their rage may be out of proportion to the quantum of shame or guilt they are feeling.

They may react violently to a rejection from society or their own family unit.

They may simply show restlessness when they feel frustrated or powerless in the face of their boss’s mistreatment.

The best thing you can do if they are in a bout of rage is to avoid them.

Remember, some narcissists are extremely cruel.

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