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Express Constructive Anger, Not Narcissistic Rage!

Uploaded 3/11/2022, approx. 17 minute read

Anger. Anger can be expressed constructively or destructively. Narcissistic rage, for example, is a destructive form of anger.

But anger has very many important functions. It's actually a very positive thing. It fosters communication. It brings about compromise and behavioral change. It's a change agent. It affects our conduct with each other, interactions, the social fabric.

Today we are going to discuss the difference between anger and rage, how to express anger constructively and how the narcissist fails in doing so.


My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and I'm a professor of psychology.

There are three elements to expressing anger constructively.

Follow this recipe and your anger may have favorable outcomes, will not lead to hostility or conflict, but on the very contrary, will make your life a lot better.

So three simple rules.

Number one, communicate your anger honestly. Don't be coy. Don't be shy. Don't be underhanded. Don't be passive-aggressive. Don't be embarrassed. Don't be socially inhibited or constricted about your anger. Express it honestly, firmly, but not aggressively. Never ever bottle up your anger. Never internalize your anger. Never act in ways which express anger without verbalizing it. Always talk about your anger. Always speak about your anger. Describe it. Dissect it. Communicate it. Pass it forward. Make sure other parties realize what is your state of mind.

This leads to the second element, the second piece of advice.

Remember we are discussing constructive anger, a kind of anger that transforms your environment in ways which are self efficacious, conducive to your aims, helpful.

The first element, communicate your anger honestly. Never bottle it up. Never internalize it. Never suppress it. Never deny it.

The second element is describe your state of mind. Don't blame. Don't guilt trip. Don't shame. Don't attack. Don't aggress. Don't point fingers.

Just describe your state of mind. Say, I'm feeling uncomfortable right now. I'm angry right now.

And I would like to describe to you how it feels. It feels bad. I'm unhappy. I'm sad. And there is something you can do about it. You can help me. I need help.

Describe your state of mind. Ignore the others. Even the source of frustration, even someone who had attacked you, even an enemy, a sift enemy, someone who is hostile to you, unfriendly. Let it go. Don't focus on other people. It's a hopeless task and it puts their defenses up and the situation becomes only worse. Focus on yourself. Communicate your inner state. Let other people know, let other people learn how you feel and why you feel the way you do. You can even describe your background, your personal history. Other events which tie up with this one are the provocations, problems you've had. Humanize yourself. Make yourself accessible. Share experiences so that you create commonality and evoke, hopefully, some empathy.

Angry people are this empathic. When we are angry, our empathy level goes down. Try to restore it. Try to restore it by showing the other party that you are vulnerable and you are not ashamed to admit it, by describing your vulnerability in great detail and by seeking help.

That's the third element. Ask for change.

So the first element, communicate your anger honestly. The second element, describe your state of mind. Don't focus on other people. The third element, ask for change.

Ask people around you to act differently, act differently, behave differently, talk differently, new actions, different behaviors, novel speech acts. Ask people to change themselves, to transform themselves so as to improve your state of mind and to reduce your anger.

Sometimes people would say, I'm going to change if you're going to change. It's a trade-off. Offer change. Offer change in return if need be. Be assertive, not submissive, not aggressive, assertive.

In a minute I will talk about it.

But anger, to be constructive, must induce change in the sources and agents of frustration. Anger must transform your environment. Otherwise it's futile. Otherwise it's violence. Otherwise it leads to more anger, more wounding, more injuries, much worse situation. Communicate honestly. Describe your state of mind. Ask for change. Do it assertively.

But what's the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness, reactance, defiance?

People confuse these things. They think that to be assertive is to be in your face, uncompromising, rigid, principled. That's not true.

Assertiveness and defiance should not be confused. Assertiveness is the opposite of aggressiveness.

Weak, insecure people are aggressive. People who are sure-footed, people who have high self-confidence and self-esteem, whose sense of self-worth is regulated from the inside, people who have an internal locus of control, they are assertive. They are not aggressive.

Assertive people are self-aware. They know themselves well.

Defiant people have little self-acquaintance. Assertive people have clear and firm boundaries. This is where I stop. This is where you start.

Defiant people, aggressive people, constantly test the boundaries of others, pushing as far as they can get without incurring a backlash.

Assertive people discuss topics. Defiant people attack personalities. Assertive people are for anything and everything that's positive, constructive and leads the way forward.

Defiant people are against everything. They are contrarian. They are negativistic.

Assertive people collaborate. They are goal-oriented. They focus on accomplishing things.

Defiant and aggressive people network aggressively and compete. They are focused on winning, usually at the expense of others, zero-sum game.

Assertive people are self-constructive. They aspire to and they attain personal growth and development.

Aggressive people are self-destructive and self-defeating. That's precisely the difference between anger and rage, especially narcissistic rage.

Narcissistic rage is a phenomenon that is unique to narcissists. It resembles very much a temper tantrum by a spoiled brat. And that's simply because narcissists are spoiled brats.

Emotionally and mentally, they're fixated at age two. The lucky ones go up to age nine, but they're children.

And like the spoiled and entitled children that they are, they throw temper tantrums and they have a very low frustration tolerance. They react to every provocation with rage.

Narcissists, especially psychopathic narcissists, try to present themselves as imperturbable, resilient to stress, sanfua.

Narcissistic rage is not a reaction to stress. It is a reaction to a perceived slight, an insult, a criticism or disagreement.

In other words, narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury or narcissistic wound.

Narcissistic rage is intense. It's disproportional to the so-called offense. The rage is verbally stoked by the narcissist as the episode progresses.

So as opposed to anger, which usually reduce in intensity as time passes, rage increases in intensity. The rage is dissociative. Fugue-like, the narcissist wakes up after the episode of narcissistic rage, often embarrassed and shame faced and oblivious to many of his misbehaviors.

That's especially true for narcissists who are also borderline. The rage never leads to any real life consequences. It yields no decisions. It alters no long-term behavior patterns or commitments, and it affects no pre-range emotions or cognitions.

The narcissist remains curiously untouched by the tantrum, as though nothing had happened.

One critical tactic, one common tactic of the narcissist is to project his pain and to give it to you, to hand it over to you.

Similarly, he hands over his rage to you.

Consider, for example, the shared fantasy. Shared fantasy is a concept invented by Sander in 1989.

It is a process, not an event. It involves various stages, starting with love bombing, bombing and grooming.

When the shared fantasy is disrupted, it results in frustration and frustration leads to aggression. That's Dollard, 1939.

A disrupted shared fantasy usually results in narcissistic injury or even worse, mortification, and this leads to narcissistic rage.

Now, shared fantasy can be disrupted in various ways and at every possible stage of the fantasy. It can be disrupted, for example, via the infidelity of the partner, triangulation. It can be disrupted in the love bombing or grooming phase. It can be disrupted by bargaining at any phase.

Bargaining is when the partner insists on commitment and investment.

But whenever the shared fantasy is disrupted, the narcissist experiences anticipatory abandonment, anxiety, impotent rage, a sense of victimhood, profound sadness and trepidation. And this is all very traumatic, mortifying, but the narcissist cannot admit that he is experiencing pain and sadness and rage, emotions that are dysregulated out of his control.

The narcissist is always in control, is godlike, so he cannot admit to experiencing these emotions.

So what he does, he projects these emotions, he slices them off, he takes them as a package and he hands them over to his intimate partner, to you.

He defensively projects his ego-discrepent agony. He is in pain, he is writhing, he is sad, he is distraught, he is furious. All these emotions threaten to dysregulate him, threaten to transform him into a borderline.

He can't have that. He can't have that because he challenges the narcissist's grandiosity. The narcissist cannot admit that anything is more powerful than him, even his own emotions. This is ego discrepancy. It sits ill, it sits badly with his self-image or self-perception, his ego ideal.

So what the narcissist does, he hands this negative affectivity, he ends over, he transmits these negative emotions to you and he tries to provoke in you past traumas, your own victimhood, helplessness and desolation. And what he says to himself is, what I'm experiencing right now is not my pain over me, is not sadness because of me, I'm not angry because of me. It is my pain and sadness and anger over her, over my intimate partner. I'm experiencing her pain, her disintegration, her decompensation, her bad mental state. I'm empathizing with her, I'm identifying with her and I'm experiencing her pain because I love her and I care for her. This projection, this misattribution of emotions to another person, it's called attribution error. This helps the narcissist preserve his grandiose self-image and self-perception as impervious, invulnerable, invincible, unbreakable, victorious. He needs to feel in control at all times. So now he handed over his negative emotions to you and he has to force you to affirm and confirm the counterfactual projection.

You need to tell him that the emotions that he's attributing to you, his perception is true. You're really experiencing these emotions. You have to lie to him in a way. You have to agree with his projection. You have to say, you're not sad, I am sad. You're angry and you're right to be angry because I was the one who started it, I was the one who was angry at first and so on.

So you need to affirm this projection. The narcissist wants you to experience your pain, which is actually his pain that he had shared with you.

To preserve his ego-syntony, to avoid cognitive dissonance, the narcissist lies to himself and says, I'm doing all this because I'm a good, caring partner. I'm doing this for your own good, tough love. I'm just trying to heal you, just trying to improve you, just trying to help you.

So this is one mechanism of expressing rage and experiencing anger vicariously through a third party by proxy through you, which is a very poisonous, very toxic experience because you keep absorbing all the narcissist's negativity.

But this is in a shared fantasy. Usually outside the shared fantasy, the narcissist is much more overt, much more open.

Raging narcissists usually perceive their reaction to have been triggered by an intentional provocation, this kind of paranoid ideation or persecutory delusion. They think people are hostile, malicious, malevolent, conspiring and colluding to hurt them. They think that there's a hostile response, a hostile purpose, I'm sorry, behind the provocation.

Their targets, on the other hand, invariably regard raging narcissists as incoherent, unjust and arbitrary.

Narcissistic rage should not be confused with anger, though they have many things in common.

It is not clear whether action diminishes anger or anger is used up in action, but anger in healthy people is diminished through action, through expression.

That's why I advocate the honest communication of anger. When you communicate anger, it dissipates, it dissipates and disappears.

Anger is an aversive, unpleasant emotion. It is intended to generate action in order to reduce frustration. Anger is coupled with physiological arousal and physiological arousal can go on forever.


Another enigma is, do we become angry because we say that we are angry? Do we identify the anger and capture it, capture it by saying it aloud, speaking anger's name, does it evoke anger? Or do we say that we're angry because we are angry to begin with? Are we describing a phenomenon, an objective phenomenon, ontological, or are we mislabelling something?

Anger is provoked by adverse treatment, deliberately or unintentionally inflicted. Such treatment, such mistreatment, must violate either prevailing conventions regarding social interruptions or some otherwise deeply ingrained sense of what is fair and what is just.

Anger is intimately connected with a sense of justice. The judgment of fairness or justice is a cognitive function.

Now the Narcissist doesn't have this. He doesn't have this because he doesn't believe in justice or fairness. He believes in the law of the jungle and he believes that he is far superior to other people and therefore entitled to special treatment and dispensations and a special set of rules.

Anger is induced by numerous factors. It is almost a universal reaction. Any threat to one's welfare, physical welfare, emotional, social, financial, mental, any threat to one's well-being is met with anger. It's a self-defense measure. Threats to one's affiliates, nearest, dearest, nation, favorite football club, pet, pets, you name it. Any threat provokes anger.

The territory of anger includes not only the angry person himself but also his real and perceived environment and his social milieu. Threats are not the only situations to incite anger though.

Anger is also the reaction to injustice, perceived injustice, real injustice. It's a reaction to disagreements. It's a reaction to inconvenience, discomfort caused by dysfunction.

But still all manner of angry people, narcissists or not narcissists, all angry people suffer from a cognitive deficit. They are worried. They're anxious. They're unable to conceptualize, to design effective strategies and to execute these strategies.

Angry people dedicate all their attention to the here and now. They ignore the future consequences of their actions. In a way they become a bit psychopathic. Their empathy is reduced. Recent events are judged to be more relevant and they are weighted more heavily than earlier events.

Anger impairs cognition and reality testing, including the proper perception of space and time.

In all people, narcissists and normal people, anger is associated with the suspension of empathy.

Irritated people cannot empathize. Actually, counter empathy develops in a state of aggravated anger.

The faculties of judgment, risk evaluation, they're altered by anger.

Later provocative acts are judged to be more serious than earlier acts just by virtue of their chronological position.

Normal anger results in taking some action regarding the source of frustration or at least the planning or contemplation of such an action.

In contrast, pathological narcissistic rage is mostly directed at oneself or is displaced or even lacks a target altogether. We call it diffuse rage.

Narcissists often vent their anger at insignificant people. They yell at a waitress. They berate an Uber driver. They publicly chide an underling. These are the wrong targets.

The rage is displaced. It's a kind of passive aggressive reaction, dishonest communication.

Alternatively, narcissists sunk. They feel unhedonic or pathologically bored. They drink, they do drugs, they abuse substances. These are all forms of self-directed aggression.

From time to time, no longer able to pretend or to suppress their rage. Even covert narcissists have it out with the real source of their anger.

Then the narcissist overt or covert loses all vestiges of self-control, raised, like a lunatic. The narcissist shouts incoherently, makes absurd accusations, distorts the facts and errs long suppress grievances, allegations and suspicions.

These episodes are followed by periods of saccharine sentimentality and excessive flattering and submissiveness towards the victim of the latest rage attack.

Driven by the mortal fear of being abandoned or ignored, the narcissist repulsively debases and demeans himself. That's another difference between healthy anger and narcissistic rage.

Healthy anger does not impact the sense of self-worth and it is never followed by any acts of submission and fawning or flattery.

Healthy anger is stable. It diminishes and disappears once the environment had changed and actions had been taken.

Narcissistic rage is abrupt. It's abrupt and then it gives place to egodystony. It gives place to negative affectivity such as fear, anxiety and in rare cases, shame and guilt.

Most narcissists are prone to be angry. Their anger is always sudden, raging, frightening and without an apparent provocation by an outside agent.

It would seem that narcissists are in a constant state of rage which is effectively controlled most of the time but not always.

The rage manifests itself only when the narcissist's defenses are down, when he decompensates, when he's incapacitated, when he's mortified, when he's adversely affected by circumstances, internal or external.

Pathological anger is neither coherent nor externally induced. It emanates from the inside. It is diffuse. It is directed at the world and at injustice in general.

The narcissist is capable of identifying the immediate cause of his fury and still, upon closer scrutiny, the cause that the narcissist has identified is likely to be found lacking.

The anger is always excessive, disproportionate and incoherent. The narrative is disrupted and disruptive. It might be more accurate to say that the narcissist is expressing and experiencing two layers of anger simultaneously and always.

The first layer of superficial ire is indeed directed at an identified target, the alleged cause of the eruption.

But there's a second layer. The second layer incorporates the narcissist's self-aimed, self-directed wrath, self-loathing, self-hatred, self-punitive, sadistic aggression in a critic superego.

Two layers. The narcissist's rage also has two forms. One is explosive. The narcissist flares up, attacks everyone in his immediate vicinity, causes damage to objects and people and is verbally and psychologically abusive.

The second type of narcissistic rage is pernicious or passive-aggressive. The narcissist sulks. He gives the silent treatment and is plotting how to punish the transgressor and put her in her proper place.

These narcissists, mainly covert, are vindictive and often become stalkers. They harass and haunt the objects of their frustration. They sabotage and damage the work and positions of people who they regard to be the sources of their mounting rage.

As I mentioned, in 1939, the American psychologist John Dole and four of his colleagues put forth their famous frustration-aggression hypothesis. With minor modifications, it fits well the phenomenon of narcissistic rage.

Stage one, the narcissist is frustrated in his pursuit of narcissistic supply. He is ignored, ridiculed, doubted, criticized.

Phase two, frustration causes narcissistic injury or even mortification. Phase three, the narcissist projects the bad object onto the source of his frustration. He devalues her, attributes to her malice and other negative traits and behaviors.

And finally, this causes the narcissist to rage against a perceived evil entity, the secretary object that had so injured and frustrated him.

As you can see, narcissistic rage has extremely little to do with anger. It's an internal process externalized improperly and dysfunctionally.

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