Throughout my 40+ years as a therapist, I helped individuals understand how anger can be managed cleanly and constructively.  And while a high percentage of people don’t go into that space, I had successful breakthroughs guiding eager learners into appropriate patterns.  With a healthy examination of goals, timing, wording, and initiative, it’s possible to be assertively angry, maintaining decency in the process.

Narcissists, in particular, are so weighed down by dysfunctional tensions that they inevitably mismanage anger whenever it surfaces.

Their defining features are entitlement, raw selfishness, being controlling, competitiveness, pathological defenses, low empathy, and profound insecurity.  Each of those qualities works against healthy anger management.

The problem with angry narcissists is compounded by their very poor personal insights and self-reflection. Not at all inclined toward honest introspection, they suppress their inner turmoil which then causes them to unload ugly anger via displacement.  A common defense mechanism, displacement prompts the individual to transfer unresolved tensions onto others while showing no willingness to take responsibility for the havoc they create and perpetuate.

Let’s take a look at the common tensions that narcissists carry that are displaced in their moments of conflict and anger:

A bruised ego

When angered, narcissists focus on what you have done to make them feel hurt and rejected.  Your comments or choices may not have risen to the level of inappropriateness, yet narcissists historically struggled with so many experiences of rejection, their unresolved disillusionment inhibits their capacity to be objective.  They are far too damaged to cleanly communicate fairly.

Feeling misunderstood

Narcissists tend to have a strong history of feeling dismissed or unheard, so when current circumstances remind them of their lack of heart connections, it sends their agitation into overdrive.  They will complain that you don’t get them or that you have to take them more seriously.  The intensity of such messages is in direct proportion to their hidden emptiness and loneliness.

Deep inadequacy and ineptitude

In their formative years, narcissists did not learn the skills for managing confusion or complexities with logic or reason.  Instead, raw reactions led the way.  This sets them up later in life for ineptitude when called upon to be sensible.  Much of their exaggerated and displaced anger can be understood as a cry related to their inability to maneuver through differences.  In essence, they imply: “I have no idea how to handle our distinctions, so I need you to comply with my simplistic demands for conformity.”

Psychological defenses

Historically, narcissists have been exposed to judgment and accusations that they have never learned to manage.  They carry a form of paranoia, prompting them to assume that you are out to get them.  They don’t trust, but instead they throw up walls of denial and rationalization.  They simply cannot listen to others with the goal of finding mutually rewarding coordination.

Raw egotism

Very commonly, angry narcissists send the message that they are a force to be reckoned with, meaning no one gets to disagree with them.  They are like little children who never learned that relationships are not all about them.  Their selfish insistence that others have to bend toward them illustrates that they are psychologically fixated at a very raw stage of emotional maturity.

These inner tensions are almost always in play as narcissists experience displaced anger, and they have been unaddressed for so long that there is a subconscious feature involved.  If you try to discuss their longstanding strains with them, you are likely to hear denial or justification.  Their hidden pain overrides introspection. 

Adding insult to injury, narcissists will blame you for their displaced anger, hence the use of displacement.  Somehow, their inability to manage tension is your fault.

Your challenge is to stay focused on your own healthy use of anger.  The narcissist does not have to set your pace psychologically.  Remember, it is easy to become pulled into the narcissist’s mood of the moment, so your task is to keep your cool.  Your unhealthy retorts will hardly ever succeed as you try to force them to be reasonable.  So, keep your responses to a minimum, and instead, let your healthiness be demonstrated via appropriate behaviors and attitudes.  Stay inside your lane even as you know the narcissist will think of you as an idiot.

Once you recognize that a narcissist is displacing unfinished historical tensions onto you, you can think: “That’s not my problem to solve nor is it my burden to carry.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

If you’d like to watch the video version of this article, click here.