When you have ongoing exposure to a narcissist, anger problems will inevitably come to the fore. Initially, you will notice how that person struggles with resentments toward others. Then eventually the anger will turn toward you as differences emerge. Being naturally self-absorbed, narcissists have great difficulty seeing beyond their entitled cravings, meaning they lack the necessary objectivity and self-restraint to moderate their impulses.
Furthermore, as your exposure to that narcissist continues, you will witness how the emotion can be turned on or off, depending on the person involved and the immediate needs of the narcissist. In other words, choice is part of the equation. You will notice how the narcissist has at least some capacity to manage anger. Yet overall, they choose not to handle it cleanly, especially with you.
This leads to the question: Are narcissists basically committed to their anger?
Clearly, there are times they contain it and times when they choose not to. Is their anger a calculated ploy?
The short answer is yes. At some level there is indeed a proactive commitment to use their anger as a weapon to intimidate and keep others in line.
Let’s acknowledge that anger is not always an inappropriate or awful emotion. In its cleanest form, anger taps into a person’s self-preservation as that individual feels prompted to stand up for personal worth, for legitimate needs, and for reasonable convictions. But narcissists carry so many unresolved inner tensions that they decide it is too taxing to contain it.
Instead, the narcissist finds pseudo-strength by unleashing a broad array of damaging behaviors and attitudes. For instance, they can be openly aggressive, spewing threats, assessing blame, being persistently critical, and communicating with stubborn force. At other times, they will become passive aggressive with evasive and non-cooperative games. Sometimes they just let the anger seethe within as they cling to contempt and grudges. Whatever form it takes, it is essential for you to understand that at a deeper (often subconscious) level, they have indeed chosen to just let it run. They cling to their anger as a badge of distinction.
As you witness their anger habits, it is helpful to recognize the multiple factors that keep them bound by it. For instance:
- The narcissist’s anger illustrates a need to ignore complexity. Being psychologically lazy and binary in their thinking, they have concluded that life should fit neatly into their narrow grooves. So, their raw anger implies: “I never learned what to do with relationship complexity. Don’t expect me to think introspectively.”
- To mask secret feelings of ineptitude, they do their best to label you as problematic. They remind you that you are the inadequate person in the room.
- Their accompanying defensiveness illustrates how fear driven they are, that they feel threatened by matters outside their comfort zone.
- Being pushy and stubborn in their anger, they demonstrate how they have no conception or appreciation for a team spirit. In other words, empathy is grossly underdeveloped. “Me” is the only person whose needs matter.
- Selfishness is on full display as they choose their anger style, implying that they have hardly matured beyond childish moodiness.
- Their need for control is also paramount, as they have convinced themselves that the best strategy for finding personal peace is to force your compliance.
The narcissist’s anger comes with a high cost since it requires you to lay down your mannerisms, bowing to their dominance games. As your exposure to their tensions continues, you are faced with the decision of how to respond to an unreasonable person.
At some point, knowing that the narcissist could choose differently, but does not, it is reasonable to pull away from the relationship. The narcissist’s anger represents a deliberate attempt to make you look bad and to make you feel responsible for solving the narcissist’s emotional and relational ineptitude.
That is not your job.
On your end of the equation, you can certainly learn lessons from the narcissist about how not to manage anger. You can determine to manage your anger reasonably, and you can also convey your willingness to engage in constructive dialogues. In other words, you, too, can choose how you will manage anger. In the midst of the emotion you can draw upon traits like dignity, respect, and civility. But when the narcissist predictably remains committed to the opposite, you would be wise to move on with people who will reciprocate your more mature commitments.
Simply put, you are not required to remain tethered to someone who chooses to manage their anger like an out of control 3 year old.
~Dr. Les Carter
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