Is it ever reasonable to experience and express anger?  Yes.  There are plenty of imperfections in your world that generate visceral reactions, making it impossible to maintain perpetual calmness.  But here’s the catch.  So many people on so many occasions misuse anger that it is easy to write it off as a bad, destructive emotion.

To get an idea of the reasonableness of a person’s anger, it is necessary to focus on what triggers it and how it is managed.  Your anger is directly tied to your inclination toward self-preservation.  Anger can be provoked when your dignity is disrespected, when your valid needs are ignored, and when others come against your core values and principles.  In such moments, it’s possible to rationally address your issues, but for it to have a positive effect, you’ll need to apply self-restraint, reeling in raw egotism.

Narcissists have such a strong need for control, and they feel so entitled that it is virtually impossible for them to manage anger constructively.  If you have spent an extended amount of time with that person, you will witness all sorts of erratic behaviors, and you can be harmed in many ways.  

So, to understand how to wisely respond to a narcissist’s anger, knowing it will probably be irrational, it is essential to know what drives them from the inside out.  Let’s examine some of the reasons narcissists cannot be rational in their moments of anger.

  1. The entire pattern of narcissism is built upon a foundation of irrationality.  Narcissists live with their own Alternate Reality.  Their mindset is blatantly self-serving, meaning they begin with the assumption that you owe them favored treatment.
  2. You are supposed to be impressed by their interpretation of events and relationships.  When narcissists reveal their ideas of right and wrong, they desperately need you to affirm them.  In their insecurity, they require you to prop up their secretly fragile ego.
  3. They think they are unique in a superior way.  We are each unique in some fashion, but narcissists presume their uniqueness gives them license to be condescending over you.
  4. To the narcissist, your differences are truly a nuisance.  They have little empathy and this is especially true in moments of tension and conflict.  As far as they are concerned, you should not be allowed a voice.  You just need to do as they say.
  5. Their need for control prompts them to fear your independence.  Often, in a non-psychotic paranoia, they will interpret your desire to make free choices as a direct challenge to them.  
  6. Because of their bent toward authoritarianism, narcissists inevitably devalue your boundaries.  Keeping in mind that boundaries arise from your own efforts to define who you want to be, narcissists will retort with an instinct toward invalidation.  They persistently remind you of their Agenda.
  7. Narcissists dread being called out as wrong or petty or silly.  Inside is a petulant child who insists on having his/her own way, regardless of the impropriety of their choices and attitudes.  But their lack of self-awareness inhibits them from confronting their longstanding patterns anchored in a deep history of immaturity.

Understanding what you are up against in moments of discord and anger, your task is to stay focused on healthiness despite the narcissist’s “invitation” to go into battle.  That said, stay in your lane.  Focus on clean assertiveness.  Refuse to engage competitively with the narcissist.  Relationships are not a competition.  Remember your higher priorities of decency and respect.  

The single most common mistake in responding to a narcissist’s anger is the attempt to convince that person of your correctness.  They don’t care what you think!  Narcissists do not use logic in moments of conflict.  Operating with an underdeveloped conscience, they presume if they think or feel a certain way, that settles it.  Constructive dialogue is rare with them.

Despite their emotional immaturity, you still have the option to be reasonable when you feel angry. The narcissist may blow up in rage, become passive aggressive, hold grudges, and cling to contempt for a long time.  But you need not take your cues from such a misguided soul.  Their goal is to shut you down and maintain dominance, and that is pitiable.

Instead, stand firmly in your preservation of yourself.  Speak up when you can, but don’t resort to insistence and persuasion.  Maintain calm firmness as you are able.  Live inside your well-conceived definition of Self.  Establish and enact consequences where you can.  Take your own healthy initiatives where applicable.  Minimize close interactions with that person as much as common sense will allow.  And if the narcissist’s irrational anger leads to abuse and harm, leave.  Alert others to your challenges.

Anger can be managed rationally, but since the narcissist is driven by so many irrational presumptions, they are not likely to join your good efforts.  Ideally, when anger arises inside any relationship, collaborative efforts can be applied and mutual respect can be maintained.  But given the narcissist’s childish worldview and self-serving Agenda, keep your expectations realistic. 

When you feel angry with a narcissist, it is likely that your efforts to stay rational will be a solo act.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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