Do you ever feel angry?  Of course, you do. It may be a strong emotion or muffled, but you have it inside you.  Do you like feeling angry?  If you seek consistent healthiness, it is not an emotion you prioritize, so you manage it judiciously.  Do you need to hold onto your anger?  Let’s hope you know when to let it go, keeping your eye on higher priorities like patience, self-restraint, and goodness.

Compare healthy anger with a narcissist’s anger which prompts all sorts of relationship strains.  The longer you know them, you may have entertained thoughts like:

I don’t know what might set that person off, but something will…soon.

It takes next to nothing to propel that person into a griping session.

That person can argue with a fence post!

He/she can seem perfectly normal, but once you get on their bad side, watch out, here comes the contempt.

Narcissists don’t just feel anger, they thrive on it.  They like feeling the power surge it generates.  They need the anger because it reinforces their feeling of superiority over you.  

Anger, to the narcissist, is a weapon.  Specifically, it is used in the establishment of dominance.  It also diminishes you, the recipient, which suits the narcissist’s narrative of your subservience to them.  And as they push anger onto you, it keeps the focus off of their many struggles with inadequacy.

As narcissists persist in spewing anger, they imply:

I’m not at peace.

I hurt, I’m in pain.

Life (people) confuses me.

Life disappoints me.

They will not openly admit to such thoughts, nonetheless, they are held captive by pervasive pessimism.

Let’s keep in mind, that there are actually moments when clean, assertive anger is necessary, and even helpful.   Clean anger conveys legitimate concerns with the hope of finding reasonable resolutions.  That said, let’s also keep in mind that narcissists are so troubled that they rarely assert cleanly.  They command.  They judge.  They condemn.  They confuse.

So, what drives narcissists to cling to their anger?  There are multiple explanations:

  • They cannot tap into their hidden self-loathing.  Historically they have had many reasons to feel frustrated with themselves, but they fear the judgment that would accompany open discussions about their troubles.
  • Blaming and accusing are much easier than self-reflection.
  • They are severely underdeveloped in the art of contemplating the meaning of a successful life.
  • If you can be designated as the chief cause of their problems, they feel exonerated.
  • Narcissists don’t want to examine their inner demons, so they displace.
  • Narcissists think in the language of condescension.  That’s what they have experienced, so that’s what they have to offer.
  • They feel incapable of change, so it makes sense (to them) to force change upon you.
  • Being competitive, they must win.  It does not occur to them that causing you to lose is a losing proposition for them too.
  • Anger is their most powerful means of self-defense.  They fear vulnerability.

As a therapist, I would emphasize to my clientele that anger can ideally become a catalyst for healthy relationship boundaries.  In healthy anger, you wish to preserve your sense of worth, your basic needs, and your foundational convictions.  That’s all fair and good.  Along the way, anger can be managed within the context of shared humanity with the other.   It can prompt frank, necessary and constructive dialogue.  And once conveyed, each person can move forward with personal respect intact.  

But when I would share such ideas with a narcissist, they would balk. 

To them, being reasonable somehow is equated with weakness. 

It would require giving up power.  And even when I explained the paradox of finding healthy influence as the power approach is minimized, they wouldn’t buy into it.  They stubbornly clung the mantra: “I win by making you lose.”

Narcissists fail to understand when they make others hurt, it hurts them.  They also fail to understand that being a source of steadiness increases the odds of finding steadiness, especially in moments of conflict.  Their need for the favored position disallows any notion of fair and equal exchanges.

To the narcissist, anger works…in the sense that it temporarily allows them to forget their own inner tensions.  Focusing on you gives them a reprieve from feeling inadequate.

As you understand their need for anger, you will feel frustrated and futile.  But you can also become all the more committed to decency.  If you follow suit with their miserable behaviors, it reinforces their assumption that you deserve disdain.  The better alternative is to drop the notion that the relationship is a competition.  And even though the narcissist proves incapable of thinking of mutual gratification, someone needs to be the voice of stability…and that someone can be you.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.