How Can I Stop My Spouse From Having Narcissistic Rage?

Updated March 29, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

To stop someone, such as your spouse, from experiencing narcissistic rage, it is important to understand what narcissistic rage is. This intense and often explosive reaction occurs when narcissist has when they feel like they are being attacked. However, underneath the defensive reaction is a feeling that their self-esteem or self-worth is being questioned or is compromised. Episodes of narcissistic rage are not fun to be around. Examples of narcissistic rage comprise highly volatile outbursts that can be physical or verbal, much the opposite of a passive-aggressive rage, which can be described as the “silent treatment.” If your spouse is showing signs of narcissistic rage or has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, you will benefit from reading further. This article explains the causes of narcissistic rage and offers strategies you can use to help both of you cope with this reaction and when to reach for help. 

What causes narcissistic rage?

Narcissistic rage can be overwhelming to navigate

The  has been linked to a combination of prior experiences. Most psychologists feel that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is linked to unmet needs in a child’s early developmental stages. Sadly, psychologists have linked the disorder to extreme neglect, abuse, or neglect in childhood. Thus, 

considering rage is a primitive and emotionally immature child-like expression of unmet needs, one can see how this lack of validation combined with unfulfilled emotional needs can predispose a person to these rage episodes. 

NPD, narcissistic personality disorder, is considered a cognitive disorder because it continually reminds people of past unresolved conflicts that are subconsciously present. This reminder can lead to someone with NPD developing relationship styles that are controlled and driven by a triggered and fragmented reality. If you or someone you love is living with a narcissist husband, wife, or partner diagnosed with NPD, an online therapist can help you navigate a healthy lifestyle.

Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissism can be defined as an extreme preoccupation of the self with an excessive amount of self-love or egocentrism. Many people use the word narcissist to describe an egotistical or self-centered person without truly contemplating the meaning of the word. Most of the time, people that may seem self-obsessed or have elevated self-esteem are not truly narcissists - according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5-TR) a reference book used by clinicians to diagnose mental health and brain-related disorders. 

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental condition in which a person has a personally inflated sense of self-importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. Someone who is diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder tends to be self-absorbed, vain, and arrogant. They also may be obsessed with their self-image and how they are viewed by others. They may dismiss other people’s needs over their own. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria include the following in their description of someone with NPD:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-worth and personal achievements

  • A sense of entitlement, with a need for constant, excessive admiration

  • Self-superiority without supporting achievements

  • Not obeying the law or following rules

  • An expectation of special favors and submission of others to their expectations

  • An unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others

  • Extreme envy of others while believing other people envy them

  • Arrogance, boastful, and pretentious behavior

A person with NPD is often highly functioning and intelligent. However, there are other factors about their behavior that make it difficult for them to function in normal society. It might be difficult to hold down a job due to inability to work and collaborate with other people successfully. It could also be challenging to maintain a relationship, particularly romantic relationships. 

Self-recognition of narcissistic tendencies

If you have a spouse diagnosed with NPD, you may have noticed they are unwilling to seek mental health support. This is because people with NPD face obstacles that keep them from reaching out for help. They may not realize they need to change their behavior or seek treatment options. People with NPD are getting certain needs met by holding to their grandiose sense of self, and it takes a lot for them to see that and want to change. However, some peer-reviewed studies in the social psychology field have discovered that narcissists have more self-awareness than previously thought. Medical reviewers learned that people with NPD can acknowledge that others may not see them as positively as they see themselves.

If you are not sure if your partner, a relative, or another person has NPD, here are other signs to pay attention to:

  • They have thin skin

  • Inability to stay calm

  • They may be caught breaking rules frequently without guilt or shame

  • Less likely to engage in constructive, self-reflection that leads to change

  • Poor coping skills

  • Losing control of their emotions easily

  • They often escalate conflicts if their sense of self is being attacked

  • Manipulative behavior

  • Belittling or bullying others

Along with these characteristics, there are two distinctive emotional patterns that emerge with narcissistic personalities, one of grandiosity and the other vulnerability. A person who is managing narcissism may show excessive pride and arrogance. Once they find themselves in a situation where they are not receiving the admiration they deserve, an overflowing of emotions can erupt that they are unable to manage. This unrelenting introspective focus on the self combined with a vulnerable emotional state can lead to the aggressive behavior known as “narcissistic rage”.

Narcissistic rage revisited

Narcissistic injury, also called narcissistic scarring, was first noted by psychologist Sigmund Freud in the 1920s. Freud saw that a narcissistic injury occurred when a narcissist experiences a situation that counter-argues their beliefs about themselves. This wound or attack that threatens their firmly held set of beliefs would then elicit a violent outburst of anger. Freud called this outburst narcissistic rage.

What distinguishes narcissistic rage from normal anger?

Many people have several levels of emotions before they reach the “rage” place, and it does not occur often. However, for narcissists, outrageous outbursts and rage are a regular occurrence. They typically do not go through the seven layers of emotions and quickly jump from stress to rage on the drop of a dime.

Psychiatrist Adam Blatner defined the seven layers of anger. They are:

  • Stress - Feeling angry but not demonstrating it.

  • Anxiety -This is anger that is shown through subtle clues. One may start to act differently at the first sign of an anxious situation.

  • Agitation - Substantial displeasure is shown or exhibited without blame.

  • Irritation - More displeasure is shown than agitation to a given response.

  • Frustration - Anger with harsh words or a scowl, grimacing face.

  • Anger - Demonstrated by talking loudly or screaming and with notable expressions.

  • Rage - Losing one’s temper quickly and demonstrating aggression. It can also be defined as shutting others out and failing to listen to practical advice or words.

Again, someone with narcissistic personality disorder does not go through the  steps as outlined above. This is due to the unfortunate inability of people with NPD to manage the crisis of feeling vulnerable when they need to feel invincible. 

Think of two toddlers who are each playing with a toy. A third child comes up and takes both toys away from the toddlers who had them first. One of the toddlers gets frustrated but gets up and picks out another toy to play with and is once again content. The other toddler gets extremely mad, cries and screams, and throws a tantrum.

The first toddler describes a person who was not neglected as a child to the point of needing to protect themselves in grandiosity while covering extreme vulnerability.  When you learn a healthy way to manage emotions and identity of self, when things do not go your way, you are able to manage the feeling and move on. The second toddler describes a narcissist who doesn’t get upset but starts demonstrating discontent with outrageous behaviors and rages. The second toddler is not easily consoled unless they immediately get their toy back; they got their way, and the rage dissipates. These responses are all indicative a person with NPD who tends to overcompensate concerning their emotional responses. 

However, toddlers are still young and learning to control their behavior. Not all angry outbursts as a child should be of concern. They are a normal part of growth. But we expect adults to have learned basic coping skills and be able to control their impulses to a healthy degree. If they are unable to control anger and it is accompanied by an inflated self-image, it may be a sign of mental health condition, such as NPD.

What should I know about NPD rage?

When you witness your partner in a narcissistic rage, it can be upsetting and scary. A spouse with NPD often seems to scream at the slightest inconveniences, has an attitude about everything, and acts like the world is against them.

The truth is, for them, they feel as though they are personally attacked and are in defense-mode. 

The reaction to these feelings is to yell, mumble profanities, scream, break things, physically threaten, or actually harm others, and anything else the helps them to feel in control of the situation. While the rest of the world perceives their behavior as being out of control, these actions feel as if they control what takes place for someone who has NPD. 

What are the signs of narcissistic rage?

Narcissistic rage is often viewed as a two-layer problem: constant anger directed towards someone and rage towards themselves. This two-layer problem is a combination of attacking those who the narcissist feels are trying to control them and then attacking themselves for having such an outrageous response. 

There are several signs of narcissistic rage that can be noticed from an outside perspective:

  • Intense anger that may seem disproportionate to the situation

  • Explosive rage when not getting enough attention

  • Physical or verbal abuse intended to harm others or self

  • Screaming or yelling

  • Punching or throwing things

  • Stonewalling someone or giving them the silent treatment

  • Intense passive-aggressive behavior

  • Extreme sarcasm as a defense mechanism

If you are experiencing any kind of abuse or violence at home or elsewhere, you can anonymously call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for advice and assistance. 

The spectrum of narcissistic rage

Narcissistic rage is not only an outward expression of intense emotion and anger that is characterized by screaming, abuse, and throwing things around. It exists on a spectrum that ranges from the explosive kind to a passive-aggressive type revealed in sulking and the silent treatment. While one extreme is an intense and fiery rage that does not fit the situation, the other is characterized by stonewalling and extreme sarcasm as a defense mechanism. No matter which side of the spectrum this rage lies, the intention is to hurt the person who caused them to feel defensive and vulnerable in the first place. 

Learn ways to stand up for yourself in the face of your spouse's narcissistic rage

If you or someone else is on the receiving end of an angry outburst and feel that a person’s life is in immediate danger, seek professional assistance immediately. You can also anonymously call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for advice and assistance if you are experiencing any kind of abuse or violence at home or elsewhere.

The best way for you to deal with the narcissistic rage in your spouse is to let them know you will not tolerate the outbursts and remove yourself from the situation immediately. While narcissistic rage is typically short-lived, it can result in devastating problems for the person to whom they are directing their anger. Rage is very frightening for people and the fear they face when someone is projecting narcissistic rage at them is real; they feel powerless, scared, and even confused about why the person is so angry with them. The truth is, it has less to do with the person that a narcissist is projecting their anger on and more to do with the narcissist feeling a loss of power and control. They scream and yell to try to regain their strength. It’s a vicious cycle.

Getty/AnnaStills
Narcissistic rage can be overwhelming to navigate

Because this reaction is stemming from your spouse’s mental illness, your role in managing their symptoms is more to protect your safety while helping them recognize the consequences of their anger. If at any moment your personal safety or your children’s is at risk, leave the situation and do not return until you know it is a secure place. 

Your spouse may want to change and is taking responsibility for their behavior, and you have decided that you want to stay in your relationship either for yourself or to keep the family as one unit in the same home. You have options to continue the relationship in a healthy manner. The following strategies may help improve communication and encourage your spouse to get the help they need:

Do not take the blame for their behavior

Research people with NPD will display narcissism in their controlling and game-playing behaviors and is unlikely to accept responsibility for something that they have done wrong. Their fragile ego may make it difficult for them to take the blame for their actions and will most likely blame others for when things go wrong. Your partner may consistently manipulate you into believing their narcissistic rage is caused by you or you may think it is something you are doing to help you feel like you have some control over the situation. 

A healthy step you can take in your relationship is stop apologizing and accepting blame for you know are not your responsibility. It may take time for you to break the pattern, but eventually you will notice that the burden of responsibility for misplaced blame is lifted from you. 

Be knowledgeable about their mental illness

Recognizing the signs of narcissistic rage before it happens can help you be prepared for their difficult words or actions and not be constantly on guard. Take the time to pay attention to certain patterns. You may be able to recognize certain things that cause them to lash out. This does not mean you are accepting their behavior, but rather ready to confront them if they are unaware they are going down the path of a rage episode. Moreover, you are prepared to remove yourself from the situation and mentally prepare for how you are going to handle your partner after their poor behavior.

Set boundaries

Setting clear boundaries with your spouse is important, especially with someone with NPD. Think of boundaries like the fence around a yard that sets a clear demarcation of space and how close a person can get to you and when they need to step back. If they know what you will not tolerate and what the consequences will be if you are treated poorly, there will be no surprises. 

These boundaries clearly show your partner which behaviors are inappropriate and intolerable. Once you establish these boundaries, make it clear you will not permit any violation of them. Follow through on what you mutually agreed on if your narcissist partner rages. Any sign of narcissistic rage indicates an immediate need to leave the situation. 

Do not absorb their unkind words 

Your spouse most likely has said many unkind things to you, especially when they are experiencing narcissistic rage. These include out-downs and belittling words that target weaknesses they are aware of being your spouse. First and foremost, let them know that their words are unkind and will not be tolerated. Then, take a moment for yourself and deflect these unkind words as you remember that a narcissist tendency is to hurt others because of their own insecurities. The moment you catch your partner treating you unkindly leave the room or walk away. There is no need for you to stay present for this behavior. 

Let go of expectations

Most people develop expectations in a relationship regarding how one should resolve conflict and take responsibility. For example, you may expect that both of you will apologize for their actions when you have wronged each other. Along with not being able to take the blame for something, someone who tends towards narcissism is also unlikely to apologize if they have done something wrong.  There is a vulnerable side with people who have NPD that any imperfection or flaw within themselves is completely hidden from other people. Their tendency for perfectionism translates in relationships as the inability to apologize outwardly for any wrongs they have committed.  

Understanding why they may never apologize may not help you feel less frustrated when your spouse does not take responsibility for their actions. However, you can work through this frustration by letting go of your expectations. Tell your partner that you understand it is difficult for them to apologize and you hope one day they will. 

Relationship counseling

Estrangement and poor relationships are the heavy prices many narcissists pay for their behavior.  Counseling is an excellent place to start for both a person with narcissism and their partner. A mental health professional can use different techniques to form a treatment plan that works best for the narcissist and their behaviors. For the one who takes the brunt of narcissist abuse, a therapist can help deal with narcissistic rage and manage the emotional and mental toll that they may have accumulated through the years.

Therapy can play a very important part in helping you to continue living with a narcissist. If you have been part of this relationship for a while, you may have already been subjected to narcissistic abuse. This can leave you feeling fragile, angry, confused, and a low self-esteem. Abuse is a serious issue that should be addressed as soon as you recognize it is occurring.

If you have recognized that you are living with abuse, there are many resources available, including through your therapist or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). 

Online therapy through Regain is a safe and accessible option for you, especially if you prefer to talk about your relationship in the comfort of your own space. Current research has revealed that people prefer online therapy because they feel that they can trust their therapist to a greater degree and feel safer due to the anonymity (in contrast to in-person office visits). Rather than attending in-person therapy sessions, you can connect with a therapist in your own home or any other space where you feel safe and comfortable.

Takeaway

Recognizing that your spouse may not change independently of therapy can help you to open up and ask they seek mental health support for their narcissistic rage. If you are in a dedicated and committed relationship with NPD, you need to understand that they will not get better. 

However, with therapy recovery is possible and they will learn to manage the underlying causes of their rage episodes. It is possible to live a rewarding life with your spouse with the right support. Online therapy can be a great place to start. Seeking professional help through talk therapy can help you understand the dynamics at hand and build boundaries more successfully

Remember, if you feel threatened, seek help immediately by calling 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800.799. SAFE (7233).

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