Narcissists are often quick to anger and can be very vindictive when they’re mad at someone. They may be manipulative, hostile, and downright nasty.
So what do you do when you are on the receiving end of a narcissistic rage?
Do you cower in fear or stand your ground and refuse to give in to their demands? How would you protect yourself from their anger and resolve the conflict?
According to experts, here are the things you should do when a narcissist is mad at you:
Psychotherapist | Author, “Words to Eat By“
Reflect on what’s going on before deciding what direction to go to
Generally, our initial response is to say or do something, but it’s crucial to give ourselves the option of reflecting on what’s going on before deciding what direction to go in. After all, this is what we want to do when anyone expresses anger at us.
It’s especially important with someone who has narcissistic traits such as:
- Fear of abandonment
- Easily emotionally injured
When thinking about how to respond, consider the following:
What is your relationship with them?
If your narcissistic brother blows up at you because you can’t babysit for his kids at the last minute, that’s quite different than if your grandiose, always right boss wants you to work overtime on a Friday night.
You can afford to blow your brother off, but you’ll want to be more circumscribed with your boss, more professional, and modulated in your response.
What responses have worked in the past to pacify them?
Usually, if you know them well, it’s fairly easy to see what will defuse a situation with a narcissist and what will inflame it.
Again, it depends on:
- who they are to you,
- the consequences,
- and what’s worked in the past when they’ve gotten angry at you.
Maybe you apologize because you were half wrong, knowing they won’t say they’re sorry even if you do.
Maybe you stand up to them because you’re tired of them lashing out when you’ve done nothing wrong and know they’ll quit bullying you if you call them on it.
Are they frequently abusive, or is their anger an unusual occurrence?
If they often get angry at you and let you have it, it’s time to consider the toxic relationship you’re in and how to end it. Very little in life is worse than being chronically abused.
Or is this narcissist self-centered and generally nice to you, and they’re just having a bad day, and you happen to be an easy target for their venting.
Related: Selfish vs Self-Centered vs Self-Absorbed vs Narcissist. What Is the Difference?
The question of frequency and intensity of their anger must be weighed into the equation of how to respond to them.
The most important question to ask yourself is how you can problem-solve the situation so that you feel you’ve done the best you could.
Of course, there are limited options for responding to a narcissist’s anger. All should be considered depending on the person and the circumstances:
- Saying or doing nothing
- Defending or standing up for yourself
- Expressing your hurt
- Setting or maintaining boundaries
- Trying to have a meaningful discussion or simply walking away
- Hanging up or whatever you need to do to leave the situation with your self-esteem intact
Licensed Psychotherapist | Author, “The Facebook Narcissist“
When dealing with a narcissist, whether at home, in your family, or at work, it can be very destabilizing and upsetting to have their rage directed at you.
Dealing with a narcissist means you find yourself walking on eggshells around them because their anger is always unpredictable.
Living in fear of a narcissist’s anger will leave you feeling:
- and even scared.
So what can you do to protect yourself from the rage and anger of a narcissist, especially in situations where you can’t just cut them out?
Become a grey rock—completely uninteresting
The grey rock method is a tactic that is used to stop the narcissist from engaging with you in harmful ways.
Grey rocking is exactly as it sounds: a grey rock is drab, boring, and completely uninteresting.
Narcissists thrive off of reactions, and they will often do things to try to set you off and provoke an emotional response. When you become a grey rock to them, they can’t get any emotion from you.
- Don’t react emotionally
- Give them short and to-the-point responses
- Avoid eye contact
The hope is that when the narcissist knows they can’t get a reaction from you, they will give up.
An important thing to note here is don’t try to fight fire with fire—a narcissist doesn’t like to lose and will escalate their behavior if you engage in conflict with them.
Hold strong boundaries
It is essential that you hold strong boundaries when a narcissist makes angry demands or is in a fit of rage around you.
Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries
If you’re calm but firm, you can make a statement like: “I’m not going to engage with you now; I’m going to take a walk.”
Another example is if a narcissistic boss asks you to do something that is not a part of your job duties, you can say: “I’m sorry, Stan, I’m supposed to be doing x, y, and z for this project, but if I have some extra time, I’ll try to help you with that.”
Sometimes to appease a narcissist, some of us will give them what they want, but then their behavior will worsen because they know they can push you around.
Minimize interactions or cut them off completely
In an ideal world, we could cut off anyone toxic and emotionally abusive toward us, but realistically this is not always the case.
If you can cut someone off who is constantly raging at you or find a way to remove yourself from the situation, that is always ideal.
However, if you have to have an angry narcissist in your life for whatever reason, try to keep your interactions with them short and avoid time spent with them whenever possible. This ensures that you protect your peace and space as much as possible.
Related: How to Communicate With a Narcissist
Remember, it’s not about you
If you suspect you’re dealing with a narcissist and are experiencing their anger and rage, it is hard to remember that the anger is about them, and it isn’t personal.
Narcissists like power, control, and making others feel small around them to elevate themselves and feel powerful and vital.
They act the same way with everyone unless they use them for something and need to suck up to them.
Many narcissists don’t have the capacity for empathy and won’t have:
- any motivation to change,
- engage in constructive conversation,
- or admit any wrongdoings.
It is often pointless to have hope that you can have an authentic relationship with them.
Focus your energy on people that value and care about you and handle interpersonal conflict in a healthy way that includes empathy and validation as part of the dialogue.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Comprehend The Mind
At some point in your life, you likely have someone angry with you. Typically, cooler heads prevail, and you make up over time. However, when narcissists are enraged, that becomes an entirely different scenario.
Narcissists are notorious for exploding in a rage from the slightest provocation. When coming across a narcissistic rage, it is frightening, and you are often unsure what to do.
Do not panic or engage in their anger
The narcissist’s outburst is typically brief, so do not panic or engage in their anger. Meditating and different breathing techniques could work in preventing panic attacks.
Related: 3 Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety
Stay calm and provide reassurance that they’re still vital to you
Even if being empathetic is hard at the moment, it will help stabilize the situation. It is easier said than done when someone says the most out-of-pocket things, but avoiding overreacting will calm the situation.
If you do react with the same intensity the narcissist puts forth, the narcissist becomes triggered, and they realize you are becoming affected. This will make them feel more powerful.
The narcissist needs to be told that they are violating your boundaries
Setting boundaries is significant in ensuring your safety during a flare-up. You want to disengage from the argument and physically distance yourself as well.
The narcissist needs to be told that they are violating your boundaries, and once they calm down, you are willing to have a conversation.
This must be consistently done in an argument because if not, the narcissist finds it a weakness and will continue their abuse. If you do not set your boundaries and are not assertive, the narcissist exploits that.
Respected: What Is Narcissistic Abuse? (Including the Warning Signs of Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship)
Being assertive does not mean being aggressive; it means understanding you have the right to be respected and choose to leave.
Understand the inner workings of their mind and how they operate
Understanding that narcissists have an ego is essential in helping yourself react to a rage. Instead of trying to change the narcissist, change how you respond to the narcissist.
An example of what you can say is, “I understand you feel hurt.”
Dealing with a narcissist can be tricky business. One really needs to understand the inner workings of their mind and how they operate. In the end, you must decide if all of the emotional machinations to have the relationship are worth the benefit for you.
Psychotherapist | Executive Mentor and Advisor
Understand why and how narcissists behave
Although I’m a licensed psychotherapist, I found standard psychotherapeutic treatments, especially talk therapy, not helpful when dealing with narcissism.
Based on my many years of experience, I have found that the key to understanding why and how narcissists behave the way they do is to understand the instinctive and emotional motivations they experience, which then translate predictably into their behavior patterns.
Not all narcissists are evil; most are, in fact, not evil.
There’s a spectrum from balanced to soft, to passive-aggressive, to full-blown unbalanced narcissism, to malignant narcissism.
They are just psychologically unhealthy people trying to protect themselves from perceived threats—and the key word there is “perceived.”
Their inner world is of constant insecurity and a sense of chaos and imminent danger. The roots of this are in early childhood and conditioning from their environment, but that’s too detailed to go into.
Suffice it to say they live in a “win or die,” “my way or the highway” mode at all times.
For example, you can see this in successful but territorial star performers in corporations or other abusive personal relationships.
If you learn and understand their true motivations (not the obvious assumed ones, btw, which are not correct), you can then learn the correct strategies for responding to them and managing them while keeping your own sanity more or less intact.
So, what to do when a narcissist is mad at you?
Understand the reason
First, understand that they are mad at you because you are not giving them exactly what they want at that moment. You are not letting them “win” because you are opposing or disagreeing with them.
Since they only see other people as extensions of themselves, in an odd way, this often isn’t even personal to you—they just can’t tolerate a “no” of any kind.
And when they get that “no” from someone for any reason, they will perceive it as an attack. They will then instinctively retaliate or attack back, guaranteed.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you deal with an angry unhealthy narcissist:
- Don’t openly say “no” or oppose them directly; they will automatically strike back.
- Don’t try to reason “rationally” with them or explain yourself; you will get nowhere since they are reacting instinctively and not logically or reasonably.
- Don’t try to win the argument: you can’t win, you won’t win, and they will get you back for it if you try.
- Do try to stay neutral, and even in your response, try not to sound angry or charged if possible.
- Do find a bridge sentence to say that is true for you but that they will interpret as agreement even if you don’t mean it that way. Examples:
- “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.”
- “I see you’re upset. I get it.“
- Do try to give them a “win,” no matter how small, one you can live with. It will calm them down, and they will start to back off. Example:
- “I understand how my saying/doing that makes you angry. I’ll try to do it differently next time.”
Note that doesn’t mean you’re conceding; you’re just acknowledging you triggered them and will try to do something different next time so as not to trigger them (for your sake and theirs).
This does not mean you are “admitting” you are wrong in any way. You’re addressing behavior, not facts.
Youth Counsellor | Domestic Violence Expert | Author, “Finding Courage In The Conflict“
If you have experienced a relationship with a narcissist, you know they get mad for just about anything, and the overarching purpose is to control how obedient you are to them.
They want to instill fear; whether it is fear of physical violence or a fear of rejection, they can make the consequences quite severe.
Two things you can do when a narcissist is mad at you are:
Do not verbally defend yourself from their gaslighting attempts
This gives them ammunition to continue hurl lies and accusations at you, creating emotionally or physically unsafe situations for you.
As soon as you engage in what they perceive as defensive, they will only escalate until you are hurt. Instead, leave if you can.
If this is not possible, remove yourself from the conversation with unemotional “I” statements acknowledging they are upset. However, you will not continue communicating with them if they are angry.
Remind yourself that you are not responsible for anyone’s feelings
A narcissist’s specialty is convincing others that they would be happier or that life would be more peaceful if everyone else would comply with their demands.
Related: Are Narcissists Happy?
You are not the cause of their anger; therefore, you cannot be the person to fix it, either.
Once you break ties with them, you will see how their anger is often used to control the environment. Until then, be safe and know their rage has nothing to do with you.
Clinical Psychologist and Speaker | Author, “Get Out of the Red Zone“
Physically withdraw yourself from the narcissist’s presence
Don’t be alarmed if a narcissist’s rage appears to be phony or transient; it will likely pass in minutes or hours.
They simply require reinforcement that they remain valuable enough to warrant your attention (even if only briefly).
Attention, validation, and power are all things that narcissists crave.
So, what makes a narcissist go insane? Simply put, anything that threatens their core requirements for superiority irritates them immediately. If you’re looking for a way to enrage a narcissist, go no farther than giving them nothing at all.
I recommend that you physically separate yourself from the situation. You should physically withdraw yourself from the narcissist’s presence as soon as you see the narcissist has become agitated.
Move to a different room or office. Exit the automobile or go outside.
Dr. Bryan Bruno
Founder and Medical Director, Mid City TMS
Arguing with a narcissist is never easy. They will often:
- Gaslight you
- Bend the truth to fit their narrative
- Leave you feeling confused and manipulated
A person with toxic narcissism will often attempt to alter how others view you and may even try to change how you view yourself.
There are a few things you can do to prevent someone else’s narcissistic tendencies from affecting you:
Remain steadfast and refuse to budge in
Remaining steadfast is being persistent and refusing to budge when you find yourself in an argument with a narcissist—the benefit of this is twofold.
Initially, if you refuse to budge or react to what the narcissistic person is saying, it becomes much more likely that they will give up and stop bothering you.
The second benefit is for yourself: committing yourself to remain steady in your own truths is a way to ensure that your own self-image is not tarnished by someone else trying to bring you down.
Don’t worry about “wrong” and “right”
This is how they reel you in; a common narcissistic tactic is to begin twisting the truth about a subject and then chastise you for being incorrect or even accusing you of lying.
It’s best to accept that an argument with a narcissist no longer revolves around truth and avoid being drawn in.
Remove yourself from the argument at every opportunity
The ultimate goal when dealing with a narcissist being aggressive is always to depart from the situation. It’s best not to engage with the person and attempt to remove yourself from the argument at every opportunity.
The narcissist may say things to reel you back in, but it’s important that you don’t react and continue to leave the situation.
Joshua Flatow, MD
Chief Psychiatrist and Medical Director, Pacific Mind Health
Stay calm and do your best not to trigger them more
A narcissistic rage happens when their sense of grandiosity and self-worth is being challenged or questioned.
When this happens, it is crucial to note that if you are on the receiving end, you should stay calm and do your best not to trigger them more.
Staying calm means you should avoid feeding their rage; whenever you have anxiety or are affected by their anger, they even get more fueled since that is what they really need—you being uncomfortable.
If he escalated this physically, you must distance yourself and vacate the area.
Remember, most of the time, their rage is really about them and not about you. Although you need to show empathy, you also need to draw boundaries because 100% of the time, it is always because of their ego.
Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Specialist | Medical Reviewer, OK Rehab
What triggers narcissistic rage?
Narcissists often have outbursts of anger that are labeled “narcissistic rage.”
This can occur for various reasons, but for the most part, it is a response to being criticized by someone, as this threatens the narcissist’s grandiosity.
For example, if you blame a narcissist for lying, this threatens their self-importance, so they are likely to respond in an extreme way—with aggression and sometimes even violence.
Another trigger for narcissists’ anger is not being the center of attention. Narcissists thrive off the attention and approval they get from others, so when this is taken away, there is bound to be a significant backlash in the form of anger and other negative emotions.
This outburst will likely be even worse if someone else takes the attention away from the narcissist, as they want to be the most important person in the room.
When you do not allow a narcissist to get their way, they may also respond with anger, as they are used to manipulating people to get what they want.
For example, if you tell a narcissist that you will no longer be visiting them as all they do is criticize you, you can expect to be on the receiving end of some narcissistic rage.
What to do when a narcissist is mad at you?
Do not take it personally
If a narcissist is mad at you, my top tip would be not to take it personally.
Narcissists respond negatively to:
- Not being the center of attention
- Not getting their way
- Being criticized
- Other things that we all must face in life
So it is not your fault if a narcissist cannot cope with these natural occurrences and has to resort to anger.
Even if you do everything you can to please a narcissist, you will probably end up being criticized by them in some way, so don’t lose your identity in the process of trying to avoid narcissistic anger.
Remain neutral and act like their behavior is not affecting you
Another tip is to stay as calm as possible, no matter how enraged the narcissist is. If you respond aggressively or demonstrate that you are very emotional, the narcissist will thrive off this as they know they are getting to you.
Instead, remain neutral and act like their behavior is not affecting you. Not only will this stop the narcissist from believing they’ve manipulated you, but it will also keep the situation as stable as possible and prevent extreme conflict.
Set boundaries and do not tolerate their manipulation
It is vital that you set boundaries with narcissists, as they need to know that you will not tolerate their manipulation.
Some examples of this are:
- Telling them you will call them once a week but not answering their calls at other times
- Stating that you will not gossip about other people with them
- Refusing to contact them when they are being manipulative
- Ultimately cutting contact if it is beneficial for your mental health
Related: How Does a Narcissist Handle Rejection and No Contact
Plan an escape route as they are talking
Finally, sometimes you need to distance yourself from a narcissist’s anger physically, so plan an escape route as they are talking.
It may be necessary to go home and end the conflict there and then, but if this isn’t possible, take a break by:
- going for a walk,
- sitting in your car,
- or simply shutting yourself in another room to take a breather.
This will protect you from the narcissist’s rage and hopefully deescalate the situation.
Survivor of Childhood Emotional Abuse | Self-Publishing Expert, House of Hives
It’s important to understand that narcissistic rage is unlike anger in healthy relationships.
In the latter, anger can be an indication of underlying issues. It may lead to highlighting those issues, and the instinct to resolve them will lead both parties to attempt to address and improve whatever is at the root of the disharmony. This is not so with narcissistic rage.
It is only ever the abuser’s attempt at reasserting their control over the target.
Here are some things to keep in mind when confronted with narcissistic rage:
Retreat to a safe place in your mind
Firstly, realize that this rage can easily spill over into physical violence. If you feel in danger at any time, call emergency services immediately!
Meeting the challenge is a bad idea. Shouting back usually triggers more anger. Instead, stay calm and somewhat detached by finding a safe place in your mind.
I know this may sound cheesy, but retreating to a safe place in your mind can help you not take on the toxicity (as much) and keep you from reacting emotionally.
Try to state facts and keep repeating them
If you have to respond, try to state facts and keep repeating them. I once dealt with my mother’s anger by saying, “this is neither the time nor place,” whenever she stopped to take a breath.
Imagine rage about visitation with the kids; you can just quote the custody settlement again and again, without emotion:
“Article 3 of the custody agreement states that the pick-up window for visitation is every other Friday between 5 and 6 pm with a 10-minute grace period on either end. It is now 7 pm; you missed the pick-up window and therefore lost your visitation time.“
Related: How to Deal With a Narcissistic Mother
Of course, adjust your response to your circumstances and use phrases that work for you.
The trick is just to keep repeating it like a broken record. Eventually, even a narcissist will run out of screaming steam.
It is vital to remember that this is their issue, not yours. The fact that a narcissistic person cannot deal with any challenge to their self-worth and control is a reflection on them, not you.
Health and Wellness Psychologist | Dermatologist, Loxa Beauty
If a narcissist is angry with you, I usually advise my clients to stay away from them.
Save your energy and peace by not supplying them with what they like
If you react to a narcissist’s rage, they feel joyous. It increases their happiness knowing that you are anxious and uncomfortable. Therefore, save your energy and peace by not supplying them with what they like.
Create and maintain boundaries
Establish boundaries and maintain them. I recommend avoiding interaction by disengaging completely. It will help if you shorten your words to avoid giving the narcissist power.
Instead, inform them that you will discuss the issue after they calm down.
Keep your voice down
Raising your voice to a narcissist will only increase their rage. I recommend you avoid threats or actions that challenge them to reduce their anger.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Signs That a Narcissist Is Mad at You?
Narcissists can become abusive and manipulative when they are mad at someone. Here are some common signs that a narcissistic individual may be upset with you:
• Withdrawal of affection or attention: Narcissists often use love and affection as a form of control. If they’re mad at you, they may suddenly withdraw affection and stop paying attention to you.
• Blaming and fault-finding: Narcissists have a tendency to blame others for their problems, and they may place the blame on you if they are upset with you. They may also be quick to point out your faults or shortcomings.
• Rage or explosive anger: Narcissists have a short fuse and may lash out at you with intense anger if they are upset. This can include yelling, name-calling, and even physical violence.
• Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person makes you question your perceptions and memories. If a narcissist is mad at you, they may try to gaslight you by denying that they said or did certain things or by making you question your own recollection of events.
• Projection: Narcissists often project their own negative qualities onto others. If they are mad at you, they may accuse you of things they themselves are guilty of, such as lying, being selfish, or being manipulative.
• Silent treatment: Silent treatment is a common tactic used by narcissists to punish and control others. If a narcissist is upset with you, they may stop speaking to you or responding to your attempts at communication.
What Upsets a Narcissist the Most?
Narcissists are often preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness. However, despite their confident exterior, there are certain things that can upset a narcissist.
Here are some of the things that can upset a narcissist:
• Criticism: Narcissists have a fragile ego and cannot tolerate criticism, even constructive criticism. They perceive any criticism as a direct attack on their sense of self and can react with anger, defensiveness, or retaliation.
• Rejection: Narcissists have a deep need for admiration and attention, and rejection can be devastating to them. They may go to great lengths to avoid rejection, but if it does occur, they may respond with anger, rage, or even acts of revenge.
• Loss of control: Narcissists need to feel in control of their environment and the people around them. If they lose control of a situation or feel that someone else is in control, it can trigger feelings of anger, frustration, or even humiliation.
• Not being the center of attention: Narcissists crave attention and recognition and want to be the center of attention in any situation. If they feel that someone else is stealing the spotlight or if they are not the center of attention, it can upset them and trigger feelings of jealousy or resentment.
• Being challenged or contradicted: Narcissists believe they are always right and can be defensive when challenged or contradicted. They may respond with anger, defensiveness, or even retaliation if they feel their authority or superiority is being questioned.
What Should I Avoid Doing When a Narcissistic Person Is Mad at Me?
When dealing with narcissistic people, it’s important to remember that they can quickly become defensive and hostile if they feel attacked or challenged in any way. Here are some tips on what to avoid doing when a narcissistic person is mad at you:
• Don’t argue or defend yourself: This will only worsen the situation and could trigger a more aggressive response from the narcissistic person. They may try to twist your words or make you feel like you’re in the wrong.
• Don’t try to reason with them: Narcissistic individuals often have a fixed perspective on things and may not be open to alternative points of view. Trying to reason with them will only make them more frustrated and angry.
• Avoid pointing out their flaws: Narcissistic people have a fragile sense of self and are very sensitive to criticism. Pointing out their faults will only further hurt their ego and could lead to a more hostile reaction.
• Don’t bring up past conflicts: Bringing up past conflicts will only worsen the current situation and will likely trigger an emotional response from the narcissistic person.
• Don’t dismiss their feelings: Although you may not agree with their perspective, it’s important to acknowledge their emotions and take them seriously. Dismissing their feelings could lead to further anger and resentment.
• Avoid making them feel vulnerable: Narcissistic individuals often have a strong need for control and power. Making them feel vulnerable or exposed could lead to a more hostile response.
How Long Does Narcissistic Rage Last?
Narcissistic rage can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. The duration of the rage depends on various factors, such as the severity of the perceived injustice, the individual’s level of narcissistic traits, and the presence of external stressors.
It is important to note that this type of rage can be extremely intense and dangerous, particularly if the individual has a history of violent behavior. Those affected by narcissistic rage should seek professional help managing their emotions and behavior.
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