Subtle Narcissistic Rage
Subtle narcissistic rage is just as its title implies. It’s rage, alright. But it’s subtly expressed. Sometimes, it’s deliberately kept under cover. That makes it covert.
Subtle narcissistic rage can rear its ugly head in many ways and for several reasons. Both “vulnerable” (i.e. compensatory) and “grandiose” (i.e. character disordered) narcissists are prone to showing it. (For more on vulnerable vs. grandiose types see: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) Each type can have their ire stoked in different ways. And each type differs in the way they typically express their rage, even when it’s of the subtle variety.
The Roots of Rage
The roots of rage in any narcissist are almost always the same. Someone challenges the narcissist’s bogus claims. Sometimes they’ve laid claim to superior thinking. Other times, they’ve exaggerated an accomplishment or their status. The problem never lies in what the narcissist really knows or has done. The problem how the narcissist inflates both the nature and value of those things. The narcissist may know a great deal. But they just can’t help thinking they know even more than they actually do. And they may have some notable accomplishments under their belt. But they can’t help asserting they’ve done more than they actually have. Moreover, they want to others to value what they think or have done more that is rightfully warranted.
Now, the egomaniacal self-presentation described above invites the insecure among us to feel intimidated. But it invites the more secure to challenge – to cut the narcissist down to size. And that’s where the problem comes. Once challenged, or worse, exposed for the fraud they might be, a narcissist can really fly off the handle. They regard challenging or exposure as the ultimate insult for them. It’s embarrassing for others to see the truth. This sparks their rage. Sometimes, they rage in very intense, open ways. But sometimes they display more subtle narcissistic rage. It all depends how limited their capacity to care (i.e. empathy) is.
Why They Do It
For a long time, many thought (and some still believe) narcissists lash out because their egos were too “fragile” to withstand bruising of criticism. And with vulnerable, compensatory narcissists, this notion can actually have some truth to it. But with grandiose narcissists it’s definitely not the case. There’s something very different at work with these folks.
These days we have more grandiose (i.e. character-disordered) narcissists among us. In fact, a fairly narcissistic culture has spawned more narcissism in general. And, like all character disturbances, it exists along various spectra. Most of the time, therefore, a narcissist’s rage is prompted by their insistence on maintaining the dominant position they feel entitled to occupy. And to do so, they’ll use rage to put you in the place they feel you belong (i.e., beneath them). Even when it’s subtle, their rage is a way of saying: “How dare you even think of dethroning me!! Just who do you think you are?”
(See also pp. 101-106 in Character Disturbance.)
What Subtle Narcissistic Rage Can Look Like
Imagine you’re a reporter trying to unearth the facts behind a politician’s troubling actions. You respectfully ask some questions to get to the bottom of things. In the process, you “expose” a clear error in judgment. If the politician has an ounce of humility, he or she might admit at least some degree of error, at least in hindsight. But if they’re narcissistic, they’re likely to attack.
Fairly refined narcissists won’t attack openly and viciously when they feel insulted. (Vulgar narcissists don’t care and won’t be as guarded. And sadly, we’ve almost become accustomed to this of late!!). That’s because it would make them look bad and they actually care about looking good. Instead, they might turn things around on you. They might display their ire by casting you as unfair, ill-informed, or merely out to get them, as opposed to caring about anyone or anything, especially the truth. They might even bring up some unflattering or unsavory things about you, all to demean and degrade you.
Imagine also that you’re having a friendly debate with someone. They say something you find fairly outrageous or hard to believe. So, you politely call them on it. You merely suggest they can’t really mean what they’re asserting. But instead of acknowledging that they might indeed have gone a bit too far they start leveling small complaints against you. And the more you stand ground, the more they seem to find fault. In the end, you feel like you simply can’t win. They’re only satisfied when they have the answers and you don’t; when they’re on top, and you’re on the bottom, disgraced.
There are so many ways both narcissism and subtle narcissistic rage can be displayed these days. So, I’ll have more to say on this topic next time. But you might also want to check out these articles on the blog:
- Narcissistic Insults and Narcissistic Rage
- Narcissistic Insult Can Prompt Rage
- Understanding Narcissistic Rage