It’s a situation every victim of narcissistic abuse finds themselves in. After yet another argument, you ask yourself, “am I really being irrational? Maybe I’m the narcissist.”
You’re understanding, level-headed, and compassionate. When someone accuses you of acting out of line, you take a step back and examine yourself.
You reflect over the times you felt filled with rage and snapped in the past month. Maybe it’s true. Maybe you are overly dramatic.
But wait. Something isn’t right. You can’t remember snapping with resentment like this before you met the narcissist. Now that you think about it, you don’t respond to other people this way.
The truth is, you aren’t being irrational, and your anger is entirely justified. It has nothing to do with you being a bad person or being on the same level as the narcissist in your life.
The narcissist is merely reframing your righteous anger as baseless rage. It’s an important tool abusers use to normalize their own narcissistic rage while discrediting your genuine grievances.
Righteous indignation can be a powerful weapon of positive change, but you need to know how to harness and use it.
It’s Not Hapless Anger – It’s Righteous Indignation
Righteous anger (or righteous indignation) is a reactive emotion to being mistreated and abused. It’s similar to the feelings we have when we see a child being bullied by their parent or a defenseless animal being mistreated.
It’s a natural response to a situation of injustice.
Anger is a completely normal reaction to injustice. Narcissists, however, see this righteous indignation as a vulnerability. You expressed emotion and let your guard down – to the narcissist, that’s a weakness to exploit.
Narcissists of all kinds will try to gaslight you by rewriting your righteous anger as irrationality. Narcissistic parents come to mind, in particular.
Imagine your mother loves to point out your flaws in front of other people. She gets a good laugh and enjoys it, but it hurts you.
You’ve tried to bring this up to her on several occasions, but she always writes you off and tells you to stop being so emotional. Maybe you’ve even dared to respond with some anger behind your voice, but this only brought out her narcissistic rage and escalated the situation.
At the end of the day, what happened?
You started to believe that she is right – you’re just too sensitive. You also believed her behavior was normal and if you didn’t want her to become enraged, you shouldn’t bring up your problem again.
This is exactly how the narcissist trains us to think their abuse is normal. We think that our behavior is the one that needs to be corrected – not the narcissist’s behavior. Maybe we’re the narcissist after all.
In reality, you have every right to be angry when someone puts you down, attempts to control you, or uses you for their own ego boost. That’s righteous indignation, and it’s a completely natural response.
How Does Your Righteous Anger Differ from Narcissistic Rage?
Righteous anger is a response to genuine injustice.
When non-narcissistic people feel angry, it’s usually because someone has hurt them. We may not always respond the way we’d like, but the source of the anger is typically justified.
When we react to our anger irrationally, we tend to feel embarrassed and regret it later. We feel the need to apologize for acting out of line when we let our emotions get the best of us.
Narcissistic rage comes from a different place.
This type of anger usually stems from an attack on the narcissist’s ego or a threat to their entire charade (which throws the narcissist into an existential crisis).
What Does Narcissistic Rage Look Like?
Here are a few examples of situations that trigger narcissistic anger to help illustrate how it differs from justifiable anger.
- Someone made a reasonable and constructive criticism of the narcissist.
- The narcissist is not the center of attention.
- The narcissist was caught lying, cheating, or breaking any other blatant social standards of conduct.
- Someone threatened the narcissist’s sense of entitlement.
- Someone pointed out the narcissist’s manipulation, gaslighting, or abuse.
- The narcissist feels like they’re losing control.
In general, the narcissist’s reaction to anger is extremely unreasonable, and they will never feel any type of regret or need to apologize for their outburst.
When a narcissist expresses anger, it’s almost never justified. In the off chance there is a justifiable reason to be angry, the narcissist will cling to this wrongdoing for months or years. Expect to hear about it every time you get into an argument and every time you bring up something the narcissist does that hurts you.
Keep in mind that narcissists can also use passive-aggressive rage to make their victim’s lives hell. Not all anger is blatant and loud – sometimes it’s subtle, quiet, and cunning.
Stop Reacting to Your Righteous Anger and Train Yourself to Respond
The most important thing to understand at this point is that you’re experiencing righteous anger. The narcissist has hurt you and is manipulating you. Don’t allow them to gaslight you into believing that you have no right to be angry.
You are absolutely not the narcissist in this relationship (whether it be a romantic partner, parent, sibling, or coworker).
Even if you’re aware that your anger is actually righteous indignation, it’s still difficult not to react unreasonably. After all, the narcissist has trained you to respond this way because responding to things irrationally is what works for them.
But by reacting out of anger, you’re also giving the narcissist ammunition to use against you.
Non-narcissistic people respond positively to justified anger-induced outbursts. They immediately apologize and attempt to correct the situation. Narcissists, however, only respond with more gaslighting and narcissistic rage.
How to Process and Respond to Righteous Indignation
Anger, sadness, fear, stress, and guilt are all normal emotions part of the human experience.
Things start to go south, however, when we make decisions based solely on these emotions without taking a step back and looking at things from a distance.
Anger is actually a very powerful and useful emotion. Plenty of revolutions and positive social change in the world start with righteous indignation.
But what happens to a revolution when righteous anger runs the show, and there’s no one behind the scenes doing any logical political planning? It turns into violent anarchy.
As tempting as it is to respond to the narcissist with anger, it does us no good and produces no long-term change. In reality, it’s only giving you that short-lived adrenaline rush and giving the narcissist much-desired supply in the form of your emotional outburst.
The trick is to develop a healthy level of apathy. This takes work, and you may screw up a few times but trust me, it’s best for long-term results.
Here are a few steps to help you process your righteous indignation and move past the reaction so you can use it for a tool of change.
- Play the tape. Addicts are often told to do this when they think about drinking or using. Play the tape in your head: what will happen when you respond out of anger? The narcissist will respond with rage, and the situation will escalate. The situation will end the same as it always has.
- Let yourself get angry. No, not in front of the narcissist. Go somewhere you can be alone – let out a primal scream and say everything you wanted to say. Feel better? If the narcissist hasn’t isolated you too much, call a trusted friend and let it out.
- Start writing. Yes, writing down our angry word vomit is always good for venting, but this still does little to create any actual change. Once you’ve got the emotional stuff out of the way, write down a list of changes you can make to get out of the abusive situation you’re in. Start small if you have to and set deadlines for everything.
- Do something physical. Anger tends to accumulate in our muscles leading to pain from tension. Find a healthy way to let it out. This could include punching a heavy bag or pillow (where the narcissist can’t see, of course), taking a relaxing bath, hugging a friend, or treating yourself to a massage.
- Revisit your anger. This step isn’t necessary for everyone. However, if you’ve suffered narcissistic abuse long enough, you may have started to disassociate and drift into helpless apathy aka learned helplessness. In this case, you’ll need to find the strength in yourself to get angry again so you can realize that the situation is not normal, and changes must be made.
Left untreated, even righteous anger and the stress it brings can lead to plenty of unpleasant symptoms like ulcers, migraines, weight gain, strokes, and heart attacks. Don’t let narcissistic rage kill you.