Narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury

Narcissistic rage is a psychological construct that describes a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is conceptualized as a perceived threat to a narcissist's self-esteem or self-worth. Narcissistic injury (or narcissistic scar) is a phrase used by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s; narcissistic wound and narcissistic blow are further, almost interchangeable terms.[1] The term narcissistic rage was coined by Heinz Kohut in 1972.

The model underlying the construct suggests that narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden, "true self" has been revealed. This may be the case when the narcissist experiences a "fall from grace", such as when their hidden behaviors or motivations are revealed, or when their importance is brought into question. Narcissistic injury is a cause of distress and can lead to dysregulation of behaviors as in narcissistic rage.

Narcissistic rage occurs on a continuum, which may range from instances of aloofness and expressions of mild irritation or annoyance to serious outbursts, including violent attacks and murder.[2] Narcissistic rage reactions are not limited to personality disorders and may be also seen in catatonic, paranoid delusion and depressive episodes.[2] It has also been suggested that narcissists have two layers of rage. The first layer of rage can be thought of as a constant anger (towards someone else), with the second layer being a self-aimed wrath.

Freud and narcissist blowsEdit

In his 1914 case study of the "Wolfman", Freud identified the cause of the subject's adult neurosis as the moment when "he was forced to realise that his gonorrheal infection constituted a serious injury to his body. The blow to his narcissism was too much for him and he went to pieces".[3] A few years later, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, looking at the inevitable setbacks of childhood sexuality, Freud maintained that "loss of love and failure leave behind them a permanent injury to self-regard in the form of a narcissistic scar ... reflecting the full extent to which he has been 'scorned'".[4]

Further psychoanalytic developmentsEdit

Freud's concept of what in his last book he called "early injuries to the self (injuries to narcissism)"[5] was subsequently extended by a wide variety of psychoanalysts. Karl Abraham saw the key to adult depressions in the childhood experience of a blow to narcissism through the loss of narcissistic supply.[6] Otto Fenichel confirmed the importance of narcissistic injury in depressives[7] and expanded such analyses to include borderline personalities.[8]

Edmund Bergler emphasized the importance of infantile omnipotence in narcissism,[9] and the rage that follows any blow to that sense of narcissistic omnipotence;[10] Annie Reich stressed how a feeling of shame-fuelled rage, when a blow to narcissism exposed the gap between one's ego ideal and mundane reality;[11] while Lacanians linked Freud on the narcissistic wound to Lacan on the narcissistic mirror stage.[12]

Finally, object relations theory highlights rage against early environmental failures that left patients feeling bad about themselves when childhood omnipotence was too abruptly challenged.[13]

Kohut and self psychologyEdit

Heinz Kohut explored a wide range of rage experiences in his seminal article "Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage" (1972).[14] He considered narcissistic rage as one major form among many, contrasting it especially with mature aggression.[15] Because the very structure of the self itself is weakened in the narcissist, their rage cannot flower into real assertiveness;[16] and they are left instead prone to oversensitivity to perceived or imagined narcissistic injuries resulting in narcissistic rage.[17]

For Kohut, narcissistic rage is related to narcissists' need for total control of their environment, including "the need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means".[18] It is an attempt by the narcissist to turn from a passive sense of victimization to an active role in giving pain to others, while at the same time attempting to rebuild their own (actually false) sense of self-worth. It may also involve self-protection and preservation, with rage serving to restore a sense of safety and power by destroying that which had threatened the narcissist.[18]

Alternatively, according to Kohut, rages can be seen as a result of the shame at being faced with failure.[19] Narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable and unexpected anger that results from a narcissistic injury – a threat to a narcissist's self-esteem or worth. Rage comes in many forms, but all pertain to the same important thing: revenge. Narcissistic rages are based on fear and will endure even after the threat is gone.[20]

To the narcissist, the rage is directed towards the person that they feel has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust. This rage impairs their cognition, therefore impairing their judgment. During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations.[21] In his book The Analysis of the Self, Kohut explains that expressions caused by a sense of things not going the expected way blossom into rages, and narcissists may even search for conflict to find a way to alleviate their pain or suffering.[22] He also noted how psychoanalytic treatment might itself be experienced by a patient as an unbearable narcissistic injury.[22]


Narcissists are often pseudo-perfectionists and create situations in which they are the center of attention. The narcissist's attempts at being seen as perfect are necessary for their grandiose self-image. If a perceived state of perfection is not reached, it can lead to guilt, shame, anger or anxiety because the subject believes that they will lose the admiration and love of other people if they are imperfect.[23]

Behind such perfectionism, self psychology would see earlier traumatic injuries to the grandiose self.[24]

In therapyEdit

Adam Phillips has argued that, contrary to what common sense might expect, therapeutic cure involves the patient being encouraged to re-experience "a terrible narcissistic wound" – the child's experience of exclusion by the parental alliance – in order to come to terms with, and learn again, the diminishing loss of omnipotence entailed by the basic "facts of life".[25]


Wide dissemination of Kohut's concepts may at times have led to their trivialization. Neville Symington points out that "You will often hear people say, 'Oh, I'm very narcissistic,' or, 'It was a wound to my narcissism.' Such comments are not a true recognition of the condition; they are throw-away lines. Really to recognise narcissism in oneself is profoundly distressing and often associated with denial."[26]

Cultural referencesEdit

The lead character of Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane, has been considered as exhibiting narcissistic rage.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Akhtar, Salman (2009). Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London, England: Karnac Books. p. 182. ISBN 9781780493039.
  2. ^ a b Malmquist, Carl P. (2006). Homicide: A Psychiatric Perspective. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. pp. 181–82. ISBN 1-58562-204-4.
  3. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1988). Richards, Angela (ed.). Case Histories II. London, England: Penguin UK. p. 340. ISBN 978-0140137996.
  4. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1991) [1915]. On Metapsychology. London, England: Penguin UK. p. 291. ISBN 978-0140138016.
  5. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1939). Moses and Monotheism. New York City: Knopf Doubleday. p. 120. ISBN 978-1578989379.
  6. ^ Fenichel, Otto (1946). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 404. ISBN 978-1134617647.
  7. ^ Fenichel, p. 405
  8. ^ Fenichel, p. 451
  9. ^ Cooper, Arnold M. (2006). "The Narcissistic-Masochistic Character". In Cooper, Arnold M. (ed.). Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1-58562-232-X.
  10. ^ Bergler, Edmund (1970). Halliday, Jon; Fuller, Peter (eds.). The Psychology of Gambling. London, England: International Universities Press. pp. 176, 182. ISBN 978-0823655700.
  11. ^ O'Connell, Mark (2013). John Banville's Narcissistic Fictions. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 115. ISBN 978-1349348343.
  12. ^ Murray, Timothy; Smith, Alan K. (1998). Repossessions: Psychoanalysis and the Phantasms of Early Modern Culture. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. p. xiv. ISBN 978-0816629602.
  13. ^ Casement, Patrick (1996). Further Learning from the Patient. Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. 86, 131–32. ISBN 978-0415823937.
  14. ^ Paul H. Ornstein, in Cooper ed., p. 451
  15. ^ Ornstein, in Cooper ed., pp. 451–52
  16. ^ Cooper, "Introduction", Cooper, ed., p. xxxiv
  17. ^ Carlson, Jon; Sperry, Len; Helm, Katherine, eds. (1998). The Disordered Couple. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 218. ISBN 978-1138578586.
  18. ^ a b Ronningstam, Elsa (2005). Identifying and understanding the narcissistic personality. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 86–87. ISBN 0-19-514873-8.
  19. ^ Kohut, Heinz (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In The search for the self. Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press. pp. 615–58. Vol. 2.
  20. ^ Golomb, Elan (1992). Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self. New York City: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-688-14071-8.
  21. ^ Thomas, David (2010). Narcissism: Behind the Mask. Leicester, England: The Book Guild Ltd. ISBN 978-1846245060.
  22. ^ a b Kohut, Heinz (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. St. Paul, Minnesota: Perspectives Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0226450124.
  23. ^ Sorotzkin, Benzion (April 18, 2006). "The Quest for Perfection: Avoiding Guilt or avoiding shame?". Psychology Today. New York City: Sussex Publishers. Archived from the original on March 9, 2008.
  24. ^ Arnold M. Cooper, "Introduction" in Arnold M. Cooper ed., Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America (2006) p. xxxiv
  25. ^ Adam Phillips, The Beast in the Nursery (1998) pp. 99–110
  26. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2003) p. 10
  27. ^ Burgo, Joseph. "Narcissistic Rage and the Failure of Empathy: 'Citizen Kane'". After Psychotherapy.

Further readingEdit


  • Cooper J & Maxwell N. Narcissistic Wounds: Clinical Perspectives (1995)
  • Levin JD. Slings and Arrows: Narcissistic Injury and Its Treatment (1995)

Academic papers

  • Horowitz MJ & Arthur RJ. "Narcissistic Rage in Leaders: the Intersection of Individual Dynamics and Group Process". International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 1988 Summer; 34(2) pp. 135–41
  • Terman DM. "Aggression and Narcissistic Rage: A Clinical Elaboration". Annual of Psychoanalysis. 3:239–55 (1975)

External linksEdit