Narcissists thrive on looking a certain way – highly successful in their career, rich, the perfect mother or wife. Or, maybe the narcissist in question is a covert narcissist, and instead prefers to look like a good, caring person who will do anything for anyone. The perfect martyr. Narcissists will do almost anything to maintain their perfect image, so they can receive the admiration they crave so desperately.
They also will do whatever they have to do to receive their “narcissistic supply” or in other words, reinforcement that they are special. Narcissists surround themselves with people who tell them often how great they are, and avoiding and abusing those who would call them out on their outrageous behavior or fail to reinforce their delusions of grandeur.
Narcissists will not hesitate to drop a friend or relative out of their life if that person does not praise them at every turn. Worse yet, if that person says something critical. The person who criticizes the narcissist or questions those delusions quickly will learn what narcissistic rage is.
Narcissists cannot handle criticism or rejection at all. It is well above and beyond any normal person’s reaction. They often go into what is referred to as a narcissistic rage when receiving criticism or rejection. It can be physical – they can physically attack their critic. More often, however, it is verbal – screaming, insulting, using vile names and foul language – or passive/aggressive such as giving the silent treatment.
When I was growing up, my mother was at her most abusive when I turned seventeen, and wanted to date someone I went to school with and worked with. Although I later realized he was also a narcissist, at the time, I had no idea of this. He told me that what I described as my mother being overprotective was in reality, abusive. He also told me the things I was starving to hear – I was pretty, smart, and the like. I started to realize he was right about my mother when I compared her to my friends’ mothers. Also, his praise helped give me the inner strength to start pulling away from her. As a result, I started to talk back to my mother and do things she told me not to (like sneaking around at school and work to see this boy). My mother screamed at me constantly, accused me of doing outrageous things I was not doing (such as doing drugs and having sex with the entire high school football team), and telling me how ashamed she was of me. She also no longer allowed me to have lunch at school. My mother picked me up daily, and spent that hour screaming terrible things at me. Once, my mother even came to my job, and screamed at me in the parking lot in front of a LOT of people. It was utterly humiliating.
I wondered why the abuse escalated to such a level so quickly. For years, I assumed it was because I was “betraying” her by growing up. (Even knowing nothing about narcissism, I somehow realized she saw me growing up as betrayal.) I later realized it is because my mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. My growing up was betraying her in her eyes, yes, but I think it also destroyed her image as the perfect mother. When I was the obedient daughter (I cannot say “good” since she never told me I was a good daughter), doing whatever I was told, I made her look good. I got good grades, never got into trouble, I did whatever I was told. She must have done a fine job raising me to raise such a well behaved daughter, at least that is what she probably told herself. Then suddenly I was not so obedient. That was destroying her image of the perfect mother, in her mind. She had to try to beat me back into submission, and rather than leave me bruised and bloody, she beat me with her daily narcissistic rages, and most days there were several in a day.
Narcissistic rages are nothing to underestimate! They are dangerous to the self-esteem and sanity. After I moved out of my parents’ house, even though the rages became a bit less commonplace, I still spend plenty of time suicidal, and thinking I was going to go crazy because of them. In fact, just before moving out of my parents’ home when I was 19, I had my first nervous breakdown after my mother was raging at me. It was very severe, leaving me catatonic for several hours.
Once I got older, and my mother knew I would NOT tolerate screaming, her narcissistic rages changed. They were no longer very obvious abuse, such as screaming at me, but instead involved invalidating me (others’ feelings were a thousand times more important to her than mine), criticizing what I love (people, my pets, my car..), or praising others for something they have done, yet criticizing me for doing the same thing to name a few examples. My mother even has had rages inside restaurants or other public places! They became so quiet, that others who observed us together never would have guessed she was being abusive. That does not change the fact that they *were* abusive, however. They were just quieter and more subtle than they once were.
You do not have to tolerate narcissistic rages! No one has to tolerate abuse from anyone. When your narcissistic parent starts raging, you can leave the room or hang up the phone. Tell your parent that you will talk later when he or she calms down, then hang up the phone or leave the room. I know this can be hard to do at first. There are some ways you can get around saying those words. Do you have a dog and a doorbell? Ring the doorbell so your dog starts to bark, then tell your parent, “The doorbell rang. Don’t you hear Fluffy barking? I have to go.” Or, use your cell phone to call your home phone (or vice versa) to trigger your call waiting. You then can tell your parent, “The call waiting kicked in. I have to go.” I also used an “in case of emergency” plan worked out with a friend for visits with my mother. This friend’s phone number programmed into a speed dial on my cell phone. One day, when I was livid with my mother over lunch, I sneaked to hit 7 on my phone, which called my friend. I let it ring a few seconds, then hung up. She immediately called me back saying, “Can you come over? I have an emergency!” I hung up and said my friend said she was having a crisis. I had to go.
Sneaky? Yes. Dishonest? Not technically. The door bell did ring, the call waiting did beep, and my friend did say she had an emergency. Besides, these give you a way to get off the phone with your parent when you are not feeling strong enough to say flat out that you are not going to tolerate the abuse anymore. You can work up to that, and these tactics can help you to do that.
Another valuable tool when dealing with narcissistic rages is distance! If your parent is going to abuse you, do not give him or her the chance. Stay away. Your parent has to learn either treat you with respect, or stay away from you. You have every right to limit (or even end) contact with your narcissistic parent. Only talk to him or her once a week or twice a month, or whatever you can handle.
Along those lines, you may end up needing to sever ties with your narcissistic parent. Only you can decide if that is an appropriate move for you or not. Do not listen to anyone else tell you what you need to do in that situation. Pray, think about it, then decide. I wrote more on the topic on this page: Should I Go No Contact With My Abusive Parent?