Dealing with an ANGRY Narcissist: How you can manage, according to science

An angry narcissist is like a massive bomb of toxicity that’s about to explode any second.

And when all the narcissistic rage is about to be poured all over you, you must be mentally prepared to protect your dignity and stand up for yourself.

The good news is that not all narcissists get frustrated easily. But those who do are capable of making you regret every single choice you have made that led you to the point where you provoked their anger, whether intentionally or not. And the bad news is, it could be anyone – your boss, a colleague, a relative, a friend, or even your significant other.

But what are the reasons a narcissist would lash out with such intensity? 

As you may already know, there are two main types of narcissists – vulnerable and grandiose. Both types can also show diverse traits typical for the Dark Triad, which refers to Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. This fact explains why some of them are prone to snapping so abruptly and destructively.

While these behavioral patterns can easily be triggered in real-life situations, Psychology Today notes that to examine them “in the lab” is quite challenging. However, researchers at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, decided to give it a try.

Jill Lobbestael and colleagues conducted a study titled Toward a More Valid Assessment of Behavioral Aggression, where they look through ways in which narcissistic aggression can be empirically and systematically measured. According to the authors, behavioral aggression measures are much needed, as they make it possible for participants to be able to negatively affect an imaginary opponent. Therefore, the reasons for narcissistic rage can be determined inside a laboratory as successfully as in real-life settings.

One of the approaches Lobbestael and her team use is an experimentally designed and controlled game that makes participants invoke some type of negative consequence on an imaginary opponent. This method is known as Competitive Reaction Time Task (CRTT).

What is CRTT, and how does it measure narcissistic aggression? 

During a CRTT game, participants are pit against simulated opponents, without knowing they are not interacting with a real person. At the end of each round, they have the chance to “punish” their opponent for wrong answers by administering an aversive white noise while also controlling the degree of aversiveness. To make the experiment feel more real, examiners play the same white noise to the participants in case they make a mistake.

However, the CRTT is not consistently structured from experiment to experiment. In other words, the method alone is not enough to reveal the reasons why some narcissists are prone to lashing out so vigorously. And because Lobbestael’s goal was to provide a computerized algorithm that will help researchers around the globe, her team had to dig a little deeper.

How do narcissists react to failure?

The next thing they examined was narcissists’ drastic reaction to loss. People high in narcissism hate to lose, and their backlash is often extreme. So, the researchers used the CRTT approach to evaluate the extent of suchlike individuals’ reactions to failure.

They also set a scale called Narcissism Personality Inventory(NPI), that assesses narcissism levels. The scale contains the four distinct subscales of Leadership/Authority, Self-Absorption/Self-Administration, Superiority/Arrogance, and Exploitativeness/Entitlement. They are used to identify narcissists who are more grandiose than vulnerable.

After completing the NPI, participants were given a questionnaire measuring their typical levels of aggression. This time, the respondents believed they were competing against a real opponent, whom they had to beat by mouse-clicking a rectangle as it changed color from red to yellow. Again, the opponents were simulated, and the examiners controlled the whole game.

As a result, those high in the exploitativeness/entitlement factor of the NPI scale were more punitive when the competitor seemed to have won the trial. Interestingly, they inflicted more punishment on their losing opponent even before being punished. Additionally, the participants who had scored higher on the aggression questionnaire showed similar hostile tendencies.

According to the researchers, these revelations prove that the CRTT could be applied in real-life situations, such as evaluating criminal and antisocial behavior.

So, how can you deal with an angry narcissist?

Lobbestael and her team’s study reveals several ways you can manage the narcissistic rage of a boss, a colleague, a friend, a relative, or even a loved one. Having in mind that when narcissists lose they become infuriated and seek revenge for their wounded ego, you should be prepared to be attacked, criticized, demeaned, and threatened with loss of something you value.

However, you should keep sane and avoid responding to their anger with the same level of hatred. Their behavior might be verbally aversive, but this doesn’t mean yours should be too.

In times when you are the person a narcissist lashes out at, remember that their anger most probably has nothing to do with you. Although they are trying to make you feel guilty for their own failure, know that they are doing it only to feel a little better about themselves. So, instead of reacting to their anger with the same level of frustration, remind yourself that their accusations do not define you as a person and should not affect your sense of self-worth.

Do you agree with the study’s findings regarding narcissistic anger? Leave a comment to let us know!

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