Brace yourself, dear reader, for today’s topic is rage. Not just any garden-variety rage, but its narcissistic kind.
A narcissist’s rage is always there, sometimes barely under the surface, sometimes hovering above it in the form of sadistic cruelties dispensed casually without specific reason, just because (that stupid dog was in my way, you are so fat and ugly, only idiots park their cars in this spot, and no one talks to me like that — any or no reason would do). There are, however, solid enough psychological explanations of its existence.
Let’s talk details.
You may have heard of Donald Trump’s very bad day on Tuesday — or rather what would have been a very bad day for any normal person / presidential candidate confronted with his inaccuracies and lies. For Donald, however, it was just Tuesday as usual, complete with playing the Perpetual Victim (TM) of the Cruel and Unforgiving Press, and humiliating people who dared to question him about these pesky things known as facts.
The sordid as usual spectacle is instructive, as is everything else coming from Slippery Don, in the dynamics of narcissistic pathology.
First, the bombast. His over-the-top pronouncements about his huuuge charitable efforts are meant to shock and awe the audience into unquestioning submission.
Second, should any audience member retain his or her bearings and still manage to persist in their questioning, next comes the unloading of the Massive Victimhood Complex (TM) designed to cow them into silence filled, presumably, with commiseration and appreciation for the Put Upon Donny and His Unique Suffering (and, oh, how he suffers! only a narcissist can suffer so — you mere mortals / losers cannot possibly comprehend it).
Third — since, remarkably enough, the first two options did not quite work, an optimistic (?) sign perhaps that some of the press members are growing spines — there followed a predictable, but still shocking, dose of sadism in the form of insults, direct and less so, meant to shut everyone up for good.
It is instructive to watch The Donald, who epitomizes dishonesty and sleaze, rage at the reporters for being “dishonest” and call them sleazy — for trying to extract some honesty and truth from him. He shames them — or futilely attempts to, given that his moral standing is non-existent and reality is decidedly not on his side — with the ease and force that indicates the extent of his own fear of shame.
This sequelae, seen above, in response to shame is classic for any narcissist, especially one of this extreme caliber, for very obvious reasons:
The narcissist tends to be very sensitive to shame, which he perceives as humiliation: a blow to his ego (sense of self) and/or a threat to what he sees as his important status compared to others. This sensitivity is the reason why he tends to lash out at those who shame or appear to shame him in any way. His reactions to shame are grossly disproportionate to the “offense;” he will hold grudges and seek revenge sometimes till death, his own or his “offender’s,” whichever comes first. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist scorned.
Shame is so difficult for a narcissist to tolerate because it arises from an exposure of some flaw of his to others. He has many serious shortcomings; but in his own eyes he is perfect and surpasses everyone else, as he will let you know time and again, directly and not. He must retain this grandiose delusion of superiority and perfection at all costs because this is all he has. His bigger than life persona hides an empty inner core, devoid of meaningful values and attachments. A prick of shame exposing any flaws in the narcissist’s façade has a potential of deflating it and effectively destroying him since there is nothing of substance to fall back on within his inner world.
The rage with which a narcissist reacts to shame or humiliation thus deflects attention from his inner emptiness. That rage is often a predominant emotion, particularly in a narcissist who feels chronically deprived of the admiration and perks he believes he deserves (and as his need for admiration and perks is bottomless, so then is his sense of deprivation). It does not take much to provoke it: a simple, neutral observation or a request can suddenly unleash it on an unsuspecting victim.
The vehement defense against shame is also another reason why a narcissist never takes responsibility for his behavior. Why should he anyway, when he’s perfect and does no wrong? Nothing is ever his fault, no matter how great a mess he creates. Responsibility is always projected outwards, onto others, as blame. Admitting his culpability in anything could lead to shame and cracks in the false façade that defines his character — and his ego won’t allow that. It is a matter of life and death, ‘psychically’ speaking.
The flip side of his shame intolerance is his desire to humiliate others. It comes as naturally to him as breathing. He derives pleasure from inflicting on others the kind of pain he himself wants to avoid at all costs. Humiliating other people is almost as satisfying as winning. It helps that the two often go together in the narcissist’s life. In fact, humiliating others is itself a win. And he likes to win.
What we have seen in Donald’s behavior was a relatively mild version of narcissistic aggression in response to shame, but it gives us a taste of what’s beneath it. We are still in the wooing phase, and Donald is, believe it or not, on his best behavior.
He is still The Charming Donald (or what passes for charming in Trumpland), trying to curry our favors and votes. If he makes it into the White House, then we will get to know his true self, unhampered by all these frivolous niceties.
We must appreciate the often sadistic and always revealing quality of insults dished out by The Donald at the people who try to confront him with reality. They are highly informative, in the Freudian-slippage way, but also in illuminating the dynamics of the narcissist’s pathology — as is this one, directed at ABC’s Tom Llamas on Tuesday:
You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.
In this breathtaking attack, The Donald conveyed more than he wished. While his intent was to imply that he was being unfairly (but of course) criticized by the reporter who should know better, he let us know, Freudian-slippage style, what we have observed time and again: that reality as we know it with its pesky facts is optional — and threatening — for him, because he lives in his own version of it, where we all should join him (if we knew what’s good for us).
This again ties in with his pathological defense against shame. A narcissist’s facts and facts as most of us know them are distinctly incompatible.
Should the truth — those inconvenient realities of his life and his character as the rest of us see them — be revealed, he would be emotionally annihilated, and so he cannot allow that. Yes, a narcissist would kill, easily, to protect his fragile ego from this unforgivable, to him, insult of the truth.
That narcissistic rage attacks can be deadly we see in the tragic and seemingly incomprehensible instances of lethal domestic violence where a narcissistically injured spouse, usually a husband, lashes out at his wife who may have offended him “for the last time” by confronting him with some imperfection of his (as in, Would you take your shoes off the table, please?). We can also see it, brazenly displayed, in the lives of world’s genocidal tyrants. Saddam Hussein, for instance, was known to invite his advisers to give him honest feedback, and then execute those who took the honest part seriously. Ditto Stalin.
Tom Llamas’ offense, like those unlucky honest Hussein’s advisers, was, in addition to confronting Trump with cold facts about his charitable inactivities, ignoring the central facts that comprise the narcissist’s reality:
It is not, however, as though [the narcissist’s] understanding of himself and the world is entirely fact-free. There are three major facts around which his whole reality is organized:
1. I am great.
2. People unfairly malign me.
3. I will show them (they will pay).
Those are not just beliefs — they are facts etched deep in his psyche, and they evoke corresponding emotional states of 1. grandiose pride, 2. sense of victimhood and resentment, 3. desire for revenge, all of which form the core of his sense of self and motivate his actions.
“You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well” — the real facts, about the narcissist’s unsurpassed and unquestioned greatness — and you choose to ignore them. You will pay.
Narcissistic rage is one of the darkest and deadliest forces known to mankind. Before it erupts, it percolates and simmers for a long time, fueled by resentment, envy and entitlement, the latter always aggrieved as the narcissist’s need for adulation is insatiable and he can see the world populated by the undeserving, inferior people who nevertheless dare to be happier and/or more successful than he is. It thus creates enemies out of the innocent and often weak* who become vessels for the narcissist’s hateful and envious projections.
These sustained projections form a basis of an attitude called the narcissism of minor differences, first described by Freud, where we exaggerate small differences in people who are our neighbors — the shape of their noses, their customs and dialects, etc. — in order to feel superior to them and exclude them from our group. This attitude, like anything else based on fear and hatred, easily infects others, already narcissistically predisposed; and the sharing makes the hateful projections grow and spread. The co-existent phenomenon of collective narcissism, which intensifies the in-group ties (and which is unsurprisingly associated with the right wing authoritarianism) at the expense of excluding and demonizing those who do not belong to our group, strengthens this pathological, but common and predictable enough process.
Once established as a more or less legitimate shared worldview, the narcissism of minor differences leads to an easy dehumanization of The Other, entrenched in racism and other forms of prejudice. It culminates in mob actions and endless internal conflicts and wars, which — because of their grand scale and the magnitude of destruction — are the ultimate expressions of narcissistic rage.
And we allow this to happen.
Much cyberink has been spilled on analyzing Trump’s enduring appeal to American voters, and lauding his purported political mastery. This predictable but misguided adulation that stems from widespread narcissistic collusion and blindness (more about those two in upcoming posts, fates willing) is exactly what the narcissist desires and aims at extracting from others.
It is unforgivable that our media not only legitimize this dangerously pathological individual, but imbue him with all kinds of special skills, attributing to him, with admiration and awe, political genius and media savvy.
Not coincidentally, the same happened with Hitler, Stalin, and all other genocidal tyrants in human history who shared Trump’s dangerous character defect: they too were lauded by the press, domestic and foreign, for their “eloquence” and “brilliant” political skills as they peddled their grandiose dreams of glory alongside the contempt and hatred for their “enemies,” The Others.
This phenomenon, part of narcissistic collusion that develops between narcissistic leaders and their followers in any human group and organization, is as disappointing as it is common and dangerous, especially in this instance. It should be obvious by now that any promises and “serious” pronouncements Slippery Don makes are not worth the air he wastes uttering them. They are all but an idiot’s tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing — other than his dangerous character defect. The only “skills” that Trump possesses come from his emotional primitivism combined with his grandiosity and lack of conscience, which allow him to unleash the disordered contents of his psyche on the world without any inhibition or compunction.
This appeals to and “awes” people who are psychologically similar, but frightens and repulses, correctly, the rest who are not as primitive and/or disordered and who see where this dangerous process leads. Unfortunately, too many journalists, not to mention Trump’s admirers and supporters, apparently belong in the former camp.
*Narcissistic rage is easily evoked by the weakness of others, which the narcissist finds utterly contemptible and deserving punishment, giving us hints at his own early traumas experienced as a weak and helpless child at mercy of his harsh and cruel caretakers.
As I’m wrapping up this post, there is news about yesterday’s UCLA shooter, a man with a doctorate of engineering (a bit of info that is relevant to the topic of narcissism, as we’ll explore it in subsequent posts), who killed his mentor and, as it turns out now, another person included on what appears to be his kill list.
The chief of LAPD said the following during a press conference:
Everybody tries to look for a good reason for this. There is no good reason for this. This is a mental issue, mental derangement.
He is correct that there is no good reason for this and that “mental derangement” is the cause — but we should learn to identify and name this specific mental derangement, called aggrieved entitlement, already. Our failure to do so, repeatedly and with the kind of stubbornness that suggests willful blindness, or denial, is deadly. Whatever other difficulties the UCLA shooter may have experienced, we can assume with a fair degree of certainty that narcissistic entitlement and rage were among them, as it is always the case.
Edited to add links and more 6/3/16.