Rage After Narcissistic Abuse
When a person experiences abuse, there are many emotional responses that can take place, and rage is one of them. Feeling rage from narcissistic abuse is normal. The rage is justified. For many of my adult clients with narcissistic parents, their rage began in early childhood and has been building over the course of a lifetime. For those adults, they made a subconscious decision in childhood to repress their feelings of anger because those feelings were too intense or too frightening and the circumstances of home life made it extremely unsafe to express emotions, especially big emotions like rage. It has been my experience that most adults of narcissistic parents eventually come to a point in their healing journey where the rage is ready to be dealt with. Rage often starts to surface after these adults have put the work in to come to terms with the reality of their experience.
The biggest mistake I see people make is viewing rage against a narcissist as a problem that can be solved with the mind. I call it “trying to think your rage away.” Many people approach their rage as a puzzle to be solved through analysis and thought. It is as if my clients are saying, “if only I could think about this rage in the right way, I could get rid of it.”
What I find to be effective in dealing with rage is to approach it using the body. I think of the rage that was experienced in childhood as a substance (energy) that is sitting in the physical body of the adult. To release that rage from the body the adult needs to be willing to feel it and express it. This can be difficult for a couple of reasons. The first is that the rage can be difficult to access. When children begin repressing rage at a young age, it becomes a deeply ingrained subconscious habit that continues throughout adulthood. In other words, stuffing down rage becomes the default mode of operating. This habit needs to be unlearned. The second is that many people are terrified of their own rage. This is a primal and subconscious fear that is not readily available to the conscious mind. I have talked with adults who are terrified of what they might do if they let themselves feel their rage. There is often a fear of powerlessness or being out of control that is associated with thoughts about rage.
In my work with clients who feel stuck trying deal with their rage, there are several approaches I take. One approach is brainstorming ways to access the rage through physical activity. There are many ways to express rage physically without harming yourself or anyone else. Because rage is in the body, the physical activity can be an effective way to get in touch with the rage over time. Another approach is the use of mindfulness techniques to support the client in noticing their relationship to their rage. This kind of noticing can help answer the question, “Is my rage welcome here?” As clients come to see their habitual response every time rage threatens to surface, they can begin to try new things in those moments. Softening the body, breathing, curiosity, and a desire to heal that is stronger than the fear of healing, are all powerful tools for allowing rage to express itself and leave the body. Another thing that many clients find helpful is simply investigating the rage together in the context of the therapeutic relationship. There is an incredible amount of stigma attached to anger and rage. Simply being able to discuss it openly is often a powerful first step towards expressing it.
Here are some things I have discussed with clients to address some of the stigma associated with rage:
Rage itself is different from your fear of your rage
Rage is not the same thing as violence or aggression
Rage can be expressed in ways where you do not hurt yourself or others
Expressing rage alone, or with a professional, is just as effective as expressing it directly to the source of your rage (e.g. a narcissistic father or narcissistic mother)
There is nothing inherently bad or morally wrong about rage
Rage is a normal response to abuse
Just like learning any other skill, if you have the intention to learn how to access and express your rage, and you keep showing up to try, you will do it eventually. It can take some time and having the right support can advance the process significantly.
Finally, I’ve noticed that many adults come to the question of rage at the same time they are grappling with a desire to feel something other than hatred toward their abusive parent, for the sake of their own healing and moving on. I do not think this is a coincidence. I advise clients, practice, and learn how to have compassion for your own rage first. Once you have mastered that, then take on the challenge of finding compassion for your narcissistic parent. We need to give ourselves compassion and kindness and gentleness first. From that place we can then start to extend outward to our families, communities, and the world.
For adult children of narcissists looking for more information click here.
About the Author
Diana Calvo is a psychotherapist and coach who helps people get unstuck and transform their day-to-day experience of work and life. After 20 years successfully climbing the corporate ladder, Diana experienced her own journey of healing and awakening. She discovered her true calling to guide others on their journey out of suffering and into a life of purpose and joy. Diana left the corporate world to start her own coaching business. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her dog Joey and a beautiful view of the mountains. She works with clients across the globe.