Whether or not Donald Trump meets the diagnosis for narcissistic personality disorder, even five minutes of him makes it clear that he has many narcissistic behaviors. For this reason it is timely to consider one particular dimension of narcissism, narcissistic rage.
If we pass lightly over some of Freud’s odder ideas about this, we can gain some insight into what Trump is probably experiencing now.
Heinz Kohut explored a wide range of rage experiences in his seminal article 'Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage' (1972). He considered narcissistic rage as one major form among many, contrasting it especially with mature aggression. Because the very structure of the self itself is weakened in the narcissist, their rage cannot flower into real assertiveness; and they are left instead prone to oversensitivity to perceived or imagined narcissistic injuries resulting in narcissistic rage.
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". 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.
Alternatively, according to Kohut, rages can be seen as a result of the shame at being faced with failure. 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.
Several themes here recur often in Trump’s life: oversensitivity to injuries, a need for total control, a need for revenge. What could be a greater narcissistic injury than being revealed on the national stage as a sexual predator? Reading top athletes scorning his definition of “locker room talk”? Being demolished on national television by a black woman?
Narcissistic rages can take several forms, and we have seen them all with Trump:
Narcissistic rage can be either explosive or passive-aggressive, although most people associate the explosive type with the term ‘narcissistic rage’. The explosive rages are just that- explosive, volatile outbursts which may be verbal, physical, or both. A passive-aggressive rage is manifested as withdrawal into a lengthy, sulky silent treatment. Both are means to punish the offender. It is also not uncommon to find an explosive rage followed by passive-aggressive rage (the silent treatment).
What recourse do people have in the face of narcissistic rage? Reading these strategies makes me think that Hillary has consulted with psychologists, because her handling of Trump during the debates follows these suggestions to the T (excerpted from the link above, which gives details):
What NOT to do
Don’t respond to narcissistic rage. If you react in any way to their rage, it will continue to escalate. You can never “win” an argument with a narcissist, because by their very nature they are irrational. If it looks like they will follow you to keep verbally assaulting you, just listen to them until they sputter out. Don’t try to engage them verbally. If they escalate to where it looks like they may become physically- violent- get out.
Do not rage back. …
Do not believe that anything you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, will change the person or the situation.
Do not try to use logic or reason …
And some positive strategies:
Tips for dealing with the rage
If your narcissist is raging, then you have (or someone has) wounded their self-esteem. Nothing will bring them relief until you have been punished for that deed. The punishment may include screaming, ranting, verbal or emotional abuse, and may even escalate to physical violence. Depending on the situation and relationship, you may be stalked, harassed, abused or even attacked until they feel you’ve suffered enough for hurting them.
In most situations of rage, it’s better to either defuse the narcissist’s anger or walk away from the fight. It’s important to pick your battles with a narcissist (not usually during a rage) and to wait for a time where there is a better chance that the narcissist will listen to you, rather than you responding impulsively during one of their rages.
How do I AVOID the narcissist’s rage?
Establish your boundaries.
Learn to be calm
Learn to not overreact to the narcissist’s rage. That is what he/she wants you to do. The action of ‘no reaction’ to their rage is powerful and keeps you in control of the situation.
Accept the narcissists view for the moment.
Ask for time
Remember the rage is not about you, it is about the narcissist. No matter how much he blames you, remember WHY he rages—it is about him and his perceptions. Everything is always about the narcissist. When you can operate from that point of view, it is easier to deal with the rages and other issues a narcissist brings to a relationship.
More commentary on narcissistic rage is available at Psychology Today. Even if this is irrelevant to the Trump/Clinton contest (though I think it is relevant), this information may be helpful to you when dealing with the narcissists in your life (and we all have a few).