On the last track, we discussed three aspects of the narcissistic client’s need to control emotion and the connection to past traumatic experiences. These three aspects of the narcissistic client’s need to control emotion and the connection to past traumatic experiences included: horror; the fear of insanity; and repression of feelings.
On this track, we will examine three aspects of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control. These three aspects of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control include: the right to be angry; physical body restraint; and false anger.
3 Aspects of Narcissistic Anger
#1 The Right to be Angry
The first aspect of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control is the right to be angry. In early childhood, I have often found that narcissistic clients were denied the right to express their anger. To a parent, a small child expressing anger needed to be controlled rather than allowed to vent. Because of this, the parent may have used force to silence the client.
As a result, the client soon learns that he or she is not allowed to be angry, however justified the anger is. He or she will then conform to the parent’s wishes by suppressing his or her anger. When the client successfully succumbs to calm, the parent then rewards the young client with love and affection.
Riley, age 43, came to me reporting feeling depressed and stressed. He stated, "I don’t know how much longer I can take this! My job requires me to look after all these people, yet when one of those idiots makes a mistake, I have to make sure I don’t ‘fly off the handle!’ I can’t hurt anyone’s feelings, or else they may cry off to my supervisor!"
I asked Riley if he had ever been told by an employer to control his anger. He stated, "Well, no not exactly. But that’s how our world works, isn’t it? How am I supposed to motivate them if I can’t yell at them?!" Instead of associating anger with a legitimate expression of feeling, Riley had associated it with a motivation tool. I asked Riley what his experiences were with anger in his early childhood.
He stated, "Whenever I started to throw a tantrum, my mother would hit me or throw me against the wall. If I didn’t want to get beaten, I just kept my temper. This continued all through my childhood and teenage years. I suppose if my father had been the one beating me, I may have done something about it, but what do you do to your mom?" Since an early age, Riley had been unable to express his anger, even in adolescence, a very tumultuous time for clients.
I stated to Riley, "Indignant anger should never be denied anyone. It is your right to tell the world that you have been wronged in some way." I will discuss the technique I used with Riley later on in the track. Think of your Riley. How was he or she denied the right to be angry?
#2 Physical Body Restraint
The second aspect of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for control and power is physical body restraint. As mentioned on Track 3, clients who have been suppressing feelings such as anger will practice certain physical activities in order to facilitate the restraint of feelings. Certain muscle groups will prevent the expression of certain emotions.
For instance, tense shoulders indicate a suppression of anger. Short and constrained hand movements may belie another restraint of expression. This comes from the idea that anger is associated with hitting. Quick movements of the hands may remind the client of the actual beatings he or she may have received. If clients can restrain their hands, they believe that they can also control their anger.
Ike, age 31, always held his hands in his lap. Ike himself was a large man and accomplished in his office at work. However, Ike felt that he was struggling with an inner problem. He stated, "I don’t think I can control my sanity any more! I get these strong urges sometimes to just let go and fall into insanity!"
I asked Ike why he believed that he would soon succumb to insanity. He stated, "My dad was always beating us. He had a terrible temper! Sometimes he would take a rubber hose and beat me until I was almost unconscious. I thought that this wasn’t really my father, that he was crazy. It helped me from believing that there was something wrong with me. But now I feel this struggle inside me that wants to take crazy action, but I have to control it, I have to. I don’t want to end up like my father."
Ike had, like many clients, associated feelings and emotions with insanity. In addition, he also began to believe that physical violence equated anger. Because of his desire to restrain himself, Ike had developed the habit of holding his hands in his lap or inside his pocket. Think of your Ike. What is he or she trying to restrict in his or her bodily tension?
#3 False Anger
In addition to the right to be angry and physical body restraint, the third aspect of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for control and power is false anger. As we discussed in track 4, rage can be used as a tool to intimidate and manipulate others. In addition, by acting angry, the client denies his or her own fear.
The client may believe that he or she is angry, just as an imposter believes his lies or actors identify with their roles. However, a genuine feeling of anger stems from a feeling of having been hurt. If the client cannot feel the injury, the anger he or she projects is a false one and yet another image that the client develops in order to appear normal.
Jenna, age 27, related several instances of anger to me. She stated, "I always get mad. I start yelling at people almost as soon as they make a mistake. It keeps them on their toes." I then asked her to describe her feelings of anger. Jenna stated, "I guess I don’t really feel anything. I just want things done. Nothing changes about me from the inside." I then asked Jenna to describe the circumstances surrounding one of her instances of anger.
She stated, "My mom was trying to get me to admit that I have a working problem. She would call me several times a day and finally she just accused me of being frigid. I yelled at her. So I guess I proved her wrong." Even though Jenna believed she had accurately expressed her anger, she still couldn’t describe to me what anger really felt like.
Technique: First Expressions
To help clients like Riley, Ike, and Jenna, I suggested they try the "First Expressions" exercise. This exercise involved hitting the mattress of the couch in my office and expressing noises of anger. For narcissistic clients who have problems expressing anger, this exercise entails a loss of control. As you already know, control is one of the most valued commodities to a narcissistic client. Ike was the most reluctant.
I stated that above all, this technique was about controlling anger in a more productive manner. When he began to hit the mattress, Ike did so wildly, pounding the couch in a fury. Eventually, this rage turned into sobbing and Ike finally stopped his wild punching. I then asked him, "Now, during that entire display, were you ever unaware of your actions and their consequences? Did you have a sense of yourself?" Ike stated, "Yea, I could still control my limbs and I knew that I was participating willingly."
I then stated, "This is the characteristic of a sane person. You were afraid of your anger because you believed you couldn’t control it, yet you just said you were in control the entire time. Do you see now the difference between suppressing your anger and controlling your anger?" Think of your narcissistic client. How would you initiate his or her first expression of anger? Would he or she benefit from "First Expressions?"
On this track, we discussed three aspects of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control. These three aspects of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control included: the right to be angry; physical body restraint; and false anger.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic rage revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 784–801.
Rohmann, E., Hanke, S., & Bierhoff, H.-W. (2019). Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism in relation to life satisfaction, self-esteem, and self-construal. Journal of Individual Differences, 40(4), 194–203.
Thompson, S. M. (2020). Responding to inappropriate client sexual behaviors: Perspectives on effective supervision. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 122–129.
van Teffelen, M. W., Vancleef, L. M. G., & Lobbestael, J. (2020). Provoked aggression, psychopathy and narcissism: Comparing the impact of social exclusion and insult. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication.
What are three aspects of anger and its relation to the narcissistic client’s need for power and control? To select and enter your answer go to .
This CD set has covered such topics as: ambivalence of feeling; the four degrees of narcissism; lack of feeling; motives; manipulation; trauma; and anger.
I hope you have found the information to be both practical and beneficial. We appreciate that you've chosen the Healthcare Training Institute as a means for receiving your continuing education credit.
Other Home Study Courses we offer include: Treating Teen Self Mutilation; Treating Post Holiday Let-Down and Depression; Living with Secrets: Treating Childhood Sexual Trauma; Interventions for Anxiety Disorders with Children and Adults; and Balancing the Power Dynamic in the Therapeutic Relationship.
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