Narcissistic Rage

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A reaction to narcissistic injury in the context of narcissistic pathologies, narcissistic rage is to narcissism as aggression is to Oedipal desire.

As a descriptive term, narcissistic rage was first employed by Heinz Kohut and became a significant concept in psychoanalysis about 1972, with publication of his The Analysis of the Self. Derived from analyses of narcissistic personalities, the term also reflected Kohut's broader interests in literature, culture, and civilization.

Narcissistic rage can include phenomena as different as slight annoyance, paranoiac rancor, and catatonic fury. Linked to loss of control, it signals the existence of some unresolved psychic injury of an archaic, narcissistic character. Such rage aims to repair an injustice, a narcissistic wound unrelieved so long as shame persists and the witness to it is not destroyed. Thus, the need for revenge in the face of ridicule, disdain or contempt, represents an expression of narcissistic rage. Destructiveness is a linked to this kind of narcissistic defect, not a reaction to a primary instinct.

Aggression toward another person (or mental representation of one) should be distinguished from narcissistic rage directed at a self-object, Kohut's term for an archaic object that must not be experienced as a disappointing or failing. Although aggressivity ceases when the obstacle is lifted, narcissistic rage cannot be quelled.

As a descriptive term, the concept of narcissistic rage gained considerable acceptance in psychoanalysis. Kohut's broader view of narcissism as a separate line of development, however, though much discussed, won less support.

AgnÈs Oppenheimer

See also: Kohut, Heinz; Narcisstic injury.


Kohut Heinz. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. In The search for the self (Volume 2: pp. 615-658). New York: International Universities Press.

Further Reading

Ornstein, Anna, et al. (1998). The fate of narcissistic rage in psychotherapy. Psychoanalytical Inquiry, 18, 55-70.