Narcissistic Rage in the Bible. What Triggers Narcissistic Rage? It is not About You.

i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse Apr 29, 2024

Narcissistic rage is nothing new. There may be a glossary of psychological terms to explain narcissism and narcissistic rage, making it appear as though narcissism is unique, but the truth is that narcissism is far from new. The Bible itself contains numerous examples of narcissistic behavior. Solomon even wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic rage are not new; they have been demonstrated from ancient times till now and will continue to be repeated.

In this blog, I will explore Biblical examples of narcissistic rage. These stories lend insight into the triggers that can set a narcissist off. Understanding these triggers makes it clear that their rage is not about you. It is a reflection of deeper issues within the narcissist.

What Is Narcissistic Rage?

Before we get started, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘narcissistic rage.’ Everyone gets angry, even rageful once in a while. You can be angry without being narcissistic. There are all kinds of reasons that can enrage someone, and many have nothing to do with narcissism.

What is unique about narcissist rage? Three characteristics of narcissistic rage distinguish it from other types of anger.

First, narcissistic rage emerges out of a fragile ego. Narcissists are full of themselves. They constantly need attention and admiration. While they can dish out criticism, insults, and verbal attacks until their target is completely demolished, they cannot handle even the slightest criticism against themselves. Even the gentlest feedback can threaten their self-image. When that fragile self-image and sense of superiority are threatened, the narcissist explodes into rage.

Second, narcissistic rage comes on like a switch. Narcissists are hypersensitive to even perceived slights and are constantly scanning their environment for threats to their persona. Then, out of the blue, something goes off inside the narcissist, and they lash out verbally, attack your character, or even resort to manipulation or some other underhanded tactics to get their way. If you are dealing with a covert narcissist, this rage is expressed in passive-aggressive ways. For instance, unbeknownst to you, they may stew on an old offense and plan out the payback they believe you deserve. You may not even be aware of the offense, but you will certainly feel the destabilizing effect of their desire to punish you for past transgressions. The unpredictability and irrationality of these eruptions produce drama and chaos. It leaves you walking on eggshells. You never know when the shoe will drop, so you are constantly on guard, trying to avert the next explosion.

Third, narcissistic rage is over-the-top. It is utterly disproportionate to the perceived offense. This overreaction is not only their chosen expression of rage but also their attempt to control and dominate you by intimidation. By instilling fear into you, they can keep you from getting too close to their vulnerabilities. These rageful episodes are often a preemptive strike against you from a narcissist who is in self-protection mode.

If what I’ve just described sounds like what you are experiencing, check out this downloadable resource with the 20 signs that you might be experiencing narcissistic abuse. Along with the checklist, I’ve included a diagram that explains the cycle of narcissistic abuse, and the wheel of violence in the same document. Both of these are valuable tools to discern and articulate if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. 

Narcissistic Rage in the Bible

Now that we are clear about what narcissistic rage is, let’s look to the Bible for some examples of how it plays out.

For instance, Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king of Babylon, “flew into a rage” when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship his golden statue (Daniel 3:13). He demanded unquestioning obedience and adoration, and would not tolerate dissent or defiance.

Likewise, King Xerxes of Persia displayed narcissistic rage when his wife, Queen Vashti, refused to showcase her beauty in front of his drunk guests at a royal banquet. The Bible describes him as “furious and burning with anger” (Esther 1:12). Xerxes' reaction was fueled by his wounded pride and desire to maintain control over his household. To demonstrate his dominance, he banished Queen Vashti.

Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, flew into a narcissistic rage when she found out that the prophet Elijah had killed all her prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19). She was so enraged by Elijah's challenge to her authority and religious beliefs that she vowed to have Elijah killed. Her reaction demonstrated just how sensitive she was to any challenge to her power and control.

Herod became enraged when John the Baptist confronted him about his unlawful marriage to his sister-in-law Herodias. Matthew 14:5 says that Herod wanted to kill John, but was afraid of the public reaction. So, when his daughter gave him the chance, he beheaded John.

In Genesis 39, the story of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph demonstrates what passive-aggressive rage can look like. In this story, Joseph refuses the advances of Potiphar’s wife. She became rageful in response to rejection and her pride being wounded. Unable to accept Joseph’s refusal, she falsely accused him of trying to rape her. This kind of narcissistic rage is vindictive and manipulative. 

In all of these examples, the narcissist erupted in rage when confronted, rejected, or challenged in some way. These are age-old stories, but they illustrate a common pattern among narcissistic individuals: When their sense of superiority or control is threatened they react with intense anger, manipulation, and or vindictiveness. This pattern highlights the fragility of the narcissist’s ego, and their inability to handle criticism or rejection gracefully.

One of the most famous stories in the Bible is the story of Saul and David. You can read about it in 1 Samuel chapters 15 to 31. To make a long story shorter, and more relatable, I’ll paraphrase it.

Saul was the first king of Israel. When Saul first met David, the Bible says that Sault loved him greatly, so much that Saul asked David’s father saying “Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight” (1 Samuel 16:21-22). So, David stayed with Saul. At this point, King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit and David would play the harp for him. When David played the harp, the evil spirit would leave Saul. Their relationship was off to a good start. For David who was the youngest of a large family, and who was hardly acknowledged by his own father, having this much favor with the king must have felt surreal. David now had a father figure and not just any father figure, but the king.

Then one day, David stepped up to kill a giant who was threatening Israel in war. You have probably heard this story, the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Not only that, but David started to take on missions for Saul, going wherever he was ordered (1 Samuel 18:20). David rose through the ranks of the army and became a public hero. 

As David rose in favor with Saul and the people..., the Bible paints this picture:

"Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced and said: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day forward.” 1 Samuel 18:6-9

Wow. Pause to take that in.

Until just a moment ago, things were going well between Saul and David. Then Saul heard that song. It was two lines. Those two lines triggered Saul and in that moment, their relationship completely changed. In Saul’s eyes, David was now a threat. All the favor and trust he had in David the day before vanished. Imagine David’s confusion when he returned to find his relationship with the king had evaporated overnight. 

It’s highly likely that you, like David, have been baffled by a narcissist’s ability to do a 180-degree turn in a relationship. Narcissists tend to think in black or white. In their minds, people are either all good or all bad. You can learn more about this phenomenon, called splitting, in this video

Back to Saul and David. Saul starts splitting when he hears that song. He goes from loving David to seeing him as an enemy. Things spiraled downhill from there. Saul’s jealousy intensified into paranoia. Despite David’s loyalty and his commitment to honor Saul as king, Saul flew out of control. More than once, Saul attempted to kill David even throwing a spear at him in the palace. Saul’s paranoia was so shameful that even his son Jonathan turned against him and confronted him about his irrational behavior.

The story of Saul and David is a textbook example of just how easily a narcissist’s rage can be triggered. Like David, you can be doing your very best, putting in a genuine effort to keep the relationship alive, and still things out of your control trigger uncontrollable rage. Sometimes just being you can trigger rage. Other times your presence, the fact that you breathe and take up air triggers an explosion. Their rage is not about you. 

These stories might seem a bit extreme. You aren’t dealing with kings and emperors. You’re probably dealing with a spouse, a parent, a family member, a boss or a co-worker. Switch out the character roles, however, and the dynamics of narcissistic relationships have been the same since the beginning of time.

David did his utmost to be loyal to Saul. Saul was the father David never had. Of course, David longed to please this much-needed father figure. However, just like David discovered, no amount of loyalty, devotion, or effort can appease a narcissist’s rage. Instead, even your righteousness, humility, and dedication can trigger their rage because it can expose to a narcissist what they aren't and that triggers their shame. Instead of a narcissist looking inward and seeing that the shame is coming from inside of them, they blame the person who is triggering their shame for causing it.

Narcissistic rage is completely irrational. It rarely makes sense. It could come out of nowhere. It’s stressful and it leaves you walking on eggshells. 

How do you deal with this rage? What do you do when a narcissist’s rage becomes dangerous? What is God’s remedy? Leave your email below to get next week’s blog where I will be answering those questions.

Related Resources

Watch the video version of this blog here.

  • When Narcissistic Rage Becomes Dangerous. How Do You Protect Yourself without Dishonoring God? [Watch]
  • How to Set a Boundary with a Narcissist without Triggering Their Rage. [Watch]
  • Silence as a Weapon:  How to Overcome the Narcissist’s Silent Treatment [Watch]

Find more resources in our topic-based catalog here.

Downloadable Resources 

 

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