Advice for an Empath Recovering From Narcissistic Abuse: The Necessity of Rage

Dr. Ava Pommerenk
Dec 7, 2018 · 6 min read

I’d venture to say that over half the human population has felt or currently has something that triggers rage from within them. And, for many of us, we have never been taught how to deal with this complex affectual experience. In fact, most of us don’t understand what rage is, or are terrified when trying to deal with it, when it appears. This way of relating to rage, unfortunately becomes the Achilles heal for most, and especially Empaths.

Rage is an expression of despair, fear, disgust, shame, and deep (and often overwhelming) anger. Rage is a visceral experience just as much as an emotional experience. It is a feeling that often gets “triggered” by a perceived or real boundary violation, threat of abandonment or neglect, or threat of something traumatic occurring, for the self, or to someone or something we care about.

Often, those who have experienced several traumatic experiences in their life, usually based in the context of relationships, carry and experience rage. It may take actually very little, if not just the right “trigger”, to ignite rage. And, these people may feel overwhelmed and not know how to manage it. There are internalizing and externalizing expressions of this rage, when one feels overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with it in the self. Those who externalize, who are often Narcissistic, compulsively act out on others (in a physical, relational, and/or emotional way), primarily using projection and blame, in order to dispel the visceral experience of their rage. Those who internalize, who are often more empathetic or actual Empaths, may act out their rage, on their self, in the form of co-dependent over- accountability to others, with self-directed perfectionism, self-denial, self-hatred and self- dismissal, which often leads to depression and suicidal behavior.

Even the most empathetic and non-violent of us have rage, even though we may not acknowledge it. In fact, us empathetic folk have a lot of bottled up rage, because we often deny and suppress it, and become perfectionistic with our self about our integrity and “goodness”, and therefore it isn’t obvious to those around us that we are just as rage-ful as a Narcissist. In fact, most people who end up with Narcissists are Empaths, because we have the same amount of rage we attempt to manage, and this allows us to fit together in complimentary ways. And, how, you may ask, more specifically are they complimentary? Well, the Narcissist expresses the qualities of rage, that the Empath disowns or actively represses within their self, and the Narcissist then exploits the fact that the Empath disowns these parts of their self, to keep them hooked in to being in relationship, and capable of being manipulated.

As a part of being empathetic and likely a healer type, Empaths learn to disown their capacity for rage and hatred towards others, because they can use their big hearts and over-active self-perfectionism and integrity, to easily depend on being able to understand another’s motivations, and have compassion for them, despite the other’s behaviors. In addition, their capacity to feel with and for another’s pain, often is used as a way to override their own pain and terror of causing harm and disconnection, and is very much dependent upon them suppressing their own rage. Add into this, that Narcissists, as a part of externalizing their rage, will shift the focus and responsibility onto the Empath, which is called projection. This manifests as constantly being critical of the Empath’s integrity and capacity to be compassionate and understanding, and thus placing more pressure on the Empath to prove their integrity, as well as compassion, empathy and understanding. The Empath gives them what they want, because they already are highly perfectionistic in regard to monitoring their goodness and feel overly responsible for other’s well-being, and in their mind, they take on the work of suppressing the rage and taking on the Narcissistic person’s needs, “concerns” or “hurts”, in order to “help” the Narcissist, and avoid doing the “harm” the Narcissist says they do by resisting this projection of rage. They maintain this taking on of the projection to further prove themselves as good and worthy of connection, and to maintain relationship connection. If you add spirituality to the equation, because many healers are also spiritual, they may also use their spiritual practice, and their capacity to generate more loving, accepting and compassionate states, as a way to bypass these feelings of rage and prove themselves, and they do this because they feel identified with the healer position in service of helping everyone heal, to avoid falling in to depression, and to maintain peace and connection.

So, as long as the Empath denies their rage and their core, human boundaries around how the Narcisssist treats them, they stay stuck with a Narcissist. And, when the Narcissist begins to wear on them, and they do happen to get angry and act out from this place, the Narcissist has more evidence to use against them, that they are in fact the “harmful”, “abusive”, “bad” or Narcissistic one. And, since the Empath’s keenly aware of not being identified with these “bad” behaviors, and feels responsible for other’s well-being, no matter how justified the Empath is to feel and act this rageful way in self defense, they work harder to become even more understanding, empathetic and tolerant to counteract the painful rage feelings that build, and may sometimes get released.

And, the cycle continues until the Empath doesn’t know who they are anymore, and feels extremely exhausted, self-critical and depressed from trying and failing with the Narcissist over and over again. They feel exhausted and depressed from having to keep on the defense, while continuing to bypass and redirect their rage towards themselves in order to maintain connection and their identity as a non-violent, always perfectly accountable, healer. The last thing they want to do is hurt their hyper-sensitive Narcissist, who will quickly use the Empath’s outward expression of rage to show how damaged they have been by the Empath, and as evidence for the Empath being the true Narcissist.

The trick to an Empath actually overcoming this cycle and being strong enough to leave, and heal, is to actually re-identify themselves with and fully feel their rage, and accept that they in fact cause harm, and are also allowed to feel rage, and lose their composure and care. That, yes, it is ok to “bark and bite” back, and use unskillful or imperfect means in setting a rage motivated boundary. It is ok to hurt the other’s feelings, and even use blame, if the other is indeed already going to have their feelings hurt anyways. It is indeed ok to acknowledge in this rage the powerlessness around being repeatedly manipulated into performing empathy and care up against an impossible, double standard of composure for the Empath, while the Narcissist rarely holds themselves accountable. That sometimes it is necessary to use aggression and force to get someone to finally back off, if they have felt entitled to your energy, time, and resources, and that this doesn’t make someone Narcissistic, irresponsible, or entitled, but rather is evidence of self-love and dignity.

So, for all of you Empath’s out there struggling to be done with a Narcissist in your life, or feeling so heart-broken, depressed, and run into the ground by this person, I highly recommend you access your rage. Let yourself fully go there. Let yourself be “petty”, so to speak. Let your hateful, darkness come out. I can guarantee that just as long as you have not stalked or physically or financially harmed the Narcissist, you are within your right, and you will finally overcome being hooked in. When you embrace this “darkness”, you will begin not to care about the Narcissist thinking you are messed up and bad. The more you embrace being royally enraged, the less power the Narcissist has over you, because they cannot use your fear of your basic human nature, against you, to manipulate you, any longer.

And, even if you do at times go over board and are messy and hurtful, this is a VERY important part of the process of letting go of the strict integrity, over-accountability, and empathy policing you do to yourself as a means to redirect your rage inward. This IS recovery, and it will allow you to be more empowered, whole, and more available to have boundaries, and be cared for, while also being a more genuine and effective healer and Empath.

I wish you the best in your path to liberation from the pain and trauma of being close to a Narcissist!

Let yourself go through the scary transformation that rage brings! [Image by: Zuri Pommerenk]