What is Narcissistic Supply?
People with narcissistic personality disorder are in constant need of attention, care, affection, admiration, praise, appreciation, etc. from others. All of these expectations, which the narcissist desperately needs, are called “narcissistic supply”. The narcissistic supply can be anything that makes the narcissist feel valuable, important, and happy. Which means anything that helps them gain things such as success, power, control, sex, money, fame, praise, attention (positive or negative) can be perceived as a narcissistic supply. In happy and healthy relationships, people are naturally loved, respected and supported. However, the narcissist cannot establish healthy relationships with other people, instead they try to earn sympathy and narcissistic supply from those around them through reflection.
The narcissistic supply is like an addiction to them. An alcoholic’s effort to get alcohol can be very similar to a narcissist’s effort to satisfy their needs. Narcissists need other people, or “resources,” to get what they need — especially attention and admiration. In order to get the supply they seek, narcissists may present themselves as charismatic, sincere, flirtatious, benevolent people or try to win others’ sympathy by self-dramatization. If these methods don’t work, they don’t shy away from hurting and manipulating other people. In the steps they take to meet their narcissistic needs, they do not really care about the feelings and thoughts of the person in front of them and do not empathize with them because that’s never their priority. The narcissistic supply doesn’t always have to be someone else, either. A narcissist is able to achieve success with his or her own effort, intelligence, and hard work; and can also gain money, fame, a sense of power, love, respect, and attention due to this well-deserved success. Despite all this the narcissist still needs external resources because no matter how much attention they get, it is never enough for them, they keep wishing for more.
Also, it’s not only positive attention and comments that the narcissist wants. Negative attention is also a source of food for the narcissist. Thanks to negative comments, they find the opportunity to strengthen their grievances and justify their self-dramatizations. Moreover, negative comments are a kind of proof that they exist, that they attract attention, that they are in the center of attention; even if negatively. Although narcissists are extremely sensitive to criticism, what really hurts them is the lack of attention.
What Is The Basis Of The Narcissist’s Supply?
Children naturally need help and support. Those whose basic needs were not met in their childhood struggle to satisfy these neglected needs in any way. These needs are not just physical but also mental and emotional. Even when a child’s physical needs are perfectly met, if their emotional needs are neglected, the child is likely try to have their parents satisfy them. Children who develop narcissistic personality disorder in the future also start satisfying these needs through manipulation.
Children whose needs were not met in infancy or early childhood may develop negative feelings such as anger or hatred towards the person (most likely one or both parents) who did not give them what they wanted. However, these negative feelings towards parents are not tolerated by the said parents, whom they depend on for their survival, or by other people. Feeling negative feelings towards parents is socially unacceptable and such people are likely to be alienated because many societies unarguably regard parenthood as sacred. Because of that, children who naturally develop “righteous anger” because their needs weren’t met miss the opportunity to express these feelings in a healthy way, and over time they suppress and internalize these feelings and reflect them on themselves. As a result, they may end up feeling worthless. Narcissists seem to be quite self-confident on the outside but have low self-esteem on the inside. Their core selves have been severely damaged at a very early age and they cannot create, regulate and maintain the emotions necessary for them to feel valued. Instead, they depend on narcissistic supply from outside sources in order to feel valued and important and to protect their self-esteem. In short, they constantly repair their low self-esteem with the supplies they obtain from external sources.
Often the narcissist’s primary external source is their spouse or partner. The narcissist regularly expects praise, love, sex and in some cases, money, etc. from people in their lives. The narcissist has many secondary external sources as well. The narcissist’s secondary external sources are usually friends, family members, and coworkers. The source can even be someone the narcissist doesn’t really know, someone who can simply make them feel good or someone they met online. Basically, the narcissist sees everyone who is or isn’t in their life as a potential resource.
Resources can provide the narcissist with interpersonal things such as attention and praise as well as things such as money, fame, recognition, and power. The narcissist may not necessarily yearn for these things. What the narcissist is looking for is not true commitment, but the display of commitment. For a narcissist, even the idea of others fearing them can be comforting because in this way they will feel superior and tyrannical.
Why Is Narcissistic Supply Dangerous?
The narcissistic supply is not affordable. We all have chores, responsibilities and obligations to deal with throughout the day. Apart from all these, we need time for ourselves, our hobbies, friends and family. But for a narcissist, the narcissistic supply is a need that must be met regularly. They don’t want the attention to be divided. Their demands are constantly renewed and are never fully satisfied. These demands, which cannot be met all the time, can tire the people around the narcissist and make their life much harder than it should be. It can turn them into an aggressive and restless person. In addition, when we think about the codependent-narcissistic relationships, we see that the codependents often feel good when they help others and satisfy their needs. Just like the narcissist’s need for attention and praise, the codependents need the attention and care that comes with making others feel good. When they see that they cannot meet the demands of the narcissist despite their efforts, they may feel resentful, angry, unhappy and hopeless.
People who are seen as a source of narcissistic supply are simply used and manipulated. Upon seeing how much the narcissist needs them, the source of the narcissistic supply may think that the narcissist has strong feelings for them. However, there are basically two reasons why the narcissist has chosen you. One of them is that they think you are easily manipulated. The second is that you probably have many characteristics that can benefit the image of the narcissist. These traits may include your physical appearance, intelligence, career, social circle, etc.
What is the difference between a narcissist and other people?
Of course, it is perfectly natural to want to be with people who have positive traits. However, healthy individuals do not perceive these people as mere tools to satisfy their needs or to contribute to their image. The main point that distinguishes narcissistic supply is necessity. Everyone enjoys being praised, appreciated, valued and having qualities such as beauty, intelligence or money but these things are not as essential as water and air. For instance; the praise a normal person receives can increase their self-confidence, but a praise a narcissist receives rebuilds their self-confidence and self-value entirely. Also, healthy people are aware that people can change over time and that not all good things stay the same for an eternity. However, this is not the case for people with narcissistic personality disorder. For example, an emotionally healthy person may be satisfied that their spouse/partner is beautiful/handsome and may feel proud to have such a good-looking person next to them. But on the other hand, they may also be aware that people can’t always look their best and that it’s alright. A narcissist, who puts great importance to appearance, wants the ideal image of the person in their life to be permanent, especially in social situations. For this reason, they can interfere with their partner’s clothing preferences, style, hair and weight. They may try to dictate these features and make offensive comments about their partner’s current appearance. Therefore, when their narcissistic supply is not adequately satisfied, they “demand” it aggressively or passive-aggressively. In addition, when the person in their life has the appearance that they want, they may shower them in attention and affection, but do the opposite when they don’t. They also lose interest more easily and quickly when the person in their life gets sick, old, or generally starts to deviate from their ideal image.
Another point that distinguishes narcissistic supply is superficiality. Wanting to have money and wanting to appear wealthy are two different things. Just like that, having a happy relationship is different from pretending to be in a happy relationship. The main thing for the narcissist is not the content itself, but the image of it.
The third element that distinguishes the narcissist from other people is quantity. Again, emotionally healthy people may also enjoy being praised and valued. However, excessive and insincere praise and admiration can make healthy people uncomfortable, they can get overwhelmed and question the sincerity of the person they’re dealing with.
The narcissistic supply exists in all narcissistic relationships. As you pass the initial stages in the relationship such as the idealization phase, you gradually begin to notice the narcissistic supply. In particular, the narcissist’s hunger for praise and admiration can be easily recognized. When you manage to give what the narcissist demands at the level they demand it, your relationship may seem more comfortable and in a better state. For example, if you can praise the narcissist for their success at the level they want to be praised with the exact sentences they want to hear, they’ll be the happiest person alive. It doesn’t matter whether you’re telling the truth or not as long as you’re telling them the things they want to hear. When you refuse or fail meet the narcissistic demands, you may face the narcissist’s touchiness, wrath and indifference. The narcissist, whom you thought to be extremely fond of you in the idealization phase, now shows interest in you only when you meet their demands. At this point, emotionally healthier people may realize that there is a toxic side to their relationship and try to set boundaries. But some fail to see the big picture and fall into the narcissist’s trap. And so they try harder and harder to make the narcissist happy and comfortable, to give them more of what they want. This is an extremely strenuous effort, and over time they will be demanding more than what you can give. After a point, you may feel as if you are obliged to read the narcissist’s mind and provide them with the things they need.
What to Do While Facing Narcissistic Demands?
If the narcissist is a person at the center of your life, the best thing you can do for yourself is to cut all ties with them. In cases where it is not possible to break this bond entirely, for example if you have a child with a narcissist, you should only communicate with them when it’s necessary and refrain from giving them the negative or positive feedback that they need from you. You can be as dull as a stone if necessary against the narcissist’s efforts to trigger your emotions and make you react to their provocations.
If the narcissist is someone you meet on social media, on the internet, the most logical thing you can do is to do nothing. You may have seen the phrase “don’t feed the troll” on the internet. Therefore, when you notice the words somebody uses just to attract attention, it will be most beneficial not to give them the attention they seek. In short, deprive them of their favorite supply.
You can also find the articles on https://medium.com/@narsistsiz:
Thomas, Nakpangi. Choosing Therapy. What Is Narcissistic Supply?. Access 13 October, 2021. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/narcissistic-supply/
Vaknin, Sam. Narcissists, Narcissistic Supply and Sources of Supply. https://samvak.tripod.com/faq76.html