Narcissistic Supply

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Others have written more and better on the subject of narcissistic supply, but I wanted to provide an overview here so this important part of the discussion stays in focus.  Narcissistic Supply is simply whatever a narcissist gets out of a relationship.  It can be positive or negative, overt or covert, public or private.  In fact, it may be quite puzzling for outsiders to watch a narcissist and determine just what he or she is getting from a particular relationship.

Narcissists are addicted to what people think of them.  They must control the subjective assessments of others.  This is, as I have said before, their “super-power.”  They are amazingly able to manipulate the people around them to get what they want.

But what do they want?  Because narcissists see people according to a ladder of position, they want different things from different people.  There are people above them, people relatively equal to them, and people below them.  From the people above them, the narcissists might want acceptance, affirmation, or camaraderie.  They want to know the secrets of the rich and famous, how they can act so others think that’s what they are.  They want to know how to become one of the upper caste.  And, ultimately, they want the position those above them hold on the ladder.

From the ones below them, narcissists generally want admiration, honor, respect, longing, desire, etc.  They want to know that others covet what the narcissist has.  The narcissist will enjoy holding a good parking space just because he knows others want it.  Some narcissists display their wives or promote their jobs so that others become jealous.  They want those under them to think that the narcissist holds the answers. 

I have also come to believe that narcissists often have people in their lives they see as equals—just so they can feel normal.  Remember that the narcissist knows he is broken and vulnerable.  People who don’t play the game of comparisons and advantages hold a strange attraction for the narcissist.  He cannot understand what motivates them.  Most of them he simply dismisses and doesn’t see, but sometimes one or more are allowed in his life because he suspects that this is normal.  And he wants to be normal. 

Consider this:  When the narcissist walks into a room, he instantly knows where he (and the others) stands on this ladder.  He is under immediate pressure to perform according to his needs.  His “normal” friend, however, walks into the same room with no such pressure.  This pressure is a constant drain of energy for the narcissist.  If things don’t go his way, he becomes irritable and depressed.  His friend doesn’t seem to have this problem.  So the narcissist keeps this friend in his life as a refuge, a place where normal is possible.  He will still put himself above the friend, still put the friend down sometimes, but he needs this friend.

Now, this “supply” can be obtained negatively as well.  The narcissist sometimes looks to those above him with a victimized approach.  He wants them to lift him up, to value him, and say nice things about him.  She may accept their charity simply for the sake of remaining connected to them.  Narcissists understand that those who give establish a stronger connection than those who receive.  They allow those above them to give so they will feel this stronger connection.  Let’s say it this way: Giving requires something from the giver.  Receiving requires nothing from the receiver.  The narcissist knows intuitively that those who give have shared something of themselves.  That’s supply.

From those under them, narcissists may want to see fear or submission or servitude.  The more the person serves, the more the narcissist takes and the less the narcissist returns in thankfulness or kindness.  Service given in the midst of painful treatment is the best supply.  It shows dominance and superiority.

Often those who are in or are observing narcissistic relationships wonder what the narcissist is getting out of the connection.  Why is this happening?  The answer lies in this strange drug of narcissistic supply.


Filed under Narcissism

8 responses to “Narcissistic Supply

  1. Faith

    Excellent explanation. I lived in this but did not understand the dynamics until viewed from a safe distance. I was the “normal” relationship, then became the fearful servant. The more grace was given, the more unkind and painful the treatment became…grace and mercy were repaid with contempt and anger. It was very sad.

    • Hi Faith! The point you make about first being the normal one and then descending into the servant role is very good. This happens if the narcissist either finds another “normal” to use or simply because it is his habit. If possible, he must push people down. From there, the abuse grows.

      Why? Well, when the people of Israel began to chafe under the authority of the Egyptians, the Egyptians told them to make bricks without straw. What that meant was that the Hebrews were supposed to go out and harvest their own straw, an additional burden for the work. This was done simply for the sake of greater control. By adding more abuse/work, the Egyptians were able to keep the Hebrews under greater control.

      I suspect this is what happens in a narcissistic relationship. The need for control is great and the need for more control is greater. The abuse increases not to hurt the victim, but to release more control (more power) to the narcissist. This is part of that narcissistic supply.

      • Faith

        Yes, you are correct. The need for control over me become so great that he was irrational. Thank you for the biblical example…like Pharaoh! I have also compared him to Saul in his affliction. But, God has used it for my good! I still grieve for his mind, but have learned how to protect myself.

  2. Kelly

    The thing I find interesting in the supply chain so to speak is what “Malignant Self Love” talks about…the Island of Stability. I was my ex’s island..the stable, not N person. He of course tossed me to the curb after 21 years and what is fascinating is the length he was in N injury…about 14 months. He is desperately searching for the Island again and doesn’t seem to be able to establish it so he is all over the place in addictive behaviors. I know he regrets the adultery/abandonment/divorce, but sadly it’s ONLY because I was the island, NOT because he loved me or valued me. I am glad I finally found the truth, it set me free.

  3. Well I could never figure which rung of the ladder I was, since it seemed to change. One minute I was the love of his life and the next I was to be cast aside. It was so confusing all the cycles of being his narcissistic supply. I feel sorry for him actually, I dont see how he will ever be able to have a loving stable relationship with anyone.

  4. Kelly

    Kitty, he won’t and neither will mine. Pray for the people who get sucked in to the web of deceit that they might escape. Without serious serious intervention there really is no hope for the N. The book I read Malignant Self Love was written in prison by Sam Vaknin; he found himself there reflecting on his own Narcissism, to which he discovered there was no hope. Interesting

  5. Joy

    This is very interesting! I started out on the rungs above him. I had the kind of family he wanted, I looked like the kind of wife he wanted, I did well at university and he liked that. Then we got married and I got shuffled to normal, and then down to the rungs beneath him. All along I’d get bumped back up to normal..he needed me as I made things easy for him in social situations and he needed a friend he thought was worthy of him. But the more time went on, the more time I spent on the bottom rungs, being shown that I was not good enough.

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