The Need for Affirmation

It’s Narcissist Friday!

By definition, the narcissist needs affirmation.  Narcissists long for attention and affirmation.  They need to be noticed, valued, considered special.  And, of course, you and I are supposed to give this to them.

The boss looks to you to feel superior.  He believes your job is to make him look good.  If you do well, he will feel good about himself.  Not because he has helped you, but because he can take credit for any success you have brought. 

The mother-in-law looks to you to feel important.  Any success her son has is her success.  Anything you contribute is for the purpose of making her feel affirmed.  Even your children exist for her to boast about. 

Your “needy” friend looks to you to tell her that she is special in her need, special to you and to others.  Her needs are to be the primary needs in your life.  Her need warrants your time, energy, and attention.  Everything you do for her is to make her feel good about herself.

Why does the narcissist need this affirmation so much?  What is going on? 

The narcissist has two serious problems.  First, the narcissist has no inherent affirmation.  There is no inner voice that speaks love and affirmation for the narcissist.  Instead, he/she must work to hear that from others.  Contrary to what is often taught, the narcissist does not love himself.  He loves the pretend image of himself.  In his/her heart there is only self-condemnation. 

Second, the narcissist doesn’t see others as real.  We have talked about this depersonalization before.  Basically, it means the narcissist doesn’t value the opinions and contributions of others.  Everyone is phony or worthless, according to the narcissist. 

But, if the opinion of others is false or of no value, then the narcissist cannot receive the affirmations that come.  That means any affirmation, no matter how much the narcissist has worked to get it, sounds insincere or uninformed.  If you do praise the narcissist, which you must do, he thinks your opinion comes out of your stupidity or that you are lying. 

Now, think about that.  If the narcissist needs affirmation from others but cannot receive that affirmation in his heart, what does he do?  He strives harder to get something that feels good.  Consider the boss.  He pushes those below him to make him noticeable by those above him.  Then, when those above him give affirmation, he doubts and discredits them as well.  The boss believes they should have noticed him before, or they are just setting him up for something they want him to do for them. 

This continual loop of working for affirmation then rejecting it when it comes takes a great deal of energy from the narcissist and is extremely frustrating.  Hence, the anger, the sarcasm, the distance, the bitterness.  The narcissist suffers from an unsatisfying addiction.  He/she needs something but cannot receive it.  We could say that the narcissist’s need for addiction is insatiable.

Of course, each person handles this differently.  Some overt narcissists will strive harder and harder, burning out people in their lives quickly and recklessly.  Like other addicts, they believe there is satisfaction out there somewhere.  Because of their willingness to use others ruthlessly, they climb the business and organizational ladders.  Even when they reach the top, they are still striving for more.  So, we see these superstar businessmen, sports people, actors, and politicians doing things that seem stupid.  The billionaire who gets caught with prostitutes.  The academy award winner who hosts drug parties.  The music star who puts a hit on a rival.  The politician who cheats on his wife or who gets caught having sex with children.  These stories have become almost regular on our daily news. 

Some covert narcissists handle their insatiable addiction in much the same way.  The “sick” narcissist has more and more symptoms to attract more attention.  What seemed like hypochondria before has now become Munchausen, from pretend symptoms to self-inflicted harm.  Some have even injected themselves with or ingested things that cause serious damage.  Some even carefully fake suicide attempts.  Others harm their children to get attention as caregivers, something known as “Munchausen by proxy.”  We consider these extremes to be mental illness, but some of them are extensions of the narcissistic need for affirmation.

Others don’t take their need to these extremes.  They withdraw into themselves in anger and fear.  They become reclusive, sociopathic.  Their addiction smolders until it finds an outlet in some type of rage event.  They become dangerous and unpredictable. 

Most of us will never experience these severe cases, I hope.  But we should understand the level of pain the narcissist suffers in their unending search for satisfying affirmation.  Nor do I think this should foster compassion for narcissism in anyone.  Narcissists choose their lifestyle and behavior, at least they did at one time.  Just like other addicts, they ignored warnings and chose to cope with the difficulties they encountered in life by wrong behavior.  And their behavior hurt others.  While I don’t have a great deal of hope for change in the heart of a narcissist (except by coming to Jesus!) I do know that wrong behavior can be unlearned.  Narcissists who want to change, like other addicts, can find help to stop hurting others and themselves. 

Those who find themselves in relationship with a narcissism might do well to remember this addiction.  It explains most narcissistic behavior.  It also means you are not going to be able to help the narcissist.  He/she will only change when that change is desired.  Those who try to counsel narcissists should understand this addiction as well. 


I was contacted by a young man (who has become a friend) to do a podcast for his ministry. He read the book and wanted to explore the general topic a little more. That became over an hour of discussion and a promise to come back in a month for more. Dan Duval at Bride Ministries hosted and interacted with me. If you are interested in watching (bear with my first attempt at this), here’s the link:

If watching is hard and you would like to just listen, there is an audio version under the podcast window.

Book News

I have uploaded a different pdf for the Kindle version of the book. A couple people said that the other didn’t work for them. The problems they described didn’t fit with anything I could find as a normal problem. Someone at the Kindle Authors forum suggested that Word did not make good pdfs, so I made a new one through my pdf conversion software. I hope that helps!

The link to the ebook is:


Filed under Narcissism, Uncategorized

8 responses to “The Need for Affirmation

  1. Janet

    This explains so much so clearly!!!
    Thank you Dave!!

  2. 2birdman2

    Greetings Dave!
    I so enjoy reading your blogs… always enlightening and informative!!! I also had the opportunity to watch your podcast with Dan Duval… thank you for putting that together! that was extremely informative and I enjoyed listening to your discussion with Dan! one comment I will add to the discussion… the comment was made that the percentage of male narcissist vs female is about 75/25. I think sometimes that’s a little misleading because I do believe there are more female narcissist out there then is being reported… because of sometimes us prideful men don’t want to admit the fact that we are being abused or taken advantage of by a narcissistic wife or female boss… and I as a male dare not admit the fact that I need counseling:) just my thoughts…

    • I have thought about that statistic a lot. It seems that it is in the category of “general knowledge,” which may mean it is wrong but widely accepted. If we consider two things, we could certainly challenge the ration.

      First, this may only refer to overt narcissists. Given the number of moms and mil’s that have popped up in my communications, including covert narcissists may radically change the numbers.

      Second, the ratio may have been true at one time and is now dated. As women are rewarded more for aggression and control, as men have been for a long time, we may see more overtly narcissistic women. Roles and expectations are changing and these numbers may be changing as well.

      Add these to the unwillingness of men to admit being controlled or abused by a woman, as you say, and there may be even more reason to doubt that statistic.

      Very good, and important, point! Thanks!

      • 2birdman2

        I so appreciate all your efforts, your wisdom, advice, and Council! keep up the good work brother!!!

  3. G

    Here’s a question I’ve been thinking about for awhile: Do narcissists know that their behavior is aberrant? If narcissism is rooted in childhood shame and the narcissistic behavior is honed over time, do they recognize the hurt they are inflicting on others? Or do they see it as normal because it’s normal for them?

    • They know that others don’t act like them – sometimes. At other times, they suspect that everyone is even more jealous, deceitful, and cruel than they are. I don’t think they consider their own behavior aberrant, nor do they care about the hurt they cause others. They see cruel actions and words as tools to get the job done. That’s also how they see praise and kindness. Whatever works to get what they want. That’s how they can so abruptly change how they relate to a person. Most of them have to be taught that their behavior is harmful to others – and that others matter.

      In a marriage, for example, the narcissist is cruel and abusive until there is a threat of loss that matters. Sometimes spouses who leave find that it doesn’t matter to the narcissist. He/she just moves on to someone else. But some miss the services of a spouse and will adapt behavior to make them come back. So, again, they see behavior as a tool, rather than a moral issue. And, I suspect, most of them think others use behavior in the same way.

      • G

        That makes sense that they would view behavior no differently than people; just a tool to accomplish their purposes and to be discarded when no longer useful. Thank you, Pastor Dave!

  4. Kitkat

    Pastor Dave, I just watched the podcast on the Bride Movement site. Just wanted to let you know that I think you did very well. The big take away I got from the podcast was the ability to accept and grow from your failures. That resonated deeply with me. I know someone who started a drug program tell me once, when dealing with the opium crisis, that people need to learn that they have to deal with some pain in life. They insulate themselves with drugs for every little pain they feel instead of working through the pain. And we do the same with relationships. For many of the lucky ones, they recognize when something isn’t working and extricate themselves from toxic relationships. And then they deal with the pain and move on to healing.
    The narcissist friend that I had, has no longer been a part of my life for a few years now. And she is no longer in the church that I still go to. She left when she found that her behavior wasn’t getting her anywhere. And although, I don’t interact in the conversations on here as much as I once did, I still recommend this site to whomever presents problems as a result of a narcissistic relationship. My sister who is a counselor and teacher also recommends your site as an additional help to people she deals with in her work. Thank you so much for your much needed guidance in this difficult world. You help more people than you could possibly know. God Bless you in your ministry!

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