Narcissists hunger to have their needs met. If you’re in a close relationship with a narcissist, they expect you to supply them. The term “narcissistic supply” is based on the psychoanalytic theory that concerns essential needs of babies and toddlers to maintain their mental and emotional equilibrium. Loss of necessary supplies in childhood can lead to depression and later attempts to get them through addiction and other means.
Narcissists’ deficient self and inner resources make them dependent on other people to affirm their impaired self-esteem and fragile ego. They only validate themselves as reflected in the eyes of others.
Despite their facade of confidence, boasting, and self-flattery, they crave attention, respect, and constant admiration and actually fear that they’re undesirable.
How Narcissists Get Their Supply
Other people are used as objects in order to provide their supply. Freud identified two main paths to fulfilling narcissistic supplies: Aggression and ingratiation. Eventually, he called them sadistic and submissive. To be admired and to get their supply, narcissists employ various strategies, including impression management. They ingratiate themselves using their charm, cognitive emotional intelligence, bragging, seduction, and manipulation. Receiving attention and admiration boosts their weak self and lack of self-esteem.
They manipulate and try to control what others think in order to feel better about themselves, making narcissists codependent on recognition from others. If you refuse to provide what they want and need, they resort to their secondary means: Aggression with narcissistic abuse. They go on the offensive, attack, and belittle you. By discounting you, in their eyes, their self-image is elevated. In relationships, they can become sadistic. As their abuse escalates, their partners and coworkers become passive and submissive to avoid coming under attack and to maintain the relationship. By assuming a submissive role, you establish, an unhealthy dynamic in relationships with a narcissist.
Types of Narcissistic Supply
Because their sense of self is determined by what others think of them, narcissists use relationships for self-enhancement. Everyone must feed them. In addition, they seek validation and attention in their public and professional life. Other people are used as objects in order to provide their supply. For example, they may need constant compliments or applause, more status and money, or may check their appearance in the mirror several times a day. Some examples of narcissistic supply are:
- Praise and compliments
- Accomplishments and professional success (even if by cheating or using unethical means)
- Financial gain by any means
- Status symbols, such as a big home, gold toilet, expensive car, 5-Star dining and hotels
- Acquaintances with celebrities, public figures, and other high-status people and institutions
- Wearing designer labels and expensive accessories and jewelry
- Using alcohol, drugs, or other addiction
- Provoking arguments, emotional reactions, and chaos
- Receiving awards
- Attention in the news or social media
- Being admired and loved by romantic partners
- Having a mate that is desired by others, such as a trophy wife or influential or successful spouse
- Expressions of gratitude
Narcissist’s Insatiable Needs
To a narcissist, like a drug addict, it’s survival. They crave recognition and have an insatiable need to be admired. Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut observed that his narcissistic clients suffered from profound alienation, emptiness, powerlessness, and lack of meaning. Beneath the surface, they lacked sufficient internal structures to maintain cohesiveness, stability, and a positive self-image to support a stable identity.
Narcissists’ early losses, emptiness, and needs are so great and painful that when not fulfilled, they mentally disintegrate. Thus their need for their supply is never-ending. They require continuous reassurance from those around them, but, like a parasite, no matter how much you give, it’s never enough to fill their emptiness and satisfy their hunger. Their need is constant and relentless. Like vampires who are dead inside, narcissists exploit and drain those around them. Once their charm wears thin, notice if you feel drained around a narcissist.
If you continue to sacrifice yourself for them, you, too, will feel empty and dead. You may start to experience what it was like for them to have an invasive, cold, or unavailable narcissistic parent. Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat in The Vampire Trilogy had such an emotionally empty mother, who devotedly bonded with him and used him to survive.
Trying to please them feels thankless, like trying to fill a bottomless pit. The hole is their inner emptiness, of which they’re unaware, but expect others to fill. Of course, it’s impossible. Instead, focus on meeting your own needs and healing your own emptiness.
Get Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships.
© 2021 Darlene Lancer
I find your work to be very educational and informative. But Im confused with the statement that narcissist use their “emotional intelligence “ to get their supply. I don’t feel they have true emotional intelligence.
From what I’ve seen and experienced they have very limited experience of a breadth of feelings. It’s all manipulation based on their needs. Many that I’ve worked with (& my own mother) have told me they don’t feel much outside of empty, anger, lust, some care – especially for their children- but that’s still about them because it’s “their children “. Even love for them is based on a need being met in a transactional sense. Can you please explain how they use their emotional intelligence to manipulate ? I’d like to learn more about your perspective on this. Maybe I have a blinder on. Thank you so much !
That is a good question. First, all narcissists differ in their degree of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and ability to empathize. These are two different skills. Research shows that they are high in the former and low in the latter. As explained here, their EI helps them manipulate others. For example, they know your weaknesses and how to upset you. They try to read your reactions to manipulate you. Their lack of concern makes them all the more dangerous.