Narcissist’s Collapse, Narcissistic Supply The Nuances

Uploaded 10/4/2023, approx. 28 minute read

Narcissistic collapse occurs when the narcissist cannot secure narcissistic supply.

But it also happens when the narcissist does secure narcissistic supply of the wrong kind.

I call it deficient narcissistic supply.

So there are two types of collapse.

Total collapse when there is no narcissistic supply to be had in any way shape or form. Never mind what efforts, investments, commitments and attempts the narcissist makes. Nothing. No one is reacting to his cues. No one affirms his fantasies and confirms that his false self is not false.

So this is total collapse and then we have partial or transitory collapse which mediates the transition between types.

For example, from cerebral to somatic and back. Partial or transitory collapse occurs when the narcissist does secure supply.

Thus he is successful but he is not happy with the supply that he is getting.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I am a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies.

Let us delve right into the narcissist state of collapse.

Your favorite state I am sure.

Okay, first of all, to remind you, narcissistic supply includes all forms of attention.

Negative attention as well as negative attention, adulation as well as notoriety, adoration and applause as well as being feared, approval as well as being notorious and shamed and ostracized but in public.

Attention of any kind would do. Of course the narcissist prefers positive attention to negative attention.

Whenever the narcissist gets attention, positive or negative, whenever he is in the limelight it constitutes narcissistic supply.

If he can manipulate people, if he can influence people positively or negatively it also qualifies as narcissistic supply, this sense of empowerment or power.

And of course when I say he, it applies to a she, in equal measure.

Women have succeeded to match men in the diagnostic race. Half of all narcissists nowadays are female.

Even quarreling with people, even confronting people constitutes narcissistic supply.

Not the conflict itself but the narcissist's ability to influence other people, to modify their behaviors, to alter and dis-regulate their emotions, to make them feel the way he wants to manipulate them, Machiavellianism, to make them do something or refrain from doing something. All these count as forms of narcissistic supply.

Hence the phenomenon for example of serial litigators, trolls, stalkers, they are all narcissists in effect.

Now I mentioned collapse.

Collapse is a situation where the narcissist either is unable to obtain supply at all, which is total collapse or is able to secure only the types of supply that do not allow him to regulate his internal environment and most notably his sense of self-worth.

Start with real supply, Echt supply as opposed to Erzach's supply for those of you who are German speakers.

Real narcissistic supply is like high octane fuel to the narcissistic vehicle and yes I've written this in 1997. Spurious supply is contaminated fuel that damages the engine.

So we have two types, rate supply, spurious supply.

One is the right kind of fuel and the other destroys the engine.

Now we have also negative supply.

Negative supply should be distinguished from low grade or fake supply, which I will discuss in a minute. Spurious supply, wrong supply, Echt's narcissistic supply includes negative supply, low grade supply and fake supply and all these produce partial collapse and in many cases transition from one type of narcissist to another known as type inconstancy.

But what is negative supply?

Negative supply is when the narcissist receives feedback or input from the environment that challenges his self-image and self-perception, bursts his bubble.

This kind of supply eliminates the functioning of the false self or deactivates the false self.

Transition is an example, the most extreme example of negative narcissistic supply because the narcissist is getting attention but at the same time is being humiliated, in public, ashamed.

So negative supply is about grandiosity, the cognitive distortion, the narcissist's belief, conviction that he is somehow perfect, superior.

And so when this is challenged, especially in public, there is an element of supply here because there is exposure and there is attention but it's of the wrong kind.

Shaming and humiliating the narcissist.

This is negative supply.

Now don't confuse negative supply with narcissistic supply which consists of negative assessments.

So when the narcissist is feared, that's actually real supply.

The real thing, narcissists love to be feared.

When the narcissist is known as a mastermind, evil genius con artist, that's real narcissistic supply.

The narcissist loves it.

Narcissists like any kind of attention, seek any kind of attention that buttresses, upholds and supports their view of themselves, a special, unique, superior and perfect in any way, shape or form.

This kind of attention could be positive, it could be negative.

You are the world's greatest must-killer, a serial killer.

Great. You are the world's most amazing con artist.

Catch me if you can. Wonderful. You are a very frightening person. You are a bully. You are a thug. You are a dangerous criminal.

Yes, bring it on.

These are all forms of real supply.

And of course, the narcissist would prefer to obtain positive supply.

You are a genius. You are amazing. You are so good hearted, etc.

Yeah, narcissists would prefer this.

But in the absence of positive supply, negative supply does perfectly as well as positive supply.

Not a supply of negative assessments, supply of negative evaluations of the narcissist.

Not so negative supply.

Negative supply is shaming and humiliating the narcissist, challenging and undermining and destroying his grandiosity, usually in public or in front of others.

Now, low-grade narcissistic supply comes from sources which cannot be idealized.

No matter how hard the narcissist tries to idealize them, no matter to what extent he blocks out and denies the reality of these sources, they still cannot be idealized.

Stupid people. Poor people. I don't know. These kinds of sources of narcissistic supply are worthless in the eyes of the narcissist.

He is so vastly superior to them in his own mind that they have nothing to give him, which would be of any significance.

So any supply emanating from these kinds of people is low-grade narcissistic supply.

The type of narcissistic supply determines whether the source can be idealized or not.

In other words, not only the characteristics of the source matter, but also what kind of supply the source provides.

For instance, compliments on the narcissist's intellectual accomplishments dolled out to a cerebral narcissist by an intellectually challenged person would never pass master and would never qualify as narcissistic supply.

If someone who is, excuse me for the expression, retarded, tells me that I'm a genius, this kind of narcissistic supply means nothing, of course, because that person is not qualified to judge whether I'm a genius or not.

Is intellectually challenged, is intellect, is not up to the task.

So this is low-grade narcissistic supply.

So by now we have negative supply and we have low-grade supply.

And both of them, if they are the only forms of supply available, both of them create partial collapse.

The next type of supply is even worse, fake narcissistic supply.

Fake narcissistic supply is tinged with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

Factors of fake supply complement the narcissist, flatter the narcissist in order to manipulate the narcissist or some third person so as to accomplish a goal.

They flatter the narcissist because they want money. They complement the narcissist because they want him to do something for them.

These are manipulative people, Machiavellian people endowed with cold empathy.

The narcissist picks up on these true motivations.

He feels injured and slighted.

It's like, you think I'm stupid? You think I don't see right through you? You think you're not transparent to me? You think these complements and flattery will get you anywhere?

Says the narcissist.

Many narcissists test their sources of supply repeatedly.

Engineer situations intended to expose the sincerity or lack thereof of the supply and consistency and authenticity of the sources conduct.

So fake supply, all the above, all the above generate partial collapse if no real supply is available.

If there is a mixture of real supply and fake supply, real supply and low grade supply, real supply and negative supply, the narcissist survives because he has very strong psychological defense mechanisms such as denial, splitting, repression.

He simply slices off. He ignores the negative supply, the low grade supply, the fake supply and he recalls and focuses on the real supply.

He's able to devalue the sources of the negative or fake or low grade supply. He's able to forget, to forget these kinds of supply simply to dissociate.

So as long as there is a modicum, some real supply in the mix, their collapse is avoided.

But the minute the real supply dries up completely and all that's left is negative, fake and low grade supply, there is partial collapse.

And if these dry up also, if the narcissist is simply utterly ignored or shamed and humiliated to the point of being discarded by everyone, then there is a total collapse.

In the case of partial collapse, these engenders, this creates a transition between one type and another type inconsistency.

In the case of total collapse, it usually leads to mortification.

Now, continuing with the anatomy of collapsed states and partial collapse states, we should distinguish between static narcissistic supply and dynamic narcissistic supply.

Dynamic supply upholds, enhances, buttresses and abets the narcissist's grandiose and fantastic false self.

The contents of dynamic narcissistic supply and the identity of the sources of dynamic narcissistic supply conform to the narcissist's image of himself, his destiny, the evolution of his life, his cosmic mission, his superiority and his perfection, his godlike self perception.

Static supply fails to do all the above.

Despite the fact that it is largely positive, reliably recurrent and abundant, it does not contribute to the cementing, strengthening and empowering of the narcissist's grandiosity.

It keeps coming like waves, but this kind of supply, static supply, does nothing to kind of resuscitate the narcissist, sustain the narcissist and live in the narcissist.

So static supply is akin to hospital rations or junk food. It maintains the narcissist for a while, but as an exclusive diet, it results in narcissistic supply malnutrition, aka deficient narcissistic supply.

Static supply is repetitive. It is boring because it is predictable and it is pedestrian. It's hand-drawn. It does not propel the narcissist into new highs, nor does it reinflate him when he is down.

To elicit constant interest in him, the narcissist projects to others a confabulated, fictitious version of himself known as the false self.

The false self is everything that the narcissist is not. The false self is omniscient, omnipotent, charming, intelligent, irresistible, rich, well-connected and so on and so forth. It's all fiction.

But this is what the narcissist would have liked to have been. This is his ego ideal.

It's a form of self-idealization, usually in conjunction with an intimate partner, a process known as co-idealization.

So the narcissist needs to uphold this inflated, fantastic and frankly delusional or demented self image.

The delusions of grandeur, the megalomania, he needs to uphold this.

The only way to uphold this is to have other people tell him that this is not his imagination. This is not a fantasy. This is not delusional. He is really like this.

What's not just dreaming that he's a genius is actually a genius. This is real narcissistic supply.

It has to come from high grade sources in order to be effective and it has to be dynamic, not static, not repetitive, not predictable, not pedestrian, well-phrased, convincing, authentic sounding.

The narcissist then proceeds to harvest reactions to this projected image, the false self from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business partners, colleagues, you name it. Everyone is fair game and praying.

If these, the adulation, the admiration, the attention, being feared, being respected, applause, affirmation, if these are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them, extorts them, coerces people into providing them.

Money complements flattery, a favorable critique, an appearance in the media, a sexual conquest all converted into the same currency in the narcissist mind, the currency that I call narcissistic supply.

Originally, the phrase narcissistic supply was coined in 1937, a bit before I was born, but it had a totally different meaning at the time.

I borrowed it in 1995 and redefined it in the way that it is used today.

It is important to distinguish between the various components of the process of narcissistic supply if we are to understand collapse.

What happens when the narcissist's exclusive diet, exclusive incoming feedback and input is composed of low grade supply, fake supply, and negative supply.

There's no real supply coming in.

Similarly, if the narcissist's diet of narcissistic supply is 100% static and there's no dynamic invigorating, reviving, technical supply, dynamic supply, if there's only static supply, boring, predictable, gray, the narcissist would experience partial collapse.

In all these conditions, all these conditions lead to partial collapse.

But collapse is also triggered by disruptions in the procedure of eliciting narcissistic supply.

It is very important to distinguish between the various components of the process of narcissistic supply.

First, there is the trigger of supply.

A trader of supply is the person or the object that provokes the source of narcissistic supply into yielding narcissistic supply.

So the narcissist triggers sources of narcissistic supply into providing him with narcissistic supply.

He uses other people, aka flying monkeys in some situations. He uses third parties. He uses objects or money or something or promises or fantasy to convince potential sources of narcissistic supply, potential sources of real narcissistic supply, potential sources of high grade narcissistic supply to become actual sources of narcissistic supply.

It's a conversion process akin to a religious conversion.

So the narcissist confronts potential sources with information about his false self.

He's a grandiose statements of any kind of information that elevates the narcissist, renders him the epitome and reification of perfection and superiority.

He broadcasts this information to the potential source of supply and then uses a trigger of some kind to force, coerce, convince, cajole the source of supply to agree to assume the role of a source of supply and to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply.

So this is the triggering part.

A failure in any of the phases that I'm about to describe, including the triggering phase, generates collapse, mini collapse, partial collapse, relatively big collapse up to the point of a total collapse if none of these stages works.

So it starts with triggering.

The second stage in the process of eliciting narcissistic supply is the sourcing.

When the potential becomes actual, converted, the conversion is completed successfully, the other person becomes a source of narcissistic supply.

And the third phase is of course the absorption or reception or transmittal of narcissistic supply.

It's a reaction of the source to the trigger.

So what happens is the potential source of narcissistic supply is triggered by the narcissist, receives information from the narcissist about the narcissist superiority and perfection and so on, is converted into a source of supply and then reacts to the trigger by providing narcissistic supply.

If any of these phases fail, there is collapse, usually partial, sometimes total.

If the failure is humiliating, shaming is in public in front of significant others or peers, mortification would occur. Notification is another name for total collapse.

Now covert narcissists are in a constant state of partial collapse.

Remote narcissism is just another name for a narcissist who is constantly in partial collapse because he is inefficacious, he is unable to extract supply, real supply from his environment.

Publicity, celebrity or notoriety, being famous or being infamous is a trigger of narcissistic supply because it provokes people to pay attention to the narcissist.

In other words, if you're famous, if you're a celebrity, it moves other people, it motivates them to become sources and to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply.

That's why celebrities and so on, they have groupies. They have women, if they're male, they have women throwing themselves at them because they trigger their celebrity is enough to trigger a conversion process. They convert everyone around them into a source of supply and they generate supply nearly by existing or being there.

Publicity can be obtained by exposing oneself, by creating something or by provoking attention, famous for being famous. Narcissist results to all three strategists repeatedly, same way, drug addicts secure their daily dose. A mate, an intimate partner, a companion, spouse or even a good friend is automatically a source of narcissistic supply.

The trigger here is the shared fantasy.

One could reconceive of the shared fantasy as a triggering mechanism, very effective triggering mechanism.

But the picture is more complicated than even this because there are two categories of narcissistic supply and sources of narcissistic supply.

There's primary narcissistic supply, which is attention in both its public forms, fame, notoriety, infamy, celebrity, and in its private interpersonal forms.

Adoration, adulation, love, being loved, applause, being feared, being repulsion.

So all these forms of primary narcissistic supply.

It is important to understand that attention of any kind, positive or negative, as long as it comes from a high grade source is not fake and it does not undermine or challenge grandiosity.

So attention of any kind that buttresses grandiosity. This kind of attention constitutes primary narcissistic supply.

So infamy and notoriety is as sought after by the narcissist as is fame or celebrity. Being notorious is as good as being renowned.

To the narcissist, his accomplishments, his achievements can be imaginary, can be fictitious, can be only apparent. The narcissist can plagiarize other people's work, steal their ideas, and he would think nothing of it as long as others believe in his fiction.

So a narcissist would steal someone else's ideas and pretend that they are his. As long as he convinces other people that these ideas are his, he doesn't really care. Appearances count more than substance. Reality counts less than fantasy.

What matters is not the truth, but the perception of the truth. It's all about impression management.

Public supply comes in two forms, animate, direct, and inanimate, indirect.

Inanimate supply is composed of all expressions of attention which are communicated inpersonally, not in person.

For example, in written form via third parties, in the form of likes. These are all expressions of attention, but this kind of attention is inanimate.


And aggregate measures of popularity and fame also constitute inanimate narcissistic supply.

Number of friends on Facebook or followers on Instagram or subscribers on YouTube, views on YouTube, number of readers of a blog, all these are forms of inanimate narcissistic supply.

Inanimate supply requires an interpersonal interaction with the source of narcissistic supply in the flesh.

To sustain his sense of self-worth, the narcissist requires both types of supply, both animate and inanimate, but especially the animate variety.

The narcissist needs to witness firsthand the impact that his false self has on other people, on living, breathing, flesh and blood, human sources, and on his immediate human environment.

So a narcissist whose narcissistic supply is confined to inanimate supply would experience partial collapse. The narcissist whose interactions are limited to a screen who receives supply only via conduits and intermediaries and third parties would experience partial collapse.

That's why I keep saying all narcissists are pro-social and communal.

They end up hurting people. They end up harming people because of who they are, but their propensity, their proclivity is to collaborate with other people. They need other people. They're addicted to other people. They're dependent on other people.

Only other people can provide them with real narcissistic supply and prevent extremely painful collapse or even mortification.

So it's distinct from the psychopath.

I mentioned triggers.

Triggers of narcissists whose supply, you remember the process, the three stage process, triggering, conversion, provision.

Narcissist triggers potential source, potential source is converted into an actual source and then provides supply.

Triggers of narcissistic supply include being famous, a celebrity, being notorious, infamous, having an air of mystique when the narcissist is considered to be mysterious, having sex and deriving from it a sense of masculinity, virility, femininity, whatever, being close or connected to political, financial, military or spiritual powers, having authority, being authoritative or an expert.

So all these are triggers of supply because these are capsules, encapsulated information that often triggers other people to give you compliments or to flatter you, flatter you or to be in awe, respect you. These are all triggers.

Triggers of narcissists whose supply are all those people who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a casual or random basis or a regular and repetitive basis.

Secondary narcissistic supply because we've dealt and hitherto we've dealt with primary supply.

Secondary narcissistic supply includes, for example, leading a life that appears to be normal, functional. This is a source of great pride for the narcissist.

The narcissist would say, you see, I'm married, I have children, I have a job, I'm okay, I'm settled. Having a secure existence, economic safety, social acceptability, upward mobility or amazing business accomplishments, obtaining companionship and friendship from others. So these are all secondary sources.

The narcissist is a lot more focused on self-regulating and on regulatory attention, externally regulating attention. The narcissist is a lot more interested in obtaining primary narcissistic supply, aka attention positive or negative.

Secondary narcissist supply is nice. It's the icing on the cake.

So yeah, narcissist would feel fulfilled, happy, content if and when he has succeeded to secure both primary and secondary supply.

So having a mate or spouse possessing conspicuous wealth or stentingly flaunting it, being creative, running a business. The business of course is a form of pathological narcissistic space.

Possessing a sense of anarchic freedom, libertarian freedom, being a member of a group or a collective belonging affiliation, having a professional or some other reputation, being successful, owning property, flaunting one's status symbols, they all constitute secondary source of supply.

Protection of objects is also a secondary source of supply.

The sources of secondary narcissistic supply are all those people who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a regular basis.

This is a very important distinction.

The sources of primary narcissistic supply are usually casual and random.

So in theory, there could be people who are primary sources of supply and provide regular attention and so on.

But more commonly, it's a group with an ever shifting membership.

So fans, groupies, they come and go.

But sources of secondary narcissistic supply are firmly embedded in the narcissist's life on a regular basis.

So we're talking about spouses, close friends, colleagues, business partners, teachers, neighbors and so on, parishioners.

But these distinctions between primary and secondary narcissistic supply, they all incorporate in what I call pathological narcissistic spaces.

These are physical spaces. These are the stomping grounds, the hunting grounds of the narcissist.

He goes there to elicit supply, to coerce supply, to convince, to control, to beg for supply.

Exactly like political campaigning.

So this is the pathological narcissist space.

It could be the neighborhood pub. It could be the narcissist's workplace. It could be his residence, his home.

Any failure in any of these elements, inability to secure primary supply because the narcissist is ignored and abandoned and forgotten, inability to secure secondary supply because the narcissist is alone, has no friends, has no family.

So there's no secondary supply. There's no primary supply because no one pays attention to him anymore.

All these generate collapse, total collapse or partial collapse.

Depending on the extremity and the intensity of the deficiency.

Similarly a failure to create a pathological narcissistic space, an inability to convince an audience that the narcissist is amazing, fascinating, superior, brilliant, perfect, laughable, irresistible, this kind of failure to convince groups of people within a confined space also leads to collapse.

As you can see, there are dozens of forms of narcissistic supply and consequently dozens of types of suppliers with specific functions. I call these emergent narcissistic supply roads.

The narcissist trains and conditions his nearest and dearest to enact these roles. This is role play. The narcissist engages in role play and expects everyone around him to play a role in his self-eternal theater production, eternal movie. The narcissist allocates scripts and narratives to his spouse, to his children, to his subordinates, to his dependents, to his friends, to his colleagues, to his neighbors, to his service providers, you name it. Everyone is to act according to the script. The script is tailored to reflect the weak and the strong points, the advantages and disadvantages, the shortcomings and flaws and the superior points in each and every one of these participants.

It is a personality of the source of supply that determines which type of supply he or she is supposed to provide.

So a shy, insecure and reticent child may be prevailed upon by the narcissist to admire and submissively serve the narcissist.

But a smart, outgoing and independent offspring may be cajoled to accomplish impressive feats, enhancing the narcissist standing in the community.

These are examples of tailoring the script.

Again, when people reject the script, when they rebel against the script imposed on them by the narcissist, implicitly or explicitly, the narcissist experience collapse, partial or total.

You can see the phenomenon of collapse is much more nuanced and much more complex than you are led to believe by self-styled online experts and even by scholarly texts.

There is a confluence between total collapse and phenomena such as mortification between partial collapse and narcissistic injuries between these two.

And, for example, type in constancy, transitioning from one type to another, covert to overt, somatic to cerebral, vice versa.

So thesethe phenomenon of collapse is the bridge. It is the dynamic element in the narcissist personality.

Narcissist personality is rigid and very inert and static. It's the collapse that jump starts the narcissist each and every time.

In order to become the narcissist, first, has to vanish.

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