Narcissistic Supply: Narcissist's Drug

Uploaded 8/4/2010, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Today we will discuss the complex concept of narcissistic supply.

We all search for positive cues from people around us. These cues reinforce in us certain behavior patterns.

There is nothing special in the fact that the narcissist also seeks positive feedback from his environment.

However, there are two major differences between the narcissist and a normal person.

The first difference is quantitative. The normal person is likely to welcome a moderate amount of attention, in the form of affirmation, approval, admiration, being singled out, praise. Too much attention, though, is perceived by a normal person as onerous and to be avoided.

Similarly, normal people avoid destructive and negative criticism.

Not so the narcissist. The narcissist is the mental equivalent of an alcoholic. He is insatiable. He directs his whole behavior, in fact his whole life, to obtaining these pleasurable tidbits of attention.

The narcissist uses this attention to create a coherent, completely biased picture of himself to himself. He uses narcissistic supply to regulate his labile and precarious sense of self-worth and his self-esteem.

How does a narcissist provoke people to give him attention? How does he elicit constant interest?

Well, he does it by projecting a confabulated, fictitious version of himself. This is known as the false self. The false self that the narcissist projects and pretends to be is everything the narcissist is actually not.

The false self is omniscient, all-knowing. It's all-powerful, omnipotent. It's charming. It's intelligent. It is rich. It is well endowed, well connected, talented, skilled.

The narcissist projects this false self and then proceeds to harvest reactions to the false self from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business partners and colleagues.

If the reactions that he secures by projecting the false self are not forthcoming or not sufficient, the narcissist demands people to give him admiration, adulation, attention, applause, affirmation. He demands it from them. He insists on it and in extreme cases he extorts people. Money complements a favorable critique, appearance in the media or a sexual conquest are all converted to the same currency in the narcissist's mind and it is this currency that I call narcissistic supply.

It is important to distinguish the various components and phases of the process or mechanism of narcissistic supply.

First there is the trigger of supply. That is anything that provokes a supply source into yielding narcissistic supply. By confronting the source with information about the narcissist's false self, the trigger generates narcissistic supply from the source.

Then there is of course the source of narcissistic supply. It is the person that provides the attention, the admiration, the adulation and finally there is the supply itself. It is the reaction of the source to the trigger.

Let us consider an example.

Publicity, whether celebrity or notoriety, whether being famous or being infamous, it does not matter. Publicity in any form is a trigger of narcissistic supply.


Because it provokes people to pay attention to the narcissist.

In other words publicity moves sources to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply. It causes them to yield narcissistic supply to the narcissist.

Publicity can be obtained by exposing oneself, by creating something or by provoking attention.

The narcissist resorts to all three repeatedly.

And what is an example of a source of narcissistic supply?

Well for instance the narcissist spouse or mate or companion or coworker or neighbor or media figure, journalist. These are all sources of narcissistic supply who are being manipulated by the trigger of narcissistic supply.

The picture is even more complicated because there are two types of narcissistic supply. There is primary narcissistic supply which is essentially attention.

Attention can be public, for instance fame, notoriety, infamy, celebrity. Attention can be private, interpersonal, for instance adoration, adulation, applause, fear, repulsion.

It is important to understand that attention of any kind, either positive or negative, constitutes primary narcissistic supply.

Infamy is as sought after by the narcissist as fame.

Narcissist seeks to be notorious and it is as good for him as being renowned or famous.

To the narcissist his achievements can be imaginary, fictitious or only apparent. As long as others believe in these accomplishments he doesn't mind.

Appearances count more than substance to the narcissist.

What matters is not the truth but the perception of the truth.

The narcissist is false. His self is false. His life is fake. He is interested in reactions, not in facts. Triggers of primary narcissistic supply include, apart from being famous, having an error of mystique when the narcissist is considered to be mysterious.

Having sex and deriving from it a sense of masculinity or virility. Or being close or connected to political, financial, military or spiritual power or authority. Or yielding this power.

All these are triggers of supply because when you have them you obtain supply from the environment.

Sources of primary narcissistic supply are all those who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a casual, random basis.

As opposed to primary narcissistic supply we have secondary narcissistic supply.

Secondary supply includes leading a normal life which is a source of great pride for the narcissist.

Having a secure existence for instance economic safety, social acceptability, upward mobility and obtaining companionship. All these are sources of secondary supply.

Thus for instance having a mate possessing conspicuous ostentatious wealth, being creative, running a business, possessing a sense of freedom, being a member of a group or a collective, having a professional or other reputation, being successful, owning property, flaunting one's status symbols, they all constitute secondary narcissistic supply.

And who are the sources of secondary supply?

They are those people who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a regular daily basis.

Spouse, friends, colleagues, business partners, teachers, neighbors and so on.

Both primary and secondary narcissistic supply and their triggers and their sources are incorporated into something that I call the pathological narcissistic space where the narcissist feels good.

It is the area of well-being where he is sure of getting narcissistic supply.

There are hundreds of forms of narcissistic supply, both primary and secondary.

And consequently there are hundreds of types of suppliers with specific functions. This is called emergent roles.

The narcissist trains and conditions his nearest and dearest to act these parts. He allocates scripts and narratives to his spouse, children, subordinates and dependence in accordance with their strong and weak points.

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

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

Smart, outgoing, independent offspring may be cajoled by the narcissist to accomplish impressive feats, thus enhancing the narcissist standing in the community and so on.

Narcissistic supply is the fuel that runs the narcissist's machine. It is the drug to which he is addicted.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Negative, Fake, Low-grade Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists crave attention, both positive and negative, and use it to regulate their sense of self-worth. They construct a false self and project it onto others to elicit admiration, adulation, and fear. Negative supply can become narcissistic supply when positive supply is scarce. Narcissists also crave punishment, which confirms their view of themselves as worthless and relieves them of the inner conflict they endure when they are successful.

Narcissistic Supply - How Does It FEEL?

Narcissistic supply is essential for the narcissist's self-regulation and maintaining a sense of grandiosity and perfection. It is a form of external regulation that stabilizes the narcissist's self-worth, moods, and emotions. The narcissist's dependence on narcissistic supply is akin to an addiction, providing a rush and sense of omnipotence. The pursuit of narcissistic supply involves idealizing sources of supply and is a crucial element in the narcissistic pathology.

Witnessing the Narcissist's Glory: Secondary Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists exist by reflection, living through the memories of others. The essence of secondary narcissistic supply is witnessing the narcissist's glory days, and the narcissist needs to be actively reminded of his achievements and moments of glory. Memories of past grandeur substitute for narcissistic supply, and the main function of people in the narcissist's life is to tell the narcissist how great he is because of how great he was. The disappearance of witnesses causes the narcissist to fade, and the narcissist is incapable of ever knowing himself except via and through other people.

Narcissist's Objects and Possessions

Narcissists have a complex relationship with objects and possessions, with some being accumulators who jealously guard their belongings and others being discarders who give away their possessions to sustain their sense of control. Objects provide emotional decor and elicit narcissistic supply, and the narcissist often compares people to the inanimate. Narcissists collect proofs and trophies of their sexual prowess, dramatic talent, past wealth, or intellectual achievements, and these objects operate through the mechanism of narcissistic branding. The narcissist is a pathogen who transforms his human and non-human environment alike, objectifying people and anthropomorphizing objects to optimize or maximize narcissistic supply.

Narcissist Re-idealizes Discarded Sources of Narcissistic Supply

Narcissists keep discarded sources of supply in reserve and seek them out when they have no other supply source. They frantically try to recycle their old sources and re-idealize them without admitting to having been mistaken in the first place. To preserve their grandiosity, they come up with a narrative that accommodates both the devaluing content and the re-idealized image of the source. If you are an old source of narcissistic supply, simply ignore the narcissist as indifference is what they cannot stand.

Two Narcissists in a Couple

Two narcissists of the same type cannot maintain a stable, long-term, full-fledged and functional relationship. Two narcissists of different types or opposing types can, often do, maintain long-term, stable and rather happy relationships. There are two main types of narcissists, somatic and cerebral. The somatic type of narcissist relies on his body and sexuality to generate attention, adulation and admiration, while the cerebral narcissist leverages his intellect, his intelligence and his professional achievements to obtain the same. Stable and enduring relationships can and often do develop between dissimilar narcissists.

How Narcissist Man Child Self Supplies

The narcissist is a ghoulish and sinister hybrid, an adult grafted onto a child. The narcissist is often described as a "man child", but he is actually neither. The narcissist juxtaposes wrongly, becoming an adult where he should have been childlike and vice versa. This misappropriation and misallocation of roles render him monstrous and freakish. The narcissist resorts to self-supply when external sources are depleted, using techniques such as reframing reality, creating an inflated self-perception, and converting negative supply to positive. Self-supply is a crucial maintenance phase in the narcissist's cycle of existence and is a mechanism of self-regulation that appears to be external regulation. It involves elements of hyper-reflexivity and magical thinking, reminiscent of certain dynamics in childhood

Narcissistic vs. Sadistic Supply

There are two types of supply that narcissists consume in order to regulate their internal environment: narcissistic and sadistic. Sadistic supply is a form of empowerment that caters to a highly specific type of grandiosity. Sadists are people who derive pleasure from the pain, discomfort, and humiliation of others. However, narcissists generally only seek narcissistic supply and are unlikely to engage in sadistic behaviors. Borderlines alternate between these two types of supply, depending on their self-state.

Why Narcissists Love Borderline Women and Why They Hate Them Back

Narcissistic mortification is a challenge to the false self, which crumbles and is unable to maintain defenses and pretensions. Narcissists use two strategies to restore some cohesiveness to the self: deflated and inflated narcissist. Narcissists engage in mortification, a form of self-mutilation, to feel alive and free from commitment to their false self. Narcissists seek out borderline women to mortify them and experience the unresolved primary conflict with their mother.

Narcissist’s Collapse, Narcissistic Supply The Nuances

Narcissistic collapse occurs when the narcissist cannot secure narcissistic supply. There are two types of collapse: total collapse when there is no narcissistic supply and partial or transitory collapse when the narcissist secures supply but is not happy with it. The collapse is triggered by disruptions in the process of eliciting narcissistic supply, and the narcissist needs both primary and secondary supply to avoid collapse. The collapse is a bridge and dynamic element in the narcissist's personality.

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