My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Normal people are likely to welcome a moderate amount of attention, both verbal and nonverbal, in the form of affirmation, approval or even admiration.
But too much attention is perceived as onerous and to be avoided. Destructive and negative criticism is avoided altogether.
The narcissist, in contrast, is the mental equivalent of an alcoholic. He is insatiable. He directs his whole being, his whole behavior, in fact his life, to obtaining these pleasurable tidbits of attention. He embeds these into a coherent, completely biased picture of himself. He uses them to regulate his lab, sense self-worth, self-esteem.
To elicit this constant interest, this flood of attention, the narcissist projects onto others a confabulated, fictitious version of himself known as the false self.
The false self is simply everything that the narcissist is not and would have liked to be. The false self is omniscient, knows everything. It's omnipotent, it's all powerful, it's charming, it's intelligent, it's brilliant, it's rich, it's well connected and so on.
Having constructed the false self, having projected it, the narcissist then proceeds to harvest reactions to this projected image from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business partners, colleagues, and even passers-by.
If these reactions, the adulation, admiration, attention, fear, respect, applause, affirmation, if these are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them or extorts them from others.
Money, compliments, a favorable critique, an appearance in the media, sexual conquest are all converted into the same currency in the narcissist mind and it is this currency that I call narcissistic supply.
But what happens if the supply is negative? What happens if the outcome of the projection of a false self gathers negative narcissistic supply, attention but negative? What happens if the narcissist is, instead of being loved, being feared? What happens if he is criticized? What happens if he is belittled, demeaned, bashed, chastised?
All these negative inputs.
Well, under normal circumstances, the narcissist will rage and will eliminate or deny these inputs from his mind. He will negate, obviate, or depreciate the sources of such negative supply.
But when positive supply is scarce or nowhere to be found, even negative supply can become narcissistic supply.
Narcissistic supply includes all forms of attention, both positive and negative, fame and notoriety, adulation and fear, applause and approval and derision. Whenever the narcissist gets negative, whether positive or negative, whenever he is in the limelight at the center of attention, it constitutes narcissistic supply.
If he can manipulate people or influence them, either positively or negatively, it qualifies as narcissistic supply.
Of course, a narcissist prefers positive input. It prefers positive narcissistic supply.
But worse comes to worse, negative supply would do.
Even quarreling with people and confronting them constitutes narcissistic supply.
Perhaps not the conflict itself, but the narcissist's ability to influence other people, to make them feel the way he wants, to manipulate them, to make their life hell, to make them do something or refrain from doing something. All these count as forms of narcissistic supply and this is hence the phenomenon of serial litigators.
But negative supply should be distinguished from low grade supply and faith supply.
Low grade narcissistic supply comes from sources which the narcissist cannot idealize, sources that cannot be idealized, no matter how hard the narcissist tries and to what extent he blocks out and denies reality and countervailing input.
No matter what he does, no matter how hard he works, he cannot idealize certain sources.
The type of narcissistic supply determines whether its source can be idealized or not.
For instance, if the narcissist receives compliments on his intellectual achievements, but the source of these compliments is an intellectually challenged, not to say retarded person, this kind of supply would not pass master and would never qualify as narcissistic supply. A retarded or intellectually challenged person cannot compliment the narcissist on his intellectual achievements because the narcissist regards him as not qualified, regards this source as not qualified to do so. It's a low grade source with a low grade supply.
Fake narcissistic supply is tinged with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.
Sources of fake supply compliment the narcissist in order to manipulate him to do something or to manipulate some other third person or in order to accomplish some goal.
Endowed with cold empathy, the narcissist picks up on these true motivations and he feels injured and slighted and humiliated.
Many narcissists test their sources of supply repeatedly. They engineer situations intended to expose the sincerity or lack thereof of the supply source and the consistency and authenticity of the source's conduct.
All in all, would we say that the narcissist wants to be liked? Not really. It's not about liking. It's about attention.
Would you wish to be liked by your television set or refrigerator?
To the narcissist, people are mere tools akin to television sets and refrigerators. They are objects, sources of supply.
If in order to secure this supply, the narcissist must be liked by them, he acts likable, empathetic, helpful, collegial, friendly.
If the only way to garner narcissistic supply is to be feared, the narcissist makes sure that they fear him.
He does not really care either way as long as he is being attended to.
Attention, whether in the form of fame or infamy, is what it's all about.
Narcissist world revolves around this constant mirroring, this constant craving, I am seen, therefore I exist, he thinks to himself.
But the classic narcissist also craves punishment. His actions are aimed to elicit social opprobrium and sanctions. His life is a Kafkaist, ongoing trial, and the never-ending proceedings are in themselves a punishment.
Being penalized, reprimanded, incarcerated, abandoned, serve to vindicate and validate the internal damning voices of the narcissist's sadistic, ideal and immature super-ego.
These voices were actually the voices of his parents, caregivers, and peers, or role models. These voices judged him and found him wanting.
And then the narcissist, at an early age, internalized, introjected these voices and became part of him.
So being punished confirms the narcissist's view of himself as worthless.
Don't misunderstand me. Consciously, the narcissist firmly believes in his superiority, invincibility, brilliance, power.
But unconsciously, deep down there, he was stalled and he came to believe that he is worthless.
Punishment relieves him from the inner conflict that he endures when he is successful. The conflict between the knowing feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame, and the need to relentlessly secure narcissistic supply.
Not easy, nor is it fun to be a narcissist. It would seem.