What’s the Narcissistic Supply?

September 19, 2019
Narcissists take for granted that their supply must feel, think, and act like them because, in their minds, the supply doesn't have an identity of their own. Instead, they're there just to please them at any time.

What exactly is the narcissistic supply? Before defining it, let’s first analyze the concept of narcissism: what does it mean to be a narcissistic person? 

The DSM-5 defines narcissistic personality disorder as a dominant pattern of grandiosity (in idealization or behavior). Narcissists need constant admiration from others and lack empathy. Starting in the first years of adulthood, in several different contexts, it essentially manifests as feelings of grandiosity and beliefs about being special and unique, with an excessive need for admiration.

It’s worth noting that, according to psychiatrist Otto Kernberg, narcissistic personality is a spectrum that goes from normal to pathological (narcissistic personality disorder, according to the DSM-5). Therefore, not all people with narcissistic traits suffer from the disorder. In fact, it depends on the degree of these personality traits.

Let’s explain some of the aspects to take into account about the narcissist and the narcissistic supply.

The narcissist’s main goal is their own well-being

Narcissists take advantage of their interpersonal relationships, meaning they always get what they want from people without caring how those people feel. Their main goal is their own well-being. Everyone else is just a tool to them.

Basically, they don’t care if their supply is going through a rough time or if they need their own space. Narcissists only think of meeting their own needs, even if that means overlooking the other person’s needs.

A narcissist man looking in the mirror.

What’s the narcissistic supply?

The narcissistic supply is a psychoanalytical concept first introduced by Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel in order to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support, or sustenance drawn by an individual from their environment that becomes essential to their self-esteem. 

In this sense, following the author’s definition, narcissists need a person to become their supply, a source of the things they themselves can’t get on their own. This source of “provisions” turns into an extension of themselves or, in other words, a part of them.

For this reason, there’s no boundary between the narcissist’s self and the supply’s self, meaning that the narcissist believes their supply has to feel, think, and act like them. In short, their supply has no identity of their own. Instead, they exist to please the narcissist.

Narcissists look for a supply to regulate their low self-esteem and as a way to sustain their “self”. Therefore, they constantly need reassurance for the image they portray: being grandiose, superior, with a unique and special attitude. Actually, behind that facade, there’s an insecure person, with low-self esteem, who needs the other person for support.

Narcissists want to get reactions from people

In an article by Mitja Back, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he makes a very interesting claim: “What attracts us in social partners, at first sight, is not necessarily what makes us happy in long-term relations. Even if narcissists have that bright, charming side, it’s often simply a matter of time before clouds come out. In short, there are two distinct trait dimensions: narcissistic grandiosity and vulnerability (or reactivity)”.

In other words, narcissists will probably show their more charming side to get what they want, and if people don’t behave as they expect them to, they’ll show their “uglier” side. Once they finally get what they want, they may act uninterested, distant, or angry.

Their change in attitude aims to get a reaction from the other person; a reaction that leads them to behave the way the narcissist expects. For example, if they arrange a meeting with someone on a particular day, and the other person can’t go, then the narcissist becomes distant because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted from that person. Their own needs are always above other people’s.

Two men talking about work. Narcissistic supply as colleagues.

Are you a narcissistic supply?

Sometimes, the narcissistic supply isn’t aware of what’s happening. Therefore, if you suspect that you or someone you know is falling victim to a narcissist, it’s a good idea to ask yourself the following:

Is it really important what I feel and think in my relationship with this person? Are my partner’s needs above mine? Do they act distant or angry when I don’t do what they expect me to do?

Maybe from these questions, you’ll realize whether you’re a narcissistic supply or not. If you do feel that your needs aren’t as important, it’s possible that you might want to set some boundaries with that person and start protecting yourself from any kind of abuse. Don’t forget that you and your needs are just as important.

  • Emmons, R.A.(1987). Narcissism: Theory and measurement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 11-17.
  • Kernberg, O.(1970). Factors in the treatment of narcissistic personality disorder. Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 18, 51-85.