Narcissists are externally validated, and for that reason, they need a constant supply of adoration to prop up what is really a very fragile ego. They don’t have an internal support system, and therefore, they rely on the people in their life to provide them with this narcissistic supply of praise.
Because of their charm, the narcissist is usually able to find a partner fairly easily, however, eventually, the narcissist is no longer able to keep up the act and the relationship usually ends.
Without their narcissistic supply, the narcissist essentially loses their identity, and like anyone who loses their sense of self, they begin to experience a level of decompensation. In this state, they can become agitated, depressed, anxious, and even dangerous as their personality implodes.
To better understand how important their narcissistic supply is to a narcissist, let’s explore the reasons they need their supply and how it affects their behavior. We’ll also discuss what can happen if their supply is cut off.
Why Does a Narcissist Need Their Supply?
Narcissism typically develops because of childhood trauma or experiences that resulted in the inability of the narcissist to fully develop a sense of self. As a result, they constructed a false self through which they can safely filter their life experiences and relationships.
The false self becomes a kind of safeguard that performs the functions of the narcissist’s dysfunctional true self. In healthy people, the ego, or true self, helps them ‘recognize’ the world, set boundaries, form their identity and self-esteem, and regulate their self-worth. The narcissist doesn’t have a healthy ego, so those basic functions are performed by the false self.
It is the only part of the narcissist that is in touch with the outside world. The true self remains a shadow and isolated and repressed, having been relegated to the narcissist’s subconscious long ago.
The egoic functions of healthy people happen internally, but for the narcissist, they must import those functions via the false self from their surroundings.
Because of that, they confuse their internal psychological landscape with that of the outside world. In a sense, they are merging their mind and their external environment.
In that case, people in their life become nothing more than extensions of their own mind. As such, they are sources for their external validation that props up their internal world.
The narcissist needs their input to continue to support the false self which is the only way they can form their own identity. They are terrified of losing that supply because they use it to perform basic functions that the true self does in healthy people.
How Does a Narcissist Utilize Their Supply?
The purpose of the false self, therefore, is to find sources of that all-important narcissistic supply. Because the narcissist’s ego — their sense of self — was never fully developed, the only way a narcissist can achieve constancy is through the feelings generated by the false self.
The false self collects reflections gathered from interactions with other people and assembles them into a kind of patchwork of information that the narcissist uses to buttress and support their grandiose self-image. That’s why the false self denies the existence of the true self and is perpetually striving to ensure a constant flow of narcissistic supply.
What Happens If Their Narcissistic Supply is Cut Off?
When the narcissistic supply is cut off and the narcissist is forced to interact with their true self, it can be an extremely destabilizing and even dangerous situation. This is when it’s possible for a narcissist to become dangerous to themselves or other people.
As psychologist Phyllis Antebi notes, “Without narcissistic supply on an ongoing basis, the glue that holds their world together loses strength and the personality begins to implode.” Without their narcissistic supply, the narcissist can’t respond or adapt to what they perceive to be threats or any life crises.
For that reason, you could see a number of different reactions from a narcissist if they have lost their supply. They may become enraged and display their characteristic narcissistic rage as they seek to force you into staying in their life.
Another thing they will also do is promise to make the changes you want them to make, but this is not because they have realized they were wrong. They just want to find a way to get you to agree to continue interacting with them. Any changes they make are not likely to stick, and most of the time this tactic just serves to delay the inevitable.
If all else fails, the false self will go on another search for someone new to supply them with what they need to maintain their grandiose identity. Because they have learned to use their charm to attract someone into their life, they are usually able to find another person to step in and provide them with their narcissistic supply.
Are There Different Kinds of Narcissistic Supply?
There are, in fact, different kinds of narcissistic supply. In its purest sense, narcissistic supply is attention that makes the narcissist feel special, but it’s very similar to an addiction. That’s why they react so emotionally if it is threatened. As explained by Jill, The Enlightened Target, not all narcissistic supply is equal.
Premium Narcissistic Supply
The best kind of narcissistic supply is attention from someone the narcissist actually admires. This type of supply is the most satisfying type. If you are someone they admire, they want to get a more intense and positive supply from you than from other people in their life. They want you to like them and give them positive feedback.
If someone they admire begins to react negatively to the narcissist, this can create a crisis in their life. It can throw them into a profound depression and trigger their rage. They will usually try to resolve the situation by love-bombing this person to get them to return to that positive relationship.
If that doesn’t work, however, they may decide to take down the person they admire to show everyone that they are even better than that person. Negative attention is better than no attention at all.
Regular Narcissistic Supply
If they can’t get their narcissistic supply from someone they admire or if they don’t get enough positive supply from that person, they will take it from anyone they can find. With someone that they don’t necessarily admire, they aren’t as concerned about whether the attention they receive is positive or negative.
If you fall into this category of a provider of narcissistic supply, the narcissist will just as readily seek to devalue you rather than trying to get you to admire and adore them.
In their mind, if they are criticizing and devaluing you, that is showing everyone else around them how superior they are by comparison.
If you adore them, that’s nice, but if you’re not someone they admire, the supply you provide them is not as high in quality as what they get from someone they see as a role model.
Without extensive therapy and ongoing personal growth, narcissists simply can’t do without their supply.
Until such a time as they would be able — with therapeutic help — to construct a functioning ego or true self, they can only experience the world through their false self. That means they need their narcissistic supply to prop up their fragile and carefully constructed grandiose identity.
With this understanding of the narcissist’s need for their supply, you might be interested in this article about 5 ways you can get a narcissist to leave you alone.
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