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The Concept of Narcissistic Supply

Chapter 6

Women possess things that the heterosexual narcissist needs.

They have the biologically compatible equipment for sex. They provide emotional comfort through their friendship and love. This kind of emotional support and companionship is not available from any other source.

But, as we said, in the narcissist's world, to need is to be inferior. To admit to the existence of a universal need, means to compromise one's uniqueness. To be in need of a woman is equated with being inferior and with being a commoner.

The narcissist - aware of this negating power reified and possessed by women - envies them for being emotionally more adept. He is also mad at them for creating in him this conflict between needs and the price he has to pay to satisfy them (feelings of inferiority, loss of uniqueness, etc.).

Moreover, to satisfy his need of women, the narcissist has to convince them to be with him. In other words, he has to promote himself and to win them over. This casts women as judges. They are granted the power to compare, evaluate, rate, adjudicate, accept, reject, or abandon. They possess the capacity to hurt the narcissist by rejecting him or by abandoning him - and he feels that they flaunt their power. This realisation cannot coexist with the narcissist's conviction that he is omnipotent.

To restore the proper balance of power, the narcissist must frustrate women. He must re-acquire his superior position of being judge, jury, and sole decision-maker. Women are anti-narcissistic agents. They are perceived by the narcissist to possess unnatural powers of mental penetration and insight, the kind that might reach the narcissist's TRUE Self. This is a real threat. These ostensible and ominous "supernatural" capacities evoke strong emotional reactions in the narcissist.

These reactions may appear to be focused on certain features of the feminine anatomy (vagina, feet, breasts) in the form of fetishes. Many narcissists are fetishists and even (more rarely) cross-dressers. But usually they more diffusely target women as an abstract category.

We already said that the narcissist feels inferior in the presence of women, that his conviction of omnipotence is effected, that he is envious of women's emotional skills, and that he feels that his uniqueness is at risk. The narcissist also becomes very angry. Enraged, to be precise. All this is accompanied by the eternal "background emotion": the fear of being exposed as an impostor, a fake.

This rage, deeply explored, leads to the very heart of that darkness, the narcissist's soul.

All of us search for positive cues from people around us. These cues reinforce in us certain behaviour patterns. There is nothing special in the fact that the narcissist does the same. However there are two major differences between the narcissistic and the normal personality.

The first distinction is quantitative. The normal person is likely to consume a moderate amount of social approval - verbal and non-verbal - in the form of affirmation, attention, or admiration. The narcissist is the mental equivalent of an alcoholic. He asks for more and yet more. He directs his whole behaviour, in fact his life, to obtain these pleasurable titbits of human attention. He embeds them in a coherent, completely biased, picture of himself. He uses them to regulate his labile sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

He projects to others a confabulated, fictitious version of himself, known as the False Self. The False Self is everything the narcissist is not: omniscient, omnipotent, charming, intelligent, rich, or well-connected.

The narcissist then proceeds to harvest reactions to this projected image from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbours, business partners and social milieu, or from colleagues. If these - the adulation, admiration, attention, fear, respect, applause, affirmation - are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them, or extorts them. Money, compliments, a favourable critique, an appearance in the media, a sexual encounter are all transformed into the same currency in the narcissist's mind.

This currency is what I call Narcissistic Supply (NS).

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

  1. The trigger of supply is the person or object that provokes the source into yielding narcissistic supply by confronting the source with information about the narcissist's False Self.
  2. The source of narcissistic supply is the person that provides the narcissistic supply
  3. Narcissistic supply is the reaction of the source to the trigger.

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, it moves sources to provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply). Publicity can be obtained by exposing oneself, by creating something, or by provoking attention. The narcissist resorts to all three repeatedly (as drug addicts do to secure their daily dose). A mate or a companion is one such source of narcissistic supply.

But the picture is more complicated. There are two categories of Narcissistic Supply and their Sources (NSS):

The Primary Narcissistic Supply is attention, in both its public forms (fame, notoriety, infamy, celebrity) and its private, interpersonal, forms (adoration, adulation, applause, fear, repulsion). It is important to understand that attention of any kind - positive or negative - constitutes Primary Narcissistic Supply. Infamy is as sought after as fame, being notorious is as good as being renowned.

To the narcissist his "achievements" can be imaginary, fictitious, or only apparent, as long as others believe in them. Appearances count more than substance, what matters is not the truth but its perception.

Triggers of Primary Narcissistic Supply include, apart from being famous (celebrity, notoriety, fame, infamy) - 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, and being close or connected to political, financial, military, or spiritual power or authority or yielding them.

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

Secondary Narcissistic Supply includes: leading a normal life (a source of great pride for the narcissist), having a secure existence (economic safety, social acceptability, upward mobility), and obtaining companionship.

Thus, having a mate, possessing conspicuous wealth, being creative, running a business (transformed into a Pathological Narcissistic Space), possessing a sense of anarchic freedom, being a member of a group or collective, having a professional or other reputation, being successful, owning property and flaunting one's status symbols - all constitute secondary narcissistic supply as well.

Sources of Secondary Narcissistic Supply are all those who provide the narcissist with narcissistic supply on a regular basis: spouse, friends, colleague, business partners, teachers, neighbours, and so on.

Both these primary and secondary Narcissistic Supply and their triggers and sources are incorporated in a Narcissistic Pathological Space.

When the narcissist loses one or more of these sources he reacts with dysphoria. Dysphoria is an element within a larger emotional reactive pattern. This emotional barrage provokes self-healing through avoidance and escapism. I call this reactive pattern the Reactive Repertoire.

The Reactive Repertoire is fairly rigid and linear. It develops gradually. It comprises a change of framework, of location (geographical change), job, marriage partner, profession, vocation or avocation. The Reactive Repertoire is a change in the substantial parameters in the narcissist's life.

Such change is accompanied by the inner feeling that normalcy is restored. This is a false sensation. Change alone does not normalcy make, nor are the deep-seated problems of the narcissist thus resolved. But the very alternation makes the narcissist feel that he is breathing "fresh air" again, that his life is on a mend, and that he is in control.

The last element in the Reactive Repertoire is false or faux accomplishments. The narcissist convinces himself - by first persuading others - that he is in the process of making great progress towards one or more significant achievements.

It is easy to mistake the Reactive Repertoire for an NSS-reconstruction mechanism. It is not. Its main purpose is neither to regain NSS for the narcissist, nor to find any NSS substitutes. True, apparent achievements and apparent normalcy are sources of comfort to the always self-deluded narcissist. But comfort does not amount to Narcissistic Supply.

The aim of the Reactive Repertoire is to take some time off the highly taxing and energy wasting narcissistic game. This breather is obtained by changing places or contexts, by evading the scene of a failure, by hitting upon an alibi to justify the continual absence of NSS.

The Reactive Repertoire is the physical dimension of the narcissist's constant evasion of life and reality. Granted, the creation of a false pretence of normalcy and the faking of achievements do elicit admiration, appreciation, or celebrity. But this is a form of escapism. The narcissist represses the knowledge that it is all feigned.

Understandably, all these measures are temporary. They do not deal with the heart of the problem: with the narcissist's neediness, with his Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is why the narcissist is doomed to repeat the same tiresome, familiar cycles of absence and escape.

The dilapidation, or disappearance of NSS creates a conflict within the narcissist which manifests itself through anxiety and, ultimately, through dysphoria-depression. The Reactive Repertoire "resolves" this conflict and eases the ensuing tension and anxiety. Yet, it does not tackle the underlying reasons.

In other words, the Reactive Repertoire is an analgesic. It negates the narcissist's dysphoria-depression for a limited period of time. But because it does nothing to create alternative NSS it is, usually, not long before it loses its utility. The dysphoria-depression is back with a vengeance. This time the narcissist is forced to create new Sources of Narcissistic Supply. These, in turn, are again lost to him and provoke a new crisis, which brings about another Reactive Repertoire.