What is Narcissistic Supply?

In almost every article you read on narcissism you will find plenty of references to “Narcissistic Supply”. What is it? Why do narcissists crave it?

Narcissistic Supply is “a psychological concept which describes a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment. The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people”  (Wikipedia definition).  Narcissistic Supply is a term which refers to the attention that narcissists crave.

What is Narcissistic Supply?

Narcissistic Supply is anything that builds the narcissist’s ego up and re-affirms his feelings of superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement.  Examples include:

  • adulation
  • compliments
  • admiration
  • subservience
  • attention
  • being feared
  • approval
  • affirmation
  • respect
  • applause
  • celebrity status
  • money
  • media notice
  • sexual conquest

Why do Narcissists Crave Supply?

We are born social creatures and, at least occasionally, we all need to hear positive things about ourselves or receive positive nonverbal cues from others.

As long as we get positive strokes occasionally, we are able to carry on with our work or family in relative contentment.

However, this basic human need for positive attention from others becomes distorted and exaggerated in the hands of a narcissist.

Typically a person welcomes a mild to moderate amount of attention usually in the form of affirmation, approval, or admiration.

Too much attention paid to oneself, though, makes the person feel uncomfortable. Negative attention or criticism is typically avoided and makes the person even more uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the narcissist is like an alcoholic or a drug addict when it comes to attention. He is insatiable and seeks out attention as if it were his drug of choice.

He does not get uncomfortable with it, no matter how much he gets (it is never enough) or whether it is positive or negative.

Narcissists generally have no intrinsic or “built-in” sense of self-worth so they rely on other people, via attention or Narcissistic Supply, to re-affirm their greatness in order to feel good about themselves.

The narcissist projects a false self to elicit a steady stream of attention or Narcissistic Supply from others.

The False Self is an imaginary façade or mask that he shows to the world that includes what the narcissist wants to be seen as:  powerful, charming, intelligent, rich, or well-connected.

The narcissist then ‘collects’ reactions to this projected False Self from spouse, family, friends, colleagues, business partners and peers.

If the expected Narcissistic Supply is not forthcoming- (adulation, admiration, attention, fear, respect, applause, or affirmation) – the narcissist demands them, or extorts them.

Money, compliments, a media appearance, a sexual conquest are all simply various forms of the same thing to a narcissist-Narcissistic Supply.

Two types of Narcissistic Supply and Sources

There are two types of Narcissistic Supply with their own means of being obtained (sources).

Authors and researchers typically identify two main types of Narcissistic Supply:

Primary, which is obtained through more publicly-oriented forms of attention, and Secondary, which usually comes through attention achieved in the course of interpersonal relationships.

Primary Narcissistic Supply

Primary Narcissistic Supply is attention gained through public forms (fame, notoriety, infamy, celebrity) and through private or 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”.

The narcissist’s achievements can be imaginary or outward fraud but he will bask in them as long as others believe them to be true.

Truth does not matter to the narcissist, only the perception matters. Appearance is more important than substance; in fact, it is the only thing that counts to a narcissist.


Triggers of Primary Narcissistic Supply include being famous (celebrity, notoriety, fame, infamy),

having an air of mystique, having a sense of masculinity/virility/femininity by having sexual prowess, and being connected to (or exerting) power through politics, finances, military, or spirituality.

Narcissists will manipulate and exploit others to keep their Narcissistic Supply coming in.

The narcissist may do this subtly through sexual seduction, fear, obligation, guilt, and the silent treatment or forcefully through lies, threats, or simply discarding the person if their Supply source is used-up.

Sources of Primary Narcissistic Supply are all the people who provide him or her with Narcissistic Supply on a casual, random basis.

Secondary Narcissistic Supply

Secondary Narcissistic Supply includes ‘leading a normal life’ (which is, surprisingly, a source of great pride for the narcissist),

having a secure existence (financially secure, social acceptability, upward mobility), and obtaining companionship.

Secondary Narcissistic Supply includes things such as having a spouse or partner, possessing and flaunting obvious wealth,

being creative, running a business, being a prominent member of a group, having a professional or other reputation, and generally being successful.

The narcissist seeks status symbols and will display them conspicuously.

Sources of Secondary Narcissistic Supply are all the people who have an interpersonal relationship with the narcissist on a regular, consistent basis.

This includes a spouse, friends, colleagues, business partners, teachers, neighbors, and so on.

Many narcissists prefer their Narcissistic Supply to originate from positive attention, such as validation, love, or admiration. However, negative attention is still a form of attention and can serve as Narcissistic Supply.

The attention a narcissist manages to garner either publicly (such as fame or infamy) or privately (through interpersonal relationships) is referred to as his Narcissistic Supply.


  1. http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/narcissists-narcissistic-supply-and-sources-of-supply/
  2. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201110/what-borderlines-and-narcissists-fear-most-part

12 thoughts on “What is Narcissistic Supply?”

  1. This is a very informative article. I have had many narcissistic people in my life so this article answers many questions I have had over the years. The information here validates my choice to eliminate them from my life. Thank you.

  2. I realized my husband had NPD years ago and our couples therapist said he had it and referred him to psychotherapy. He has been in counseling and we are on our 6th psychologist in 8 years. This therapy seemed to be helping (EFT) but only for the session and day after. I finally had hope again. However, he destroys my hope over and over. He’s mean, angry, disrespectful, rude, has no compassion …the list goes on! I’m done! I’ve stayed because we have a son. I’ve left him twice and came back. Now, I know I will walk away and not come back but I’m afraid of him. His stepson says he is evil, his son says he’s a demon only a little bit an angel (he’s 6). I’m scared of what he will do to me or my boys…I’ve felt trapped for 8 years. He is in the military, navy seal, and due to their “brotherhood” I’m afraid his unit and the public will help only him. But I can’t stay.
    Oh he says he has ptsd..I thought he did but now I just think he’s an asshole. Good news is I’m onto him bad news is he knows him string and can walk help. Help please!

    • G,
      If you are still in the relationship you describe above “you” may find a counselor that specializes in trauma and EMDR very helpful. Please make sure they licensed, how long they have been practicing, number of clients they have treated.
      You may also find the book titled, Betrayal Bonds by Patrick Carnes of great help.

    • I am so sorry to hear your story. My ex is also a narcissistic. My older son his step son (ex stsp son). Moved out of our house. We divorced after not even 1 yr of marriage but had a 2 mo old at the time. Our son is going on 8 now and hates his dad. He cant handle how hes treated but dad has rights. Before he tried killing himself for attention them moving 1000 miles away my son was subjected to him 50% of the time. Now he only has video calls every week and visitation during summer but he has never left me alone. I have been remarried over 6yrs and hes never let any of it go. I pray for you and your children. To add to it his family believe everything he says and I am just the crazy ex and they plan on taking my son away from me when hes 12 because he hates living with me and truely wants to be with his dad. Only they believe that. I dont think there is ever an end to it. My sons therapist says that my son needs to be the adult in some capacity for him to be able to healand he knows abuse happened when we had joint custody but we will probably never know what truly happened to my son. I dont know if staying so I could monitor what went on with my son would have been better for him or not. Fear and fristeration will never go away.

    • G,

      Your Navy Seal husband is probably a Sociopath. Then again, if he is a sociopath, he could have lied to you about the Navy Seal part, and he is not a Seal. Most Seals are deployed on mission for months at a time. In an 8 year relation ship, you’d likely only have seen him for 4 years.

      All sociopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are sociopaths. Do your research, find a smart friend to help you (If he is a sociopath, he would have told you that you don’t need friends and pushed most of them away or told you that friends are a sign of weakness.) Get in touch with old friends or someone who will help you.

      If he is a sociopath, no contact is the ONLY way to leave him. Be careful!

  3. Please leave him, take your kids & keep yourselves safe. Record or have someone witness any contact you have with him. No contact is the safest way for you & your children. Sadly there is no middle/ neutral ground.

  4. I am in the middle of dealing with a narcissistic
    brother and sister in law. It is very hard to maintain
    No Contact. My brother is going crazy

  5. I have been on google a billion time self diagnosing myself, and im pretty sure im a narcissist. I dont have insurance nor do i know of places that may be able to help that is reasonably priced, maybe free mental health clinics. Idk ill figure it out. I do feel like im losing my mind cause i dont think i want to be this way and am battling with myself daily. I dont even know if this post is me trying to get a suply. I gotta get help

    • Please get help. You have no idea the hell im fishing through finally realizing my ex is a narcissist. It hurts knowing he never loved me and that i was just his supply. For 3 years.

  6. How can I let go a married GF, a narcissist. I am trying to leave her. M married too.
    She is Aries and m Sagittarius. I m upset, left the whole world towards one, the narc.
    M unconsciously worried and remain worried. I also spend money on that. She is not leaving
    me, although I tried seriously. Still m in her. She, in a way, overshadows me. Actually all
    happened due to change her bad society to good one. I repent. But I am not able to leave her.
    In past she has many ex…. honestly she left 90% of them… sometimes I feel she is changed
    but on the other hand, I am unable to leave, please guide

  7. My mother is a narcissist, I’m 38 years old and finally just decided to go no contact completely. It’s been 8 months since any contact and I feel wonderful! I’ve read and watched videos and the only thing you can do is cut yourselves from their lives completely. Unfortunately, they don’t even care…they’ll get their supply from someone else. There is no changing or confronting a narcissist, it is truly the weirdest personality someone can develop and they have no ability to self reflect, therefore, no ability to change. Get them out of your lives and move on. Life is so much better when they’re out.

  8. After working with a narcissist in the ’80s who told lies about me in our workplace, since no one told me she had lied about me, I continued believing she was my friend. She was extremely insulting, but I thought it was just because she had a dry sense of humor. She had once been a prostitute and junkie in New York City where she went to acting school and she contracted tuberculosis because of it. She had even practiced witchcraft at that time and I suspect a demon is attached to her. I wonder if demons are attached to all narcissists. While we worked together, she was having many sexual encounters with male coworkers, some married, some two males at the same time which shocked me, and then she lied to the head secretary and told her that while I was on vacation in Jamaica that I’d had sex with a random Jamaican, something all of our male coworkers knew was a complete lie. Because our male coworkers knew she was lying about me, this caused her great embarrassment and humiliation which made her even more determined to make me look like I was a bad person and that she did not deserve to be looked down upon because she’d lied about me. Just like the article talks about, she was an actress in many small plays but wanted to be a star. When I quit the job where we worked together and started school and became a certified court reporter, I moved to Washington, D.C. and began working in a courthouse. This narcissist with her daughter’s help, contacted the courthouse and told many, many lies about me and because of those lies, both my twin sister and I were terminated. I had no idea until recently that she was the reason we were terminated. Her own 2 sons disowned her because she stole their college money. If only someone would have told me that she had lied about me, I could have cut her out of my life then and then she would not have been able to cause so much damage in my life because she would not have known where I was employed.


Leave a Comment