Last Updated on April 16, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester
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:
- being feared
- celebrity status
- 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.
To elicit a steady stream of attention or Narcissistic Supply from others, the narcissist projects a False Self. 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.