Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.
Narcissistic Supply refers to a Freudian concept of an unconscious mechanism in a person who needs constant affirmation, attention and admiration. Gaining attention from others helps an insecure person enhance his or her low self-esteem. Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut said the ongoing supply is an unconscious psychological defense that keeps the narcissistic person from fragmenting, falling apart and dropping into depression.
In 1938 psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel described the concept as being when a narcissistic individual requires a supply from the environment in the same way as the infant requires an external supply of food. It is that overly needy quality that makes some people challenging to be around.
We all have some bit of selfishness in us; otherwise we wouldn’t survive. It is a matter of what degree, how much and in what areas. Narcissistic traits exist on a continuum in people with most of us having some minor ones while people with the Narcissistic Personality Disorder have many. People who have sociopathic behaviors are farther out on the spectrum on getting their needs met at the expense of other people. It helps us all to learn about the dynamics of selfishness and the many forms it takes.
The “fix” for a needy ego is constant attention, praise and gifts from others. When their vulnerability is threatened by a threat to their self-esteem, they need some reassurance, admiration or recognition in order to shore up that fragile sense of self. This is an unconscious defense mechanism of denial or as spy novel writer, John le Carré would say that they have “a system of self-deception in place.” They love the sound of their own voice and relish their own ideas to the exclusion of others. They believe that the minutia details of their life are interesting to others. They use talking about what they are interested in as a way to maintain power.
Remember that some of these people can be attractive, charming and exciting to be around at least at first until you catch on to their shallowness. When feeling bad, anxious or depressed, the needy narcissistic person requires that he or she be filled up with the attention of others. The need for the supply can become more heightened during a crisis.
I see it as the person has a “Hole in the Soul” that constantly drains out any new supply that comes in. No matter how much you gave them yesterday, they can never be filled. They have amnesia for what has already been received and are in a “But what are you giving me right now?” mode. Oh yes, this is entitlement and it takes many forms!
That which needs filling up must have a filler-upper and that is where people with codependency traits come in. Takers need givers! They choose partners and friends who will give readily to them without question or complaint. Narcissistic suppliers then are those people who feed the entitlement needs of the needy person. When giving is out of control at the expense to the self, we call this codependency.
We’ve all seen this neediness in a person who must be the center of attention all of the time. I call them “monologue talkers” as they don’t allow other people to take their turn in a conversation. It is always about them and they have endless problems that they must talk about. The role of others is to be the “Big Ear” and give unconditional support.
One woman who had been talking about herself for five minutes objected when her friend broke in to share something about her life and turned the conversation back to herself and actually said, “Wait a minute, this is about me!” Needy narcissists become hypersensitive when others try to balance the give and take. They have never learned about turn taking. Healthy communication is a back and forth endeavor like playing catch with a ball-my turn, your turn-a skill that most children learn in kindergarten or before.
Needy narcissists choose their friends for what they can do for them. They definitely are “users” not “user friendly.” They understand how to exploit and manipulate codependent peoples’ needs (the need to be the listener, the need to give to others to feel good) and beliefs of being unworthy of being on the receiving end. Friendships with narcissistic people are often short-lived, often as little as four months, as the new friend becomes gradually aware of the superficiality and one-sidedness of the relationship and opt out, moving on to “greener pastures.”
In other cases, threatening to leave a person who requires a constant supply to their ego needs can bring out rageful vindictiveness. The old website Femfree.com describes narcissistic rage as “At the end of a relationship the Narcissist faces the potential exposure of his abusive behavior. Your leaving and loss of expected Narcissistic Supply, ensuing divorce, and financial repercussions, can result in narcissistic injury and subsequent narcissistic rage. His targets find themselves on the receiving end of the Narcissist’s relentless abuse, smear campaign, endless legal battles and other creative cruelties. This narcissistic rage may be, in fact, much worse than what you experienced within the relationship. Victims may have experienced severe physical or psychological abuse. That abuse, of course, is hidden behind closed doors. Seldom is there proof or witnesses.”
Disruption of the supply can bring about violence. The old website Femfree.com quotes Ernest Wolf: “Narcissistic rage is a horse of a different color. Sometimes conditions occur which make a person feel totally helpless and powerless. This is an unbearable experience and results in that individual’s unlimited rage to destroy – destroy any opponent, anyone who is not for me is against me, destroy the world, etc. Unfortunately, this narcissistic rage does not disappear when the helplessness or powerlessness have disappeared. Rather, this type of rage goes on, and on and on and only very gradually sort of wears itself out.” Read the publication “Group Helplessness and Rage” by Ernest Wolf for additional information.
People with selfish traits often come from parents, religions or ethnic groups that have a “Better Than” attitude. As in “I’m better than you because I’m special.” They have disdain for others looking down their noses on those that they see as being different and therefore less than themselves. Once the “I’m superior” decision is made, the next assumptions is made-“I have the right to treat you badly because I can.” Dividing people into different categories of worthiness of better than and worse than is the concept of racism based on narcissism that is displayed so brilliantly in Kathryn Stockett’s book made into the movie The Help which won the Screen Actors Guild award for best picture.
It takes two people for needy narcissism to continue. If you give too much, then you are contributing to the problem. Perhaps the unholy need for others to give their time and attention, which is called co-dependency when it happens too much, is a defense against knowing the truth about the neediness within. As long as the unconscious “You owe me” keeps the person from understanding how needy they truly are, perhaps the need for narcissistic supply keeps the deeply-hidden shame at bay.
Breaking Into Your Need to Obtain Narcissistic Supply
What can you do about the Narcissistic Supply selfish trait in yourself? Be glad that you flushed this defense mechanism out to be challenged. Awareness of what is going on is the first step to changing a pattern. Observe yourself to watch how you use others and allow yourself to be used.
I’ve been lovingly observing and challenging both my selfish and codependent behaviors for years and have become a better person for it. Of course I would have these patterns coming from the two families I had. My ongoing solution is to be aware of my unhealthy patterns of being needy, entitlement and also the rush to give too much to others and interrupt them. Both sides of the coin–giving too much or taking too much– are remnants of family generational patterns. As George Bernard Shaw said, “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
So my dance becomes to bring my shadow parts learned from my family to the surface including those narcissistic traits. I watch my need for attention and to share the unnecessary, minute details of my life and challenge the needs without making myself bad or judging it. I watch my neediness and do an energy psychology technique on it when this insecurity demand comes up. I challenge my errors in thinking which support my using others for my needs. I keep a strong monitor on myself to interrupt and challenge any entitlement thinking.
Releasing Beliefs Regarding Transgressing Others’ Boundaries
Here are some ways of feeling and acting that contribute to the inability to hear other people’s needs. This is your chance to change how you treat others to become a better person. Choose an Energy Psychology technique such as the Emotional Freedom Technique or The Five Element Meridian Release Technique available on this web site to apply to each of these beliefs that give you the bigger share. This exercise if from my book, Your Quick Anger Makeover: Plus Twenty Other Cutting-Edge Techniques to Release Anger!
Even though _____ [add an issue here], I forgive myself and choose to become a better person and break this selfish behavior.
____ [I don’t have to listen to _____’s needs or acknowledge his pain because_____]
____ [I get to have the majority of the attention in my relationships because I need to talk]
____ [I get angry when I don’t get my way and let others know it]
____ [I have a needy part inside that seeks attention]
____ [I’ve considered it ridiculous to listen to _____’s point of view]
____ [I’ve ridiculed _____’s feelings and requests and have been mean and cruel]
____ [I dismissed _____ complaints about my uncaring behavior]
____ [I become infuriated when others want something I don’t approve of]
____ [I feel satisfied when I ride others to get them to do what I want]
____ [I enjoy humiliating _____like to mess with his head because I think it is fun]
____ [I feel guilty for what I’ve done to _____ which was _____]
____ [I feel irritable and think it’s okay to express rage when something goes wrong]
____ [I feel better venting my anger and ignore that others feel worse or traumatized]
____ [When I feel overwhelmed and threatened, I say things I don’t mean]
____ [I’ve overlooked the obvious source of my problems in my hurry to blame others]
____ [I’ve been stubborn and inflexible about _____ and allow myself to blow up over small things]
____ [I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my lack of control when I’m angry]
____ [my rage typically makes me feel powerful as others back down]
____ [I’m just like my _____ when it comes to hurting others with ugly words]
____ [I became a bully and felt good about it just like _____ did to me]
____ [I’m passing a generational pattern of aggressive behavior down to my children]
____ [I’m ashamed and disgusted with myself because I’ve trampled on the needs of others]
____ [I’m embarrassed by my callous behavior to _____ and feel sad and disappointed in myself]
There is a belief from philosophers such as Sartre and Hegel that “What you do, you become.” Our behaviors define us in the way that we see and react to the world. But I have a different take on this-what you’ve done, you can overcome. Beliefs are not carved in stone. Errors in thinking can be altered to make our lives more caring and loving. Erroneous beliefs should be challenged!
In healthy relationships each person takes responsibility for his own thoughts, feelings and actions. So ask yourself, are you getting what you want out of life in terms of living in fair and balanced relationships? Learning about emotional arousal and how to regulate it is a life-long curriculum! You will be as happy as you are able to know and set appropriate boundaries and listen to those appropriate boundaries expressed by others.
Healthy relationships are about creating and maintaining healthy boundaries! Occasionally I have to put a boundary on someone who takes more than their fair share from me, but I also watch to see if I’m talking too much or asking too much. It’s all human behavior learned in our families and as learned behavior, taking or giving too much can become unlearned.
The goal for healthy relationships is equal give and take. Balance. Your turn. My turn.
Conscious living is being aware of what you are doing and striving to come from a place of fairness and kindness. Observe how you balance the give and take between those around you. “Your turn, my turn” is a fundamental truth from those first times as a toddler when you learned to share that contributes to a satisfying harmonious life.
“The trading of ego-gratification is the basis of most human relations, which uninformed humans call love and unity. A person who you think is the nicest, kindest, most loyal person on earth will abandon you instantly when: (1) You hurt his ego. (2) Cease to feed his ego. (3) Cease to serve his ego as much as someone else.”
“Emotional manipulation penetrates almost every disorder and complicates many lives and relationships. People who use emotional manipulation hide beneath the mast of love, concern, dedication and friendship, while using guilt, button-pushing, subtle anger and many types of covert ploys to keep their victims in place, getting their victims to do what they want.”
— James Fogarty
To learn more about how those with antisocial tendencies manipulate, test and then trap their victims to achieve power, read Amazon.com: Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward.
Read Psychology Today’s article on narcissism for additional information on “How to Spot A Narcissist.”