Pathological narcissists are addicted to a drug called Narcissistic Supply.  Narcissistic supply is defined as a psychological concept whereby the narcissist draws admiration and support from their environment for boosting their ego. Narcissistic supply applies to anyone or anything that brings the pathological narcissist personal attention, and builds their fragile ego-up to levels where their feelings of superiority, grandiosity, and entitlement are affirmed. Generally, it does not matter very much whether the supply is good or bad, what is important is that the supply brings attention that is constant, reliable, and predictable.

Understanding the phenomenon of Narcissistic Supply (especially for clinicians) is critical to understanding narcissistic personality disorder, and most especially the narcissist’s behaviour with regard to their targeted victims.  Like all addicts, the pathological narcissist must continually replenish their drug of choice, and their drug of choice is “Narcissistic Supply”.   All their focus for gaining this supply consumes great amounts of their energy, leaving them very little for the pursuit of genuine happiness and relatedness with others.

Like any drug addict, the pathological narcissist is unable to operate at full capacity.  This is because they must dedicate so much time to sourcing new supply that is vital for managing and regulating their mood disorders and self-worth.  All the time, their own inner critic is judging them harshly as to whether they are achieving their aim for an endless reservoir of supply, or are they failing?   The attention they receive from their supply source is vital for the survival of the narcissist, without it they would die (metaphorically speaking) because their weak, fragile ego depends on it to regulate their unstable self-worth and self-esteem and keep their shame at bay.

The pathological narcissist perceives themselves as being very independent, which is a total self-lie.  The truth is they are parasites, like a flea, that gets under the skin of their source of supply (their victims), invading every aspect of their life while sucking the lifeblood out of them.  Of course, the narcissist cannot deal with the fact that they need anybody because requiring someone would imply some boundary to their power or suggest that they are incomplete in some way (inferior).  Furthermore, they cannot tolerate any sign of independence and autonomy from their “supply” person; this only serves to enrage them.

Their narcissistic supply is there to serve the narcissist, so they try to cement their co-narcissistic victim into the role they have made for them, and there they remain under the narcissist’s control.  Any deviation from this position on the part of their victim will end in punishment for the transgressor. So, like the Queen Bee, the narcissist is surrounded by a hive of worker bees, all in service to their needs, which ironically make them totally co-dependent on others for their survival.

The narcissist’s pattern of behaviour is driven purely by their addiction for admiration and respect from others, getting this attention drives all their actions and deeds, and ironically, the source of that supply is not particularly important.  As with all addictions, there are good and bad sources of supply, and to the narcissist, any source is better than none.  However, given a choice, their first choice would be to pursue the finest sources possible.

The best source would depend on how they viewed their target. If they can get admiration from a source of supply that they find superior, then that would be even better (as they provide the highest quality oxygen, and the most satisfying).  So, if they admire someone, for whatever reason, for example, their intellect, their knowledge, their wealth, their position, the circle they move in, etc., then these people would be welcome trophies to have notched up on their belt.  Of course, they would only respect those people who they acknowledge as being of a higher social status than themselves anyway.

If they manage to gain admiration from a high ranking, high-status person, they will ingratiate themselves to that individual with a clear intention to extract any “greatness” they perceive that person to have.  This may be by way of getting information, skills, knowledge, financial reward, etc., which they will then go on to model, as these attributes are a further source of power to the narcissist.    If they can glean that which they admire in the other, then they in effect become just like the object of their desire, they are elevated (in their own eyes) to a higher social status themselves.  In the meantime, they will continue to extract as much admiration for themselves from the relationship as possible; this bolsters their confidence while they model their new status to the world.

However, the narcissist knows that this honeymoon period will be short-lived, because once they have exhausted the relationship, and they get all that they wanted they will become bored.  Once bored they will be unable to keep up the pretence of being a mutual caring cohort, the false integrated self they presented begins to breakdown, along with their patience to keep up their act of being an ally. Then, quite abruptly and inexplicably, they decide it is the time that it is all over, and as quick as the changing wind, the narcissist becomes cold, uninterested and devious.

The narcissist then starts their vicious attack whereby they set about devaluing the very things that had once attracted them to their victim in the first place (i.e. their innocence, amenableness, humbleness, wisdom, warm-heartedness, knowledge, energy, etc.), they now despise these qualities in them. Then, with a hardness and razor-sharpness befitting a warrior’s Samurai sword, they can instantly, metaphorically speaking, kill off their co-narcissistic victim without any remorse.

Part of the reason for wanting to kill off the individual is because, in order to con them into giving them what they want, the narcissist is required to reveal some personal things about themselves.  This brings a sense of intimacy which is very unsettling to the narcissist because it makes them feel vulnerable, therefore fearful.  After having, what felt like an intimate relationship, naturally, the victim is utterly confused by the sudden discarding change in behaviour toward them.  Being treated in this fashion is a very personal thing to the victim.  However, to the narcissist their treatment is not that personal at all, they would have reacted the same way to any other source because, to them, all sources of narcissistic supply are transposable.

Now that it has been decided that this narcissistic source of supply has reached its end, the narcissist’s behaviour becomes angry, and the exchanges become bizarre, lies and punishing behaviour ensues.  Because the narcissist is unable to be truly intimate or have empathy, it would not be long before the other person realises that something is seriously very wrong with how the relationship is going.  And as in any healthy relationship, the co-narcissistic victim (still believing that they are good friends), begins to fight for the relationship and challenges the narcissist as to what is happening between them.  When this happens, the narcissist feels rebuffed, and unable to handle the imagined rejection and conflict, and they become even angrier.

Because they have been through this process many times before and recognises that the other person is no longer their “ideal” source of supply for admiration, so they want to quit.  Also, rather than risk being rejected further, the narcissist wants to move on, so their reaction is to “reject before being rejected”.  Leaving their unsuspecting victim totally confused.  The more hurt and confused their victim becomes, the more the narcissist’s sadistic tendencies are rewarded. But this can be a difficult time for the narcissist, especially when they find themselves without a co-narcissist victim to lean on.   That is why, before they discard one source of supply they usually have set up another source during the devaluing stage.

They do not have a psychic home of their own, so they must rely on their victims to provide a secure base for them, protect them and take responsibility for them and their needs.   When there is a sudden break in their affectional bonds, they may find themselves spiralling downward into a depression, where they may even become psychotic or experience suicidal ideation.  This may last until they find a new source of supply, and then it will pass.  It is as if the current loss reawakens their earlier loss (with their authoritative parent or another caretaker), and this becomes another ‘narcissistic wound’, and with it, a shameful blow to their fragile ego at the core of their self.

Once again, the narcissist goes looking for a new narcissistic supply source, and if necessary, they will resort to a lower social network of victim to feed their addiction for admiration.  They will not be happy that they were rebuffed by their once superior supply; they are likely to feel that having to resort to a lower status supply an insult to their inflated ego (further shame). Therefore, they rationalise that their obnoxious treatment for the victim was justified.  Sometimes the feeling of hitting “rock bottom” makes the narcissist put a stop on their narcissistic pattern, but it is only likely to be a temporary stay of humility until they recover.  Then once someone walks into their sights that interest them, their crazy spiral cycle is likely to begin all over again.

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Christine is a Psychotherapist, Educator, Author and Supervisor of mental health professionals for over 28 years. She was part of a team in the Trauma Unit of St. Brendan’s Psychiatric Hospital, Dublin, and has worked specifically with victims of pathological narcissistic abuse in her private practice for many years.
Her books, “The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse” and “When Shame Begets Shame: How Narcissists hurt and shame their victims” set out to to help those who have been affected by a narcissist and also to address the shortfalls in a therapist’s education, so that they become better equipped to work with survivors of narcissistic abuse.Much of her knowledge has come from her post-grad studies in Criminology and Forensic Psychology, and it is through these disciplines that she has gained her understanding of “The Dark Triad”, (Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy).
These three faces of evil are vital information for understanding the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse and the dire effects on the victims.It is her vision that narcissistic abuse becomes part of the curriculum of all Mental Health clinicians.
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