Did you know that if you have a narcissist in your life, you’re definitely a source of narcissistic supply for them? You’re going to need to change that.
What is Narcissistic Supply?
We know that narcissists require admiration, and if they don’t get it, they may react with rage, ridicule, mockery, or by humiliating their target. Narcissists are arrogant and proud and view others as insignificant or as competitors to conquer. They feel entitled and expect special treatment.
The term “narcissistic supply” defines the admiration that narcissists need to keep their self-esteem intact, and this concept was first introduced to the field of psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938. Narcissists need to take this supply of approval from the people in their environment so that their false faces can survive.
Methods for obtaining supply
Overt narcissists (arrogant, loud, insensitive to the needs of others, lack empathy, always looking for compliments) attract attention to themselves directly by over-dressing, dressing provocatively, talking too loudly, wearing attention-getting makeup, hairstyles or accessories, or driving conspicuous vehicles. They seem to be shouting LOOK AT ME!
Covert narcissists crave admiration and importance and lack empathy but are less “obvious.” They are harder to spot as a narcissist. A covert narcissist’s main priority is satifying their personal needs. They get their supply mainly from being rescued or emotionally care-taken. They think of themselves as “poor me.”
If you question a covert narcissist, they’ll assume you’re challenging them and may become defensive, maybe violent.
Narcissists don’t respect your boundaries or your privacy. For example, a narcissist would be totally at ease going into someone’s personal space, looking in purses, and backpacks, reading their journals, listening to private phone conversations, reading private mail and documents, and sharing that information with others. (Because of this, the target will feel a sense of shame but won’t realize that these narcissistic behaviors are to blame.)
A narcissist likes knowing we are hurt when they use the “silent treatment” to actively ignore us. This is a form of power and control. Our pain demonstrates that they are so powerful that they can devastate us whenever they choose. Our pain is their narcissistic supply.
Remember, narcissists don’t view people as unique individuals with their own needs, feelings, goals, or lives. To narcissists, people are simply props who play a supporting role in their lives. A narcissist’s only concern is what they can get from others or what others can do for them. They have difficulty emotionally bonding with others because their relationships are all about power, control, and the benefits that they can obtain.
A narcissist cannot survive as a narcissist without obtaining narcissistic supply. It’s emotional food; any form of attention, affirmation, approval, or admiration will suffice. They feel a sense of power and importance from any emotional reaction. Any emotion—fear, sadness, anger, shame, whatever—will do, because it feeds the “false self,” everything the narcissist would like to be, but is not. Narcissistic supply makes the false self stronger and more acceptable. A narcissist actually prefers their false self to their authentic self.
Why do they need supply?
Securing narcissistic supply keeps a narcissist’s false self working in an automatic cycle: project the false self, receive the supply, empower and strengthen the false self, and repeat.
The cycle repeats itself because it provides feelings of power, control, and importance. Narcissists thrive on these, feeling formidable, even omnipotent, after obtaining supply. They feel a “narcissistic high,” which potentially makes them more dangerous; you won’t be permitted to share your thoughts or feelings when your narcissist is on a high. They won’t take any challenge lightly and will go for the win at any cost to prove their supremacy. They’re not interested in what you have to say or how you feel. It’s all about them.
After going through this cycle with a narcissist a few times, we get it. We understand that they’re more powerful than we are—that it’s always about “winning,” and they’ll be delighted to win at our expense. In their mind, they’re always right, and there’s no use trying to have a conversation or share an opinion because they’ll become combative. Eventually, we’ll end up feeling unseen, unheard, defeated, unloved, and insignificant. We’ll learn to walk on eggshells and to appease, please, and pacify them. We’ll anticipate their needs and moods and act accordingly. Do you remember what that’s called? Yep! Codependency. We become codependent.
Narcissists often reveal themselves during times of crisis, conflict, or high stress. When they’re pressured, it’s hard for them to control their emotions, and their lack of empathy is exposed. When they feel threatened, they go for the “win”, even if it threatens significant relationships. What’s said or done won’t matter. Winning matters. High-pressure situations show how shallow their emotional connections are. Our shame, humiliation, and embarrassment are their narcissistic supply.
How to deny the supply
“Not responding”(aka “shutting up,” or “not taking the bait”) works because it removes the possibility of giving emotional feedback and responses. Emotionally responding is a form of narcissistic supply. Giving a narcissist any amount of emotional response validates and affirms their thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. They thrive on any and all interaction and attention, especially when you become emotionally unhinged during the interaction. Narcissistic supply makes a narcissist a stronger narcissist.
When someone pushes my buttons in an attempt to trigger an emotional response from me, I will not take the bait, I do not pick up the proffered tug-of-war rope, and my mouth remains shut. I deny them their narcissistic supply. I do this consistently and repeatedly because it indicates that I’m OK with whatever they think or do and that I will not react. The reaction is what they’re looking for, hoping for, and waiting for. The reaction is their narcissistic supply.
Not engaging, not defending, and not arguing back, requires mindfulness and practice, and it’s worth the time and effort to learn how to do this. Knowing how to control your responses, and having “emotional control,” is part of the process of learning how to “positively detach” and maintain your boundaries.
As you may know, having a conversation with a narcissist feels like a struggle, a game of emotional tug-of-war. When you drop your end of the rope, the game stops. It can’t continue unless you pick up your end and start pulling again. So, no more games! You don’t have to explain that you’re no longer playing or why. Your actions speak loud and clear: when you drop the rope, you’re demonstrating that they have no more control over you. Dropping the rope is an aspect of not responding, positive detachment, enforcing a boundary, and demonstrating self-empowerment and self-love. If you haven’t tried it, I can tell you from experience that it’s very empowering.
Detaching with love and not giving narcissistic supply means that I listen and don’t rush in to fix problems or rescue them from the consequences of their choices. If we disagree, I don’t argue or try to change their position; I state my opinion, and I accept that they are entitled to have their own opinion. We don’t have to agree. I don’t steal their personal power, and I leave them the dignity to deal with their own problems and consequences. If they instigate, I don’t pick up the tug-of-war rope; instead, I might end our conversation. All of these are forms of boundaries that I maintain. I emotionally disconnect when they’re baiting or instigating to try to get me to react.
Be a rock… a gray rock
“Gray Rock” is a term coined by Skylar, a blogger who wrote the article “The Gray Rock Method of Dealing with Psychopaths” (2018).
If you’ve never tried the “Gray Rock” method, you’re missing out on a really effective tool.
Gray Rock is a technique that causes emotionally unbalanced people to lose interest in you. The method completely removes any emotional charge or drama from your interaction with them. When you use Gray Rock, it removes all narcissistic supply.
To use the Gray Rock method:
- Appear calm, even if you’re not.
- Maintain eye contact. Do not look down or away.
- Use the following responses when applicable:
- I’m sorry you feel that way.
- I welcome your opinion, but I feel good about my choice.
- I have no right to try to control how you see me.
- I accept how you see me.
- I accept how you feel.
- You’re entitled to your reality.
- Your anger is not my responsibility.
- It’s possible. I guess it could be true.
- I’d like to continue this discussion, but it seems that we don’t share the same perspective. Maybe when you’re calm, we can resume this conversation in a mutually respectful way. (This is an example of enforcing a boundary as well.)
In a nutshell
These three approaches focus on letting the narcissist run their own life and solve their own problems while you take care of yours, your life, and yourself. Learn to let go of the desire to control the narcissist and the outcomes of your interactions with them. Focus on the next best thing for you.
Start taking these steps today to deny your narcissist their emotional food. When they realize that you are no longer a satisfying source of supply, they’ll look for it elsewhere.
Try these tools:
- positive detachment
- not responding, not engaging, not picking up your end of the tug-of-war rope
- the Gray Rock technique
You’ll begin to experience a new type of freedom that’s hard to describe!
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For as long as I can remember, there was something “different” about my mother. She wasn’t like other mothers.
My mom didn’t hug or kiss, smile at, spend time with, or play with me. She never seemed happy to see me. She didn’t ask about my school day and wasn’t interested in knowing my friends. She seemed to have no interest in me or anything that I did. My mom called me hurtful names and obscenities, and at times, she ignored me, not speaking to me for days, weeks, or even months. When she felt sad I was expected to emotionally care-take her. When she didn’t feel like parenting, I was responsible for my siblings. When she lost her temper she hit. When I was disobedient, there were bizarre punishments.
I was not allowed to express feelings, ask questions, or show initiative or curiosity. My feelings were discounted, minimized, or invalidated. She re-wrote my memories, and I was expected to believe her version. I was to obey, stay quiet, and not question.
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About the Author
Drawing from her personal experiences of growing up in a dysfunctional household, Diane Metcalf has developed effective coping and healing strategies. With the assistance of professional therapists and mindful personal growth, she has honed her skills and now happily shares them with others who are interested in learning and growing.
As an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer, Diane is well-versed in topics such as narcissism, family dysfunction, abuse, and recognizing warning signs. Her extensive knowledge is drawn not only from her personal experiences, but also from her work in human service fields, including domestic violence, partner abuse, and court advocacy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Diane’s transformational books on healing and personal growth, such as the highly acclaimed “Lemon Moms” series, offer emotional support and guidance in understanding narcissistic traits and healing past wounds. Her approach emphasizes self-awareness, intention, self-care, and establishing healthy boundaries as essential components in the healing process.
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