Secure attachment in infancy creates a solid foundation for a person’s entire life. It creates a feeling of “confidence and trust in the goodness of me, you, us” (Divecha, 2017). This secure attachment is created by the comingling of reflection, attunement, empathy, and love between mother (or other primary caregiver) and infant. It is created when the mother is present, consistent, kind, reassuring, and soothing. With secure attachment, a person learns to trust others and love others for the rest of his life.
Narcissists do not know how to “trust the goodness of me, you, and us.” Narcissists are all about protecting the self – at the expense of the other. Because of the narcissist’s inability to connect in a healthy way with another person, he uses a system of relating that is created in order for the narcissist to take care of himself. Instead of healthy connection, a narcissist seeks for “narcissistic supply.”
People with narcissism usually suffer with a form of early childhood attachment trauma (interpersonal abuse.) At some point in early childhood the narcissist was not properly attached to, or was insufficiently loved. Because of this, he learned how to survive in relationships using a sort of barter system, rather than relying on “normal” human connection skills (because these were not properly internalized in his psyche.)
Narcissistic supply is a form of payment given by others in order to be in a relationship with a narcissist. In essence, when a young child is not sufficiently attuned to or attached with, emotionally soothed and protected, he develops self-protective survival skills. These survival skills come in the form of emotional manipulation and alternate-personality development.
Realize that in essence, people with early attachment trauma, are developmentally delayed – particularly with respect to interpersonal relationships.
Have you ever noticed how your loved one demonstrates behaviors akin to a three year old having a temper tantrum? This is probably because he was triggered by not getting his way somehow and then he emotionally regressed to an earlier stage of development (one which he has not completed the development phase of maturing through.)
In essence, a narcissist has not properly matured through each stage of early childhood development resulting in stunted emotional growth.
Narcissists are never satisfied. Once they receive the narcissistic supply for the moment, they soon become empty again; it isn’t lasting. A narcissist’s emotional or “narcissistic supply” tank is always running low or on empty. It’s as if there are holes in the bottom of the narcissistic supply tank. No matter how much you try to love your narcissist well, it is never going to be enough.
What are some common forms of narcissistic supply?
- Accomplishments, such as winning
- Feeling powerful (having power over you)
- Feeling in control (being able to control you, and thus, his environment)
- An addictive substance or activity
- Emotional energy (can be positive or negative)
The list is not exhaustive and narcissistic supply can be as unique as the individuals involved.
What are some things the supplier of this narcissistic “food” can do to feed the narcissist?
- Do whatever he wants
- Lose your autonomy; yourself
- Praise him/compliment him
- Be a good “object”
- Be compliant
- Be controllable
- Give up your power
How do narcissist’s obtain this supply from their “victims?” They use some primary tools; these are seduction, manipulation, anger and bullying behaviors.
Realize this truth:
“In a narcissistic encounter, there is, psychologically, only one person present. The co-narcissist disappears for both people, and only the narcissistic person’s experience is important” (Rappaport, 2005).
You can see how this quote applies to this concept of narcissistic supply. The entire purpose of the relationship is that everyone in it has one goal – to feed the narcissist. This form of psychological manipulation works, because when the narcissist is “fed” everyone involved is lulled in to a false, albeit brief, sense of security.
Narcissistic supply is any substitute form of temporary supplier of “satisfaction.” Most likely, this “food” is in the real form of the neurotransmitter dopamine – the “feel good” brain chemical.
What the narcissist really needs and has needed all along is true human connection. But, since the want of that is a serious threat to the narcissist’s psyche, he has learned to accept narcissistic supply as his source of sustenance.
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Childress, C. A. (2016.) The Narcissistic Parent: A Guidebook for Legal Professionals Working with Families in High-Conflict Divorce. Claremont, CA: Oaksong Press.
Divecha, D. (2017). How to Cultivate a Secure Attachment with Your Child. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_cultivate_a_secure _attachment_with_your_child
Rappoport, A. (2005). Co-narcissism: How we accommodate to narcissist parents. The Therapist. 16(2).36-38.