Narcissistic Supply

Love Addiction

Narcissistic supply is a concept in some psychoanalytic theories which describes a type of admiration, interpersonal support, or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment (especially from careers, codependents and others). 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.

The term ‘narcissistic supply’ was used by psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel in 1938 in describing the way in which a narcissistic individual ‘requires a ‘narcissistic supply’ from the environment in the same way as the infant requires an external supply of food.’ Building on Freud’s concept of ‘narcissistic satisfaction’ and on psychoanalyst Karl Abraham’s work in ‘Short Study of the Development of the Libido,’ Fenichel highlighted the ‘narcissistic need’ in early development. He noted that ‘it has been stated repeatedly that small children need some kind of narcissistic supplies for maintaining their equilibrium.’

Along with Abraham and psychoanalyst Sándor Radó, Fenichel saw ‘loss of essential narcissistic supplies’ as a key factor in an individual’s predisposition to depression: ‘after disappointments of this type the child asks for subsequent compensating external narcissistic supplies throughout his life.’ Fenichel considered impulse neuroses (including addictions) similarly as products of ‘the conflicts around getting the ‘supplies.” Additionally, he noted that for ”love addicts’ […] necessary narcissistic supplies may be striven for in different ways.’ One way is to influence their object ‘by every magical means […] to behave so as to admit of the identification that the subject needs as a narcissistic supply.’

Psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel (1920) considered that the gambling neurosis ‘derived from attempts to obtain, through the mechanism of reverting to earlier infantile ways of conduct, the ‘narcissistic supplies’ – i.e. food, love, comfort and attention – which were believed by the gambler to have been denied him.’ Fenichel in turn highlighted ‘the intensity,’ for the gambler, ‘of the conflicts around getting the ‘supplies’…necessary reassurances regarding anxiety or guilt feelings.’

The term narcissistic supply was employed by psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg as part of his description of what he called the malignant narcissist when he was profiling criminals. Kernberg referred to the coldness in this type of narcissist’s relationships as the ‘tendency to disregard others except in temporary idealization of narcissistic supply’ and he suggested that this was a feature which distinguished pathological from normal narcissism. Psychoanalyst and self-psychologist Heinz Kohut spoke of how, in ‘a person with a narcissistic personality disorder…some kind of a fragmentation…occurs when there are no narcissistic supplies, no narcissistic sustenance or praise or approval.’

Those who are providers of narcissistic supply may find themselves being treated as if they are a part of the narcissist. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and other.’

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