Narcissistic supply

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Narcissistic supply is a concept introduced into psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938, to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.[1]

The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration from codependents, or such a need in the orally fixated, that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.


Building on Freud's concept of narcissistic satisfaction"[2] and on the work of his colleague the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham's,[3] Fenichel highlighted the narcissistic need in early development for supplies to enable young children to maintain a sense of mental equilibrium.[4] He identified two main strategies for obtaining such narcissistic supplies – aggression and ingratiation - contrasting styles of approach which could later develop into the sadistic and the submissive respectively.[5]

A childhood loss of essential supplies was for Fenichel key to a depressive disposition, as well as to a tendency to seek compensatory narcissistic supplies thereafter.[6] Impulse neuroses, addictions including love addiction and gambling were all seen by him as products of the struggle for supplies in later life.[7] Psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel (1920) had earlier considered neurotic gambling as an attempt to regain primitive love and attention in an adult context.[8]

Personality disorders[edit]

Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg considered the malignant narcissistic criminal to be coldly characterised by a disregard of others unless they could be idealised as sources of narcissistic supply.[9] Self psychologist Heinz Kohut saw those with narcissistic personality disorder as disintegrating mentally when cut off from a regular source of narcissistic supply.[10] Those providing supply to such figures may be treated as if they are a part of the narcissist, in an eclipse of all personal boundaries.[11]

In relationships[edit]

The need for narcissistic supply is considered one of the forces driving Don Juan syndrome,[12] as well as underlying masochistic relationships.[13]

In therapy, a client may defend against experiencing transference love by turning the therapist into a mere source of impersonal narcissistic supply.[14]

In workplace relationships[edit]

The narcissistic manager will have two main sources of narcissistic supply: inanimate - status symbols like cars, gadgets or office views; and animate - flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates.[15] Teammates may find everyday offers of support swiftly turn them into enabling sources of permanent supply, unless they are very careful to maintain proper boundaries.[16] The narcissistic manager's need to protect such supply networks which will prevent them from taking objective decisions;[17] while long-term strategies will be evaluated according to their potential for attention-gaining for the manager themself.[18]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fenichel 1938.
  2. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 380.
  3. ^ Abraham 1927.
  4. ^ Fenichel 1996, pp. 40, 105.
  5. ^ Fenichel 1996, pp. 41, 352–6.
  6. ^ Fenichel 1996, pp. 404–5.
  7. ^ Fenichel 1996, pp. 372, 382 and 510.
  8. ^ J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 218
  9. ^ Kernberg, Otto F. (1974). "Contrasting Viewpoints Regarding the Nature and Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personalities: A Preliminary Communication". Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association 22: 255–67. 
  10. ^ Heinz Kohut, The Chicago Institute Lectures (1996) p. 37
  11. ^ Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003) p. 28
  12. ^ Fenichel 1996, p. 243
  13. ^ D. Hoffman/N. Kulik, The Clinical Problem of Masochism (2012) p. 178
  14. ^ D. Mann ed., Erotic Transference and Countertransference (2003) p. 52
  15. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143
  16. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143 and p. 181
  17. ^ S. Allcorn, Organizational Dynamics and Intervention (2005) p. 105
  18. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 122


Abraham, Karl (1927) [1924]. "A Short Study of the Development of the Libido, View in the Light of Mental Disorders". In Ernest Jones, ed., Selected Papers of Karl Abraham (pp. 418–501). London: Hogarth Press. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
Fenichel, Otto (1938). "The Drive to Amass Wealth". Psychoanalytic Quarterly 7: 69–95. 
——— (1996) [1946]. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (50th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-03890-3.