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The Effects of Narcissistic Supply in a Toxic Relationship

Here are signs of a partner with narcissistic supply needs.

Key points

  • Healthy relationships rely on a sense of balance and a willingness to give unwavering support and attention when it's needed.
  • But people who are high in narcissism often demand an unending supply of support without offering anything to their partner in return.
  • Signs that there is an unhealthy imbalance include gaslighting and withholding, avoiding blame, and refusing to meet a partner's emotional needs.

Most couples describe a healthy, loving relationship as one of give and take. Sometimes, one person needs the attention, support, and love of the other in a one-sided fashion. Then, at a future point in time, the tables may turn, with both people accepting that they give to each other as needed, with the understanding that they also receive this unwavering support and attention at their time of need.

Now, imagine that the relationship was not based on this unwritten expectation that both people were there for each other. Imagine a relationship where everything was given a value, and one person was in the relationship to accumulate as much of the value as possible. The entire relationship is based on one person getting his or her needs satisfied and never returning any of the value to the other.

The understanding of narcissistic supply

Let's take a closer look at the type of individual who would be in that type of toxic relationship. In most cases, there is a narcissist, who is an individual with an insecure attachment. In other words, they never had the comfort, love, and attention of a caregiver early in life. There was no understanding that others could be trusted and had good intentions. Instead, the child learned that people could not be trusted, and it was critical to protect themselves by accumulating as much value from the other person as possible and keeping all of that value for themselves.

In this system, the child learned to barter for the attention and affection of the caregiver. This created a distortion in their ability to interact and connect with others in meaningful ways in order to protect their sense of self. As the child matures and enters into adult relationships, this pattern persists and creates a toxic dynamic.

The narcissistic supply is what the narcissist demands from the partner. This may be obtained by bartering or manipulation. Still, the goal is always for the narcissist to obtain a desired and never-ending supply of:

  • Sex without personal or emotional intimacy
  • Winning in every aspect of life
  • Control over the environment, partner, and the lives of others
  • Limitless attention and adoration
  • Feelings of power and grandiosity

The narcissist does not care about the emotional or mental health and well-being of the partner. They need a constant level of the narcissistic supply, which often results in going outside of the relationship to fill the emotional void or hole in their being. Some people think of this as a car gas tank, and no matter how carefully you drive, you need to constantly fill the tank, which is similar to the ongoing need of the narcissist.

Signs of a partner with narcissistic supply needs

Narcissists do not start the relationship with these ongoing demands. In the early part of the relationship, they may be the ideal person. You are the focus, and they seem to fit everything you want in a partner. Your interests become their interests, at least in the initial stages of the relationship. Once you are in the relationship, the demands start slowly building. Combined with manipulation and undermining of your sense of self, the demands start to ramp up to meet the narcissistic supply needs.

Signs of this behavior include:

  • Demands to do what the narcissist wants without any concern for your wants
  • Expecting constant praise and attention for everything good while taking no responsibility or blame for anything that is negative inside or outside of the relationship
  • Your acceptance that they are the leader and the decider in the relationship
  • Not accepting you have your own goals, with the expectation you give up everything to help them meet their goals
  • Constant gaslighting, ghosting, and other forms of manipulation
  • Sudden periods of ignoring you completely or intentionally withholding any type of interaction with no explanation or clear reason

Working with a therapist with experience in toxic relationships is key in recognizing these behaviors and evaluating the relationship. In many cases, ending the relationship is the best option for healing. The narcissist is typically unwilling to recognize or accept the damage they are causing and make the necessary changes to rebuild a healthy, positive, and mutually supportive relationship.

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