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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,[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 disordersEdit

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 relationshipsEdit

The need for narcissistic supply is considered by some one of the forces driving Don Juanism,[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]

Personal boundariesEdit

Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist will be treated as if they are part of the narcissist and be expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist there is no boundary between self and other.[15]

In workplace relationshipsEdit

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).[16] 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.[17] The narcissistic manager's need to protect such supply networks will prevent objective decision-making.[18] Such a manager will evaluate long-term strategies according to their potential for gaining personal attention.[19]

See alsoEdit



  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 Psychoanalytic 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. ^ Hotchkiss, Sandy & Masterson, James F. Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism (2003)
  16. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143
  17. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143 and p. 181
  18. ^ S. Allcorn, Organizational Dynamics and Intervention (2005) p. 105
  19. ^ 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.