Narcissistic Supply is the name given to the constant attention that narcissists need. They feed on this attention. It’s their drug of choice, and I mean that as more than a metaphor as they literally need and crave it. And guess who’s the lucky provider of that attention? Yes, you! (Well, anybody will do really, but you’re there and available, and have been trained from birth for the job.)
By giving a Narcissist attention, you’re providing their narcissistic supply. It’s an ongoing job as their narcissistic supply tanks need constant filling. It’s also a thankless job, but one that, if you’re allocated the role, you’ll find hard to avoid (at least until you free yourself using the information and resources on this site and others). And of course, being the daughter of a narcissistic mother means that providing this narcissistic supply is your role in life.
This dynamic can often work very well in the early years of a child’s life. Children automatically adore their mothers and put them on a pedestal, and that suits narcissistic mothers perfectly, and provides them with copious amounts of their narcissistic supply. This is why some daughters of narcissistic mothers actually have good memories of their early childhood. “She changed when I was about 7”, they’ll say.
In fact, what happened was that the daughter herself changed, and since 7 is the age of reason, it often happens then. The daughter gets a mind of her own then, and that threatens the narcissistic mother who starts fighting for her narcissistic supply.
It’s even worse, often, when the daughter becomes a teenager and starts wanting to live her own life.
My own mother said to me once, “The best years were when you were all small.” I didn’t think much of it then, but it chills me now. It was so indicative, if I had but realised it, of her narcissism and her need for narcissistic supply.
And now that I’m a mother myself and my own son is 17, I’m still thinking that every age has been the best yet, that every age has its own gifts. I don’t think it was better when he was smaller and more biddable.
But then, I’m happy for my son to be his own person. I’m not looking for narcissistic supply.
The preferred type of narcissistic supply is adoration, admiration or approval.
But failing that, any sort of attention will do. Fear is an acceptable alternative. While you’re fearing somebody you definitely paying attention to them. You’re watching them carefully and referring to them – lots of narcissistic supply there.
And failing fear, then pity. The narcissistic mother will often play victim to get this. There might even be tears. “Oh you’re such a bully,” she might sob if you dare stand up for yourself. Or, if you’re looking to go out and enjoy yourself she might sob about how she’s so lonely without you.
The interesting thing is that she might appeal to those three levels, one after the other, in a kind of hierarchy. Her default is looking for and expecting admiring attention, and as long as you’re giving her lots of that, then things can go surprisingly well.
But let that admiration flag, or let your attention drift, or worse again if you dare call her on anything she’s done or hold her responsible for any of her behaviour, well then she tries to inspire fear. And very often succeeds, of course.
She’ll shout, she’ll snap, she’ll assert her parental authority. She might threaten you even.
And if that works, great. Great for her of course, I mean. Not for you.
But if it doesn’t work – say you’re determined to keep to your position and fight through the fear, then she’ll try the pity card. She may even burst into genuine tears. The tears are genuine because she genuinely is sad, and is feeling attacked, and is feeling huge amounts of self-pity.
She might sob things like, “Oh nothing I do pleases you. I can’t do anything right. I’m so useless. Nobody loves me. I wish I were dead.”
And that, in my experience, tends to be game over. It takes a hard heart to be able to confront those tears and still hold her accountable. She is literally being pathetic, in its original meaning of compelling pity and sympathy.
And if she has done her job of parentifying us, and making us responsible for her feelings, well then, these tears and wails affect us strongly for that reason too.
Also, as was the case in my own situation, her tears were when my enabling father stepped in and comforted her and stopped the original discussion.
And so my issue never got resolved, and my mother never had to own what she had done. Which of course was exactly the idea.
Engulfing mothers often use tactics such as enmeshing to keep their daughters with them, to keep them around as a source of this narcissistic supply.
Another trick they use to keep up their level of narcissistic supply is infantalisation, to keep you weak and vulnerable and not able to survive without them.