Supplies 7 (bite & fork)Recently a husband struggling to save his marriage from his own infidelity asked me the saddest question I’ve heard in years:

“What kind of a person would cheat on his wife just because he thought he could get away with it?”

“A hungry blind man,” I said.

I went on to explain how I see narcissism.  It happens to people, I said, who didn’t get what they needed in childhood.  This left them emotionally hungry, painfully and chronically so.  And their hunger makes them preoccupied with feeding themselves and blind to the needs and feelings of others.

That, as I said, is how I see narcissism.

Here’s the thing, though:

We’re all a little hungry and a little blind.

Most people enter adulthood having not received enough of what’s called narcissistic supplies – attention, acceptance, approval, affection, acknowledgement.  The five A’s.

Our need for these supplies is built into us, and non-negotiable.  We can’t not need them.  We need what we need because we need it.

Our only choice is how we go about feeding ourselves.  Narcissists do it by putting themselves first.  Codependents do it by putting others first.  But both act out of the same hunger.

Narcissists and codependents have three other things in common:

~ They’re externally focused — i.e., intent on getting other people to feed them.  Among other things, this makes them not very skilled at self-care.

~ They have an either/or view of relationships.  “Either you’ll get what you need”  they reason,  “or I’ll get what I need.  But we both can’t get what we need at the same time.”  This logic forces them to approach relationships as a sort of competition.

~ The either/or view also sabotages their chance for healthy relationship, which is  rooted in the idea of mutuality: that what’s good for you is ultimately good for me, and vice versa.

So what to do about all this?

We can start by becoming more aware of two things: how hungry we are for narcissistic supplies, and how we go about trying to get fed.

What’s not helpful?

Pretending we don’t need what we need.

Denial doesn’t make needs shrink or go away.  It just invites them to take over our lives.

We need what we need because we need it.


For more on narcissism and codependency, see “Scratch a codependent” and “The split level relationship. 

5 responses to “Supplies

  • Yaz

    Really well put. This was a great read.

  • SheLongedForStarsInHerHeart

    Hi Steve and Bert. This is my first comment here but I have been reading (and appreciating) for over a year. Thank you for giving me so much food for thought!
    The need and the hunger is there, but it seems like the hunger can never be satiated. How does one deal with the hopelessness of feeling that the needs can not be met and that they are, in fact, unreasonable and impossible to be met? That is when I feel like forgetting that the needs are there. And I guess that does not work because as you say, they do end up taking over my life.

    I am in therapy and going through an icky bit right now. Your post has given me a new angle to look at what might be going on.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Welcome to the conversation. 🙂

      We’re sorry to hear about the ickiness. We’re proud of you (if that doesn’t sound presumptuous) for being in therapy.

      How does one deal with hopelessness? (Or ickiness, or rage, any other feeling?) Head on. You say it out loud: “I feel hopeless about ever getting my needs met.” You say it when you feel it. You say it for as long as it’s true. Even if you can’t say it to anyone else, say it to your therapist.

      It’s an exercise in self-validation, a way of feeding yourself.

      Therapy really has only two things to offer — a place to practice being yourself, and a new way of looking at things. Both benefits depend partly on what the therapist brings to the table. But mostly they depend on what we bring. If we bring honesty and courage, that can’t help but raise our awareness. And raising awareness is itself a form of healing.

      No, it’s not always fun. Fritz Perls once wrote, “It’s not easy giving birth to yourself.”

      But we’d rather be among the ones in labor than among those who don’t try.

      • SheLongedForStarsInHerHeart

        Thank you!
        “It’s an exercise in self-validation, a way of feeding yourself.” This is a new thought for me and yet it fits well with my experience of feeling better after saying something that seemed “true inside”. I didn’t realising that I was feeding myself when I did that.
        The part about therapy helped as well. And thank you for the encouragement :).

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