The dominance of narcissistic abuse is destabilizing. A narcissist’s behavioral patterns are designed to erode your emotional stability and contradict your identity. Being caught in a narcissistic abuse cycle is terrifying, emotionally draining, and cruel. 

It takes people months, if not years or even decades, to learn how to manage narcissism in a way that will either enable them to escape the environment or allow them to protect their sanity because leaving the narcissist isn’t an option.

But as you learn more about narcissism, you’ll begin to uncover many of its hidden elements, two of them being their vulnerabilities and insecurities. 

In fact, one of their biggest weaknesses is how dependent they are on your attention, which is commonly referred to as narcissistic supply. 

The combination of the fragility of a narcissist’s ego and their emotional immaturity causes them to be very dependent on narcissistic supply, the validation and admiration of others. 

This article has been designed to give you a unique perspective of narcissistic abuse to enable you to escape the abusive environment you’re in. It is not meant to encourage you to minimize and/or coddle narcissistic behavior. 

Five Signs That a Narcissist Wants Your Attention 

At the root of all narcissistic behavior patterns is their emotional immaturity. It is believed by many researchers that this immaturity stems from an unhealthy/abusive childhood. 

A narcissist’s origin story is sad but also quite fascinating because it gives you so much insight on the reasoning behind their behavior patterns and having a comprehensive grasp of it puts you in a position to be able to manage narcissistic abuse much more efficiently.

There’s far too much information for this article so be sure to check out How Are Narcissists Made if you want to learn more. 

For now, the most important thing for you to understand is that narcissists have a crazy amount of negative emotions suppressed within their psyche and their emotional immaturity means they’re incapable of regulating them.

With the level of negative emotions they have suppressed, their inability to regulate their own emotions is detrimental to their well-being. The only way they can function is if they find a scapegoat to project all of their emotions onto. 

But this isn’t enough…

They can project these emotions onto others all they want, but they still need to replace it with narcissistic supply, the validation and admiration of others, to fill the bottomless pit of despair they have built into their psyche. 

Unfortunately, because of their emotional immaturity, they tend to blindly follow societal norms to build their self-esteem. The reason being that to build one’s self-esteem in a healthy way it would require a significant amount of self-reflection. 

As some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet with an inability to regulate their own emotions, self-reflection is a foreign concept. Instead, they spend their existence formulating and maintaining a falsified reality that enables them to fit in and be accepted by society.

So, they naturally gravitate towards things like money, power, success, control, social media, and family life because it is what we value most as a society. 

It is really important to understand the fragility of their ego, their emotional immaturity and their mission because it sheds light on so many different aspects of narcissistic abuse.

That’s not all…

When a narcissist doesn’t receive the narcissistic supply that they so desperately need, it triggers all of their suppressed emotions and their emotional immaturity causes them to resort to the narcissistic behaviors we’re all well aware of. 

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the five most commonly seen signs that a narcissist wants your attention.

The Silent Treatment & Narcissistic Rage

The fragility of a narcissist’s ego is what makes their behavior so unpredictable for those who don’t have a comprehensive grasp on narcissism and narcissistic abuse. 

It sounds insane, but something as trivial as constructive criticism could set a narcissist off in a terrifying rage, or a much more passive aggressive approach known as the silent treatment. 

Even though from a non-narcissistic perspective, they seem to explode over the most insignificant things imaginable, for a narcissist the things that we label as trivial actually contradict their identity. 

Their explosiveness is precisely what you should be focused on if you want to understand how the silent treatment and narcissistic rage are ways a narcissist seeks your attention.

On paper, there are many similarities between narcissistic emotions and non-narcissistic emotions. For example, narcissistic injuries, rage, and supply are all things that non-narcissistic people have and/or desire as well.  

Therefore, a common mistake those who haven’t experienced narcissistic abuse make is assuming that narcissistic injuries are just ego injuries but involving a narcissist. Or narcissistic rage is just anger or rage but with a narcissist.

This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Narcissists experience narcissistic injuries on a daily basis because of how fragile their egos are. 

But their emotional immaturity makes them incapable of regulating the feeling of having their identity contradicted so they either go into a narcissistic rage or use the silent treatment to express their emotions.

The reason this has a correlation with the five signs that a narcissist wants your attention can be found within the attachment theory, which is actually one theory about how narcissists are created.

If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, the anxious attachment style might have sounded familiar to you. 

Thanks to the work of Cynthia Hazan and Phillip Shaver, it has been revealed that these attachment styles carry over into adulthood, forming a very strong correlation between anxious attachment style and narcissism. 

Not only is narcissistic rage and the silent treatment a manifestation of a narcissist’s emotional immaturity but it is also a manifestation of their anxious attachment style as well. 

Their fear of abandonment causes their relationships to be a sickening oscillation between abuse and wanting reassurance that you won’t “abandon” them. They’ll manipulate you to the point of exhaustion then use hoovering or intermittent reinforcement to suck you back in. 

They’ll experience narcissistic injury and throw themselves into a rage or into a silent treatment but will become very anxious, irritable, distort, and desperate if you were to leave the environment. 

They want your attention but also want to punish you for contradicting their reality. Almost as if they are reliving their childhood but this time they want to be in control. Narcissistic rage and the silent treatment are a way that narcissists manipulate you into giving them attention. 

Intermittent Reinforcement, Hoovering and Baiting

Operating under the belief that narcissist’s have anxious attachment styles, their entire adulthood is spent battling a crippling fear of abandonment. Decades of fighting their need to be admired, validated, and loved while being terrified of it at the same time. 

As a consequence, narcissists have a variety of manipulative techniques designed to push others away to soothe their fear of rejection and to quickly pull them back in to soothe their fear of abandonment. 

Narcissists use these manipulative behaviors designed to get your attention to neglect their own emotional instability. Each of the following behaviors are designed to manipulate very specific aspects of your psyche to bring out a reaction that they can feed off of.

Having a clear understanding of the dynamics of each behavior pattern can put you in a position to defend yourself from narcissistic abuse

Intermittent Reinforcement 

To start us off we will take a look at intermittent reinforcement as I personally believe it is one of the most malicious tactics in the narcissistic realm, and can manifest in a multitude of different behavior patterns.  

Intermittent reinforcement is defined as the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. Narcissistic environments are so emotionally starved that empathy, attention, intimacy, and compassion are the “rewards” that narcissists use.

It works so well because narcissists have a strange ability to learn the ins and outs of your identity very quickly but instead of using the information they gathered to strengthen the relationship, they use it to manipulate you.

It is no secret that narcissistic abuse is emotionally and/or physically draining. Their need to be dominant, a “winner,” and in control makes the relationship so toxic. Over time you’ll either become so exhausted that you leave the environment, or psychologically “curl up into a ball” and subconsciously weather the storm. 

Either way, you’re no longer a source of narcissistic supply, validation and admiration.

So what do they do? 

They use all of the information they gathered about you throughout the entirety of your relationship to create the perfect “reward.” 

Depending on the circumstances, this could be shutting off their phone for dinner, complimenting you, a weekend without fighting, intimacy, a vacation and so on.

Months of abuse then all of a sudden you randomly get the one thing you’ve been asking for. 

Intermittent reinforcement manipulates the chemicals in your brain by activating your brain’s reward sector and flooding your body with dopamine. This is a very addictive feeling, the same addiction that you get from using illegal substances. 

What ends up happening is that you’ll stay in the relationship no matter how bad the abuse gets because the narcissist, specifically when they use intermittent reinforcement, becomes your only known source of happiness.

Intermittent reinforcement also triggers your sense of hope. The hope that one day the narcissist in your life will change and be the person you always wanted them to be.

Without the proper guidance, you’ll be waiting for that day to come for your entire life.

Intermittent reinforcement is a very manipulative way that a narcissist can get your attention while regulating their negative emotions.

They learn just how much abuse you can endure before the narcissistic supply goes stale and they have to reignite it by dragging you back into the relationship.

Hoovering

Yet another tactic that manipulates your sense of hope is called hoovering. You’re probably familiar with the love bombing phase. It is in the beginning of some narcissistic relationships where the narcissist will use manipulation to morph into the embodiment of your Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.

Depending on the type of narcissism you’re dealing with, the love bombing phase can manifest in a variety of ways. But the traditional concept of love bombing circulates around grandiose narcissism.

It is characterized as an overwhelming amount of intimacy, spontaneous moments, connections, gifts and trips. The narcissist will also use this time to mirror you, so you end up feeling like you have a relationship with someone who knows you better than anyone else. 

Hoovering is essentially love bombing, but at the end of the relationship. But instead of having to work hard to get to know you through mirroring, the narcissist in your life already has all of the information they need to be able to manipulate and control you.

So, whether you discarded the narcissist or the narcissist discarded you, they will most likely try to hoover you back into the relationship by using all of the information they gathered about you, against you. 

For example, if you broke up with the narcissist because he/she had an anger issue, they’d try to hoover you back into the relationship by claiming they are going to therapy to work on it. 

If you haven’t been able to acknowledge that they will not change their behavior and what you’re experiencing is abuse, you could very well fall for a scheme like this and find yourself back in harm’s way. 

If the narcissist discarded you, moved on quickly, and decided that he/she wasn’t getting enough narcissistic supply from their new partner, they could try to hoover you back into the relationship by claiming that they didn’t realize what you two had until they left. 

Hoovering is yet another way that narcissists can keep your attention on them if you haven’t been able to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the narcissistic abuse you endured. 

Baiting

Defensive techniques that you can use to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle like setting boundaries, the gray rock method, and no contact, are nothing short of genius.

They are designed to exploit a narcissists’ biggest weakness, their dependence on narcissistic supply. But require that you have a very clear understanding of narcissism and narcissistic behavior patterns to work.

The reason they are so hard to use is because by using them, you’re challenging a narcissist’s identity

Those techniques contradict a narcissist’s sense of specialness, takes away their much needed validation and admiration, triggers all of their suppressed emotions, and triggers their fear of abandonment. 

This puts a narcissist into a fight or flight mode and you better believe they are going to choose to fight every single time.

When you use the defensive techniques I listed above that are designed to reduce the amount of narcissistic supply you give to a narcissist, they’ll try to bait you into a confrontation or at the very least an edgy conversation.

To do this they’ll simply weaponize your vulnerabilities and insecurities and use them against you. The catch is that the moment you engage with them, they’ll find some convoluted way to create a narrative that portrays you as the one with the problem, not them.

Baiting is nothing more than a narcissist’s insecure, last ditch effort to get your attention and regain control of the narcissistic supply. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

As dominant as they may appear, narcissists are dependent on your attention. Narcissistic supply is a narcissist’s best friend, but also their worst enemy. Learning how to limit the amount of supply you give to the narcissist in your life is crucial for your healing journey.

There’s a wide spectrum of narcissistic supply. Yes, it is validation and admiration. But it also is the chaos a narcissist’s behavior brings. 

For example, the gray rock method is when you refuse to have any significant conversation with a narcissist. You won’t argue with them, you won’t try to defend yourself, you won’t explain yourself. The only thing you’ll do is keep the conversations as superficial as possible. 

When they start to poke and jab at you with your insecurities and vulnerabilities, you’ll remain indifferent to their abuse for the time being. The moment you’re in a safe place and out of earshot of the narcissist, feel free to express your emotions. 

Don’t give them the satisfaction of being able to call you the crazy, sensitive, dramatic, or abusive one.

A really informative way to think about narcissism is the projection of one’s own instability onto another. Because of their inability to regulate their own emotions, they use you to do so. 

All of their fears, doubts, insecurities, vulnerabilities (emotional instability) are projected onto you so they can maintain their superficial reality and protect their fragile egos from being injured by their unstable, self-loathing, lonely, and desperate inner world.

Victims of narcissistic abuse are essentially a repository for a narcissist’s negative emotions.

But…

Being able to identify these five signs that a narcissist wants your attention arms you with some of the knowledge needed to dismantle narcissistic abuse and find peace of mind, whatever that may look like for you.

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Suggested Readings:

What Are Narcissists’ Weaknesses?

How Are Narcissists Made?