Having a narcissist in your life is exhausting. They demand so much from you and always find a way to make you feel like you aren’t good enough. It may leave you thinking to yourself, “What do narcissists really want?”.

What narcissists want is to be validated, admired, and reassured by others, and they want to have power and control over others. This is known as narcissistic supply. Narcissists use this supply to construct a positive self-perception and maintain emotional stability.

In this article we are going to guide you through all of the different things that narcissists want so you can grasp a better understanding of their behavior.

They Want to Be Validated by Others

Being validated by others means having your thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, experiences, values, and beliefs acknowledged by others.

For a narcissist, it is important to be validated by others because they have fragile high self-esteem.

This means that their feelings of self-worth are uncertain or unstable and based on unrealistically positive self-views.

An insecure man.

People with fragile high self-esteem are dependent on external validation for their positive self-views.

For narcissists, a lack of validation means that they can’t maintain their positive self-views and this triggers all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

One of the most common ways that narcissists get validation is mirroring.

In this context, mirroring refers to a manipulation tactic that occurs when a narcissist absorbs a ton of information about your identity and uses that information to create a falsified identity that you can relate with.

For example, imagine that you told the narcissist in your life that one of your family members was really sick and in the hospital.

They could use this information to mirror you by saying, “My uncle died last year from cancer. I don’t want to take away from anything you said, I just want you to know that I understand what you are going through right now.”

A narcissist trying to mirror

Over time, these types of interactions are going to make you feel heard, understood, valued, not alone, and will encourage you to naturally validate the narcissist because you think that you have so much in common.

Suggested Reading:

Our article How Do Narcissists Use Mirroring? has a ton of helpful information that you can use to grasp a better understanding of how narcissists use mirroring to get validation.

They Want to Be Admired by Others

To admire someone means to think highly of them and approve of their behavior.

Narcissists want to be admired by others because admiration helps them manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

You see, narcissists struggle with feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak.

A narcissist with painful thoughts, feelings, emotions.

They can’t manage these thoughts, feelings, and emotions on their own because they have low emotional intelligence.

What they do instead is they develop a falsified identity to suppress their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

This falsified identity gives them a grandiose sense of self-importance and a belief that they are special, unique, and envied by others.

One of the ways that they maintain this unrealistically positive self-perception is with admiration.

When a narcissist gets admired by others, it helps them keep their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions suppressed because they are able to maintain their unrealistically positive self-perception.

A narcissist getting a lot of attention.

When a narcissist isn’t getting a sufficient amount of admiration, their uncertain and unstable sense of self makes it so that all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions get triggered.

This means that instead of feeling important, special, and unique, they feel unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak.

They Want to Be Reassured by Others

When you reassure someone, it means that you say or do things to make them stop worrying about something. 

One of the most common things that a narcissist wants to be reassured about is that you won’t leave them.

This is because narcissists have an insecure attachment style and it is very common for those with insecure attachment styles to need a lot of reassurance.

A woman talking about a narcissist's insecurities.

The term “attachment styles” is used to describe the different ways that we interact and behave in relationships.

It originates from the work of John Bowlby, a psychiatrist, and Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist, who introduced the Attachment Theory in the 1950’s.

This theory focuses on the relationships we have with our primary caregivers as infants.

During their work in the 1950’s, Bowlby and Ainsworth identified three attachment styles, secureanxious, and avoidant.

Since then, mental health professionals have added disorganized attachment style to the list.

These attachment styles follow us into adulthood.

A narcissistic man's life.

Adults with anxious attachment styles are typically needy, anxious, and have low self-esteem. They want to be close with others but are afraid that others don’t want to be close with them.

Adults with avoidant attachment styles typically avoid connecting with others. They rely on themselves, crave freedom, and find emotions to be difficult.

Disorganized attachment style is a combination of anxious attachment and avoidant attachment.

Adults with disorganized attachment styles have a hard time trusting people and they alternate between clinging to others and distancing themselves from them.

Now, we conducted a survey among 400 survivors of narcissistic abuse in our article “Why Do Narcissists Push You Away?”  to determine which attachment style they believed the narcissist in their life had.

66% of the participants believed that the narcissist in their life had a disorganized attachment style and also reported that they needed an excessive amount of reassurance throughout the entirety of the relationship.

A survey about attachment styles.

They Want to Have Power Over Others

Having power involves taking it from someone else, and then, using it to dominate and prevent others from gaining it.

For a narcissist, having power over others is incredibly important because it helps them feel superior.

When a narcissist is able to feel superior, it is much easier for them to suppress their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions because in their mind they are this larger than life figure that everyone should worship.

A narcissist feeling superior.

One of the most common ways that they achieve this is through financial abuse.

There are three types of financial abuse that narcissists use to gain power over others.

The first kind is economic exploitation. This is when a narcissist intentionally destroys your financial resources and/or credit.

For example, if the narcissist in your life was constantly getting into legal trouble and manipulating you into spending your own money to bail them out, buy them lawyers, or pay their fines, this would be considered economic exploitation.

The second kind is controlling the finances. This is when the narcissist uses abuse or manipulation to control your financial stability.

For example, if the narcissist in your life prevented you from accessing your financial accounts or forced you to ask permission to buy things, this would be considered controlling the finances.

A narcissist financially abusing his wife.

The third kind is employment sabotage. This is when the narcissist uses abuse and/or manipulation to get you to quit your job or to prevent you from finding a job.

For example, if the narcissist in your life prohibited you from working specific jobs or got you in trouble at work by constantly calling, texting, and showing up unannounced, this would be considered employment sabotage.

Suggested Reading:

Our article Do Narcissists Use Money to Control Others? has a lot of helpful information that will help you better understand financial abuse in narcissistic relationships.

They Want to Have Control Over Others

The abusive tendencies that narcissists have and the manipulation tactics that they use are designed to give them total control of their surrounding environment.

Narcissists are very controlling people.

Meaning that they are individuals who frequently attempt to maintain control, authority, and/or decision-making power over the people in their surrounding environment.

A narcissist searching for ways to control his wife.

Control is a very important thing for narcissists to have because it allows them to protect themselves from narcissistic injuries.

Narcissistic injuries are emotional traumas that overwhelm an individual’s defense mechanisms and devastate their pride and self-worth.

For example, narcissists believe that they are very special and unique individuals.

If you said to a narcissist, “There is nothing special or unique about you. You are just an abusive, manipulative, narcissist!”

A woman causing a narcissistic injury.

This would devastate their pride and self-worth, and cause them to experience a narcissistic injury.

When a narcissist experiences a narcissistic injury, all of their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions get triggered and they start feeling unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak.

Now, because of how fragile, vulnerable, and insecure narcissists are, just about anything can cause them to experience a narcissistic injury.

For example, something as insignificant as not returning their call quickly enough could cause a narcissistic injury.

A narcissist upset that someone didn't call her back.

Now, when a narcissist can control their surrounding environment, they have a much better chance of avoiding narcissistic injuries.

One of the most common ways that narcissists try to control their external environment is through narcissistic rage.

Narcissistic rage is an explosive, unpredictable, and unjustifiable response that narcissists have to narcissistic injuries.

For example, if you did in fact tell the narcissist in your life “There is nothing special or unique about you. You are just an abusive, manipulative, narcissist!”

They could go into a narcissistic rage by punching a hole in the wall, throwing things at you, or even hitting you with their hand.

A narcissist going into a rage.

Narcissistic rage can manifest in the form of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.

Over time, narcissistic rage makes you feel like you have to constantly walk on eggshells around the narcissist in your life and this is how they use it to control you.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists want narcissistic supply. This is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that they get from their surrounding environment.

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References:

Vaknin, Sam, and READ THIS. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) at a Glance.” (2006).

SALMAN AKHTAR, M. D., and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. “Overview: Narcissistic personality disorder.” Am J Psychiatry139.1 (1982).