A narcissist’s primary form of emotional regulation is narcissistic supply. This supply is the validation, admiration, and reassurance that narcissists get from their external environment. It helps narcissists construct a sense of and they use it to suppress all of the negative emotions that they have about themselves.

When narcissists run out of narcissistic supply their false sense of self deteriorates rapidly. This triggers their negative emotions and compromises their emotional stability. To replace the supply that they lost, narcissists will subject their victims to both aggressive and passive-aggressive forms of abuse. 

To start things off we have created a short video (see below) about the connection between a narcissist’s lack of supply and discarding. It is a very common response that narcissists have when they run out of narcissistic supply so we’ve summarized our articles Do Narcissists Care About Their New Supply and Why Do Narcissists Show Off Their New Supply to help answer any questions you may have if you have been discarded for a new supply.

A Short Video With Information About a Narcissist Discarding You Because They No Longer See You as a Source of Supply

Without Narcissistic Supply, a Narcissist Could Rely on Projection to Regulate Their Emotions

Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others (e.g. a narcissist cheats on their partner and finds the public image that cheating gives them unacceptable so instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they accuse their partner of cheating).

A narcissist’s usage of projection when they run out of narcissistic supply is very malicious. The reason being that the parts of a narcissist’s identity that they find unacceptable are their negative emotions. To project them onto their victim, they will invalidate, devalue, degrade, and humiliate them on a daily basis.

At a quick glance, this projection seems like what you would expect. Meaning that when the narcissist feels weak, inadequate, unlovable, etc., they project those feelings onto someone else. (e.g. a narcissist who feels unlovable projects those feelings onto their partner by saying, “Nobody will ever love someone like you!”)

But there’s actually a much more malicious side to projection that is often overlooked. In the grand scheme of things, the part of a narcissist’s identity that they find the most unacceptable is their emotional instability. To project their emotional instability onto others, they subject their victim to an intense amount of invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, humiliation, degradation, and manipulation. 

This abuse is so intense that it obliterates their victim’s sense of self and hijacks their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. Over time, the victim will become dependent on the narcissist to construct a sense of self and the victim’s lack of control over their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs will lead them into living vicariously through the narcissist. 

Narcissists will then use this level of power and control that they have over their victim to reconstruct the victim’s sense of self with all of their negative emotions. Meaning that they manipulate their victim into believing that they are weak, unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, and worthless.

What they are trying to do is make their victim feel as badly as they do so that they can figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “I’m not the weak, unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, and worthless one, they are!” 

A narcissist projection his negative emotions onto his victim.

Projection is a very common response that narcissists have when they run out of narcissistic supply. A lack of narcissistic supply causes their false sense of self to deteriorate, triggers their suppressed negative emotions, and forces them to rely on projection to protect their emotional stability. This often manifests in the form of narcissistic rage. 

How Do Narcissists Use Narcissistic Rage as a Form of Projection?

Narcissistic rage is an unpredictable, explosive, and unjustified rageful response that narcissists have when their fragile sense of self is contradicted. To understand narcissistic rage it is important to be aware that this fragile sense of self is believed to originate from an abusive childhood upbringing with emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent primary caregivers. 

These types of primary caregivers were incapable of mirroring the narcissist’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This means that the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to develop a realistic sense of self and have a healthy cognitive development. 

What happened instead was that the narcissist was forced to use the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they could get from their external environment to construct a sense of self. (e.g. a child of neglectful parents constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being a really good baseball player).

The combination of the emotional neglect that narcissists received from their primary caregivers and their approach to constructing a sense of self made them emotionally stunted, immature, and fragile with a ton of negative emotions about themselves.

As we mentioned earlier, these negative emotions are powerful ones like a sense of being weak, unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, and worthless. Narcissists rely on their primary form of emotional regulation, the false sense of self that they constructed out of narcissistic supply, to suppress these negative emotions. When a narcissist runs out of supply, it is common for them to use narcissistic rage to try to project their negative emotions onto their victim. 

The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury – these other features which are characteristics for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which sets it apart from other kinds of aggression – Heinz Kohut 

Under these circumstances, narcissistic rage is a form of projection. Their explosive, unpredictable, and unjustified response to contradictions to their false sense of self is designed to project all of their negative emotions onto their victim. Again, if done successfully, narcissists will have someone to figuratively point their finger at and think to themselves, “I’m not the weak, unlovable, inadequate, unwanted, alone, self-loathing, and worthless one, they are!” .

If you’re interested in learning more about a narcissist’s response to contradictions to their ego, our article What Happens When You Hurt a Narcissist’s Ego has a lot of really good information. If you’d like to learn more about narcissistic rage, we’ve created a short video (see below) that summarizes our article What Happens During Narcissistic Rage where we conducted a study among 100 survivors of narcissistic abuse to learn about the various forms of narcissistic rage. 

A Short Video About What Happens During Narcissistic Rage

Without Narcissistic Supply, Narcissists Could Resort to Self-Victimization 

Narcissists often victimize themselves, or even come off as depressed, when they run out of narcissistic supply. This is because they use the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get from narcissistic supply to suppress their negative emotions. 

Without narcissistic supply, their negative emotions escape the psychological box that they’ve been suppressed into and compromise the narcissist’s emotional stability. The negative emotions that we speak of are very powerful ones (e.g. a fear of abandonment, feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, and weak, self-loathing, insecure, and vulnerable).

Unfortunately, narcissists are so emotionally stunted and immature that they are incapable of managing these negative emotions on their own. If they don’t have someone to project their negative emotions onto, it is likely that they’ll clam up into a very victimized state until they get more narcissistic supply.

A Narcissist Could Use Baiting When They Run Out of Narcissistic Supply

Baiting occurs when a narcissist uses their victim’s vulnerabilities and insecurities against them to get them to engage in a negative confrontation. This confrontation creates narcissistic supply because it allows narcissists to victimize themselves, portray their victim in a negative light, or make their victim emotionally unstable so that they can invalidate, devalue, and degrade their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.

Suggested Reading: Why Do Narcissists Bait You?

Similar to projection, baiting allows narcissists to project their negative emotions and emotional instability onto their victim. If a narcissist says something hurtful and their victim responds with hurtful words of their own, the narcissist will likely deploy gaslighting techniques to help victimize themselves and vilify the victim.

A narcissist victimizing themselves to get narcissistic supply

When a narcissist is able to victimize themselves because of something their victim said, portray the victim in a negative light, and/or make their victim emotionally unstable, it gives them a lot of narcissistic supply which is why baiting is a very common response that narcissists have when they run out of narcissistic supply.

But there’s also a very big source of supply that baiting provides a narcissist, arguments. We spoke about this in our article Why Is Arguing With a Narcissist a Horrible Idea but narcissist’s love arguments because it gives them a chance to “win” or prove their superiority. 

Narcissists are addicted to the high and low points of a relationship that arguments create, winning an argument provides them with enough validation, admiration, and reassurance to repair their false sense of self, and they are really good at arguing because their low levels of neuroticism allow them to be more stable than a non-narcissistic person in stressful situations like arguments.

One thing that is worth mentioning is that narcissists with a covert personality usually have high levels of neuroticism. This means that stressful situations, like arguments, are incredibly destabilizing for them. 

If a narcissist with a covert personality were to use baiting to get narcissistic supply, they are likely going to try to manipulate their victim into engaging in a negative confrontation that allows them to victimize themselves. For more information about narcissists with covert personalities, check out our article What Are the Signs of a Covert Narcissist?

Baiting is a really common approach that narcissists have when attempting to refill their narcissistic supply because of how versatile it is. When a narcissist baits their victim into a negative confrontation, there are many different ways that they could obtain enough narcissistic supply to repair their fragile sense of self.

Narcissists Could Use Triangulation When They Run Out of Narcissistic Supply

When a narcissist makes one-on-one conversations, disagreements, feuds, etc., into two-on-one situations, it is known as triangulation. Triangulation can be very subtle
(e.g. a narcissistic boss purposely leaving one of his employees out of a company meeting to make them feel isolated) and it can be very obvious (e.g. a narcissistic man cheating on his wife with her best friend to turn the two against each other). 

It is possible that a narcissist could use triangulation to try to replenish their narcissistic supply because what triangulation does is it puts the narcissist in a position of power and control where people are fighting each other for the narcissist’s approval. 

This gives them a significant amount of validation, admiration, and reassurance that they can use to repair their fragile sense of self (e.g. a narcissist runs out of narcissistic supply so they try to triangulate their spouse with their ex. “I just wish that you cared as much about me as my ex did. He/she made me feel so loved and wanted”).

For victims of narcissistic abuse, triangulation creates a lot of self-doubt, self-blame, low self-esteem, anxiety, paranoia, trust issues, and shame. It can make them feel as if being themselves isn’t good enough to be associated with the narcissist. 

It often leads to victims of narcissistic abuse neglecting their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs to give the narcissist validation, admiration, and reassurance. If you’re interested in learning more about triangulation, we recommend that you check out our articles What Does Triangulation Look Like, Why Do Narcissists Triangulate You With an Ex, and 6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships.

What Should You Take Away From This Article

A lack of narcissistic supply is a very destabilizing experience for a narcissist. You should expect them to attempt to stabilize themselves with a lot of manipulative and intrusive aggressive and passive aggressive forms of abuse.


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Dufner, Michael, et al. “Narcissistic tendencies among actors: Craving for admiration, but not at the cost of others.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 6.4 (2015): 447-454.

Casale, Silvia, and Giulia Fioravanti. “Why narcissists are at risk for developing Facebook addiction: The need to be admired and the need to belong.” Addictive behaviors 76 (2018): 312-318.