Generally speaking, the traits that narcissists have prevent them from maintaining healthy relationships. For example, their grandiose sense of self-importance prevents them from respecting the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of others.
Narcissists get into relationships for narcissistic supply. They need this supply to feel emotionally stable, construct a positive self-perception, and maintain a grandiose public persona that hides their insecurities, vulnerabilities, and abusive tendencies from others.
For narcissists, relationships are purely transactional. In this article we are going to explain the different ways that narcissists can get narcissistic supply from a relationship. Having this information will help you grasp a better understanding of the reason that narcissists get into relationships.
Narcissists Get Into Relationships for Narcissistic Supply
Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists receive from their external environment.
Narcissists use narcissistic supply to feel emotionally stable, construct a positive self-perception, and maintain a grandiose public persona. If you would like to learn more about this, our article “Why Do Narcissists Want to be Admired and Praised” explains it very well.
Validation is recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. A simple example of validation could be your boss saying,“Great job with the project today, I really enjoyed hearing your presentation.”
Relationships offer narcissists an incredible amount of validation.
Generally speaking, the validation that narcissists receive in the beginning stages of the relationship comes from the people that they are in a relationship with. For example, comments such as “You have every right to feel (blank); he/she doesn’t see how great you are” can be validating for a narcissist.
Unfortunately, this type of validation isn’t enough.
As the relationship progresses, narcissists will prefer the validation that comes from abusing others. When a narcissist can cause someone to develop painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, it allows the narcissist to project the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they struggle with onto others.
You see, narcissists don’t have the emotional skills needed to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Instead, they use narcissistic supply to build a grandiose self-perception and public persona to suppress their emotional stability.
By causing others to develop painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, narcissists are able to figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “I’m not the one who is unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak, they are.” As you can imagine, this provides narcissists with an incredible amount of validation.
Admiration is respect and warm approval. A simple example of admiration could be you telling your partner, “It makes me proud to be by your side.” Generally speaking, relationships are a huge source of admiration for narcissists because of a manipulation tactic called mirroring.
In this context, mirroring refers to a narcissist’s ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about the identity of a person, or a group of people, then use that information to create a falsified identity designed to portray them as “perfect” to others.
For example, if you told a narcissist, “I was supposed to go to a D1 college for football but I blew out my knee during my sophomore and senior year of high school.”
They could mirror you by saying something like, “I was also supposed to go to a D1 college for baseball but destroyed my rotator cuff my senior year. It still hasn’t recovered fully. Not to take away from anything that you just said, I just want you to know that you’re not alone.”
Generally speaking, when a narcissist uses mirroring it manipulates you into feeling heard, understood, and supported. Over time, mirroring will allow the narcissist to present themselves as the “perfect” person for you.
Once this bond is formed, it is very common for people to want to do everything in their power to keep the narcissist in their life. This desire is what turns many into large sources of admiration for the narcissist.
Reassurance is the action of removing someone’s doubts or fears. For example, if your child came running into your room at night complaining about a monster under his/her bed, you could provide them reassurance by checking under their bed and then saying, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing under there.”
A narcissist’s need for reassurance is believed to originate from their insecure attachment styles. If you didn’t know already, an attachment style is the characteristic way people relate to others in the context of intimate relationships, which is heavily influenced by self-worth and interpersonal trust.1
People with insecure attachment styles (i.e. avoidant, anxious, disorganized) typically need constant reassurance that they are loved, worthy, and good enough. Narcissists use the relationships that they form to meet this need.
A common approach that narcissists have to obtaining reassurance from others is the devaluation phase. Do you remember the manipulation tactic we spoke about in the previous section called mirroring?
Well, when a narcissist senses that you’ve attached yourself to them because of the mirroring, they will drop the act and begin the devaluation phase. This phase is filled with invalidation, devaluation, humiliation, manipulation, and other forms of both emotional and physical abuse.
How does this give narcissists the reassurance that they need?
Sadly, many people who are being abused by a narcissist find ways to justify, rationalize, and normalize the abuse and manipulation in the devaluation phase. When this happens, the person being abused becomes a huge source of reassurance for the narcissist.
Do you still remember the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we mentioned in the beginning of this article?
Well, by staying in the relationship people being abused by a narcissist are essentially reassuring the narcissist of their grandiose self-perception. In other words, they are helping the narcissist believe that they are not unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, worthless, and weak because the person is choosing to not cut ties with them.
Reassurance is just one of the many functions that the devaluation phase has. In our article “What Is the Devaluation Phase?“ there is a lot of information about this phase that you may find helpful for your healing journey.
Power and Control
Power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Control means to determine the behavior or supervise the running of someone or something. The relationships that narcissists maintain give them a significant amount of power and control.
This is because narcissists don’t care about your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. They only care about getting the narcissistic supply that they need to feel emotionally stable. This lack of empathy and self-centeredness causes them to use some truly awful abuse/manipulation tactics to gain power and control over you.
One of the most common tactics that narcissists use to gain power and control over you is gaslighting. This is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone doubts or denies your reality.
For example, if you called out the abusive person in your life for calling you stupid and they said, “You are just looking for problems now. I never called you stupid!” that would be considered gaslighting. Now, it is important that you know that gaslighting is much more than just manipulative lies and deceptive wording.
What makes gaslighting, gaslighting, is the environment that you’re in. There typically are dozens of abuse/manipulation tactics that coexist in gaslighting environments and they all help the abusive people in your life manipulate you into questioning your sanity and doubting your own reality.
There are six different types of gaslighting that narcissists use to gain power and control over others. If you would like to learn about this, click here to download our resource that explains all six types. Having this information will help you keep yourself safe from gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a devastating form of manipulation. In our article “What Does Gaslighting Do to the Victim?“ has a ton of information that will help you better understand the impact that gaslighting has on someone’s life.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Narcissists get into relationships for the narcissistic supply. Sadly, they don’t care about the thoughts, feelings, or emotions of others. They are only concerned with how much validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control they can get.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.