It is very common for narcissists to fight tooth and nail to keep their exes in their life for as long as possible. It can, and often does, make their romantic partners extremely uncomfortable, self-conscious, anxious, and confused.

Narcissists keep their exes around so they can have access to sex, money, praise, attention, or any other forms of narcissistic supply they desire, at any time. For a narcissist, ex partners are merely backup sources of narcissistic supply that they can use if they are unsatisfied with their current relationship.

This article is going to guide you through the different ways that narcissists turn their exes into sources of narcissistic supply so you can grasp a better understanding of the reason that narcissists keep their exes around.

Narcissists Keep Their Exes Around So They Can Have Access to Narcissistic Supply

Narcissistic supply is the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control that narcissists get from their surrounding environment. This supply is very important for a narcissist’s emotional stability because they use it as their primary form of emotional regulation and to build a positive self-perception.

A narcissist building himself out of supply.

Suggested Reading:

If narcissistic supply is something that you are unfamiliar with, our article Why Do Narcissists Want to be Admired and Praised? will help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of it.

Before we dive into the different ways that narcissists turn their exes into sources of narcissistic supply, there’s something that you should know. If you have a narcissist in your life who keeps their exes around, it is really important that you understand that it has nothing to do with who you are as a person.

It is common for narcissists to try to justify keeping their exes around by blaming you for “not being good enough” but that is far from the truth. The truth is that narcissists don’t value your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. They only care about how much narcissistic supply they can get their hands on.

They feel entitled to doing whatever they want, whenever they want, and they expect you to be okay with it.

They Use Their Exes as a Backup Source of Narcissistic Supply

A backup is a copy of important data that is stored at an alternative location. In this context, narcissistic supply is the important data that is being stored and the narcissist’s exes are the alternative locations the data is being stored at.

A narcissist trying to keep his exes in his life.

At a quick glance, you might think that the only supply that narcissists can get by keeping their exes around is sex, money, praise, attention, and any other form of supply that they desire. However, there’s a hidden aspect of a narcissist using their exes as backup sources of narcissistic supply that is important to be aware of.

One of the most frightening things about having a narcissist in your life is their tendency to dehumanize their partners.

They don’t look at their partners and think to themselves, “This is a person who has thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs of their own.” They look at their partners and think to themselves, “I’m entitled to remaining in power and control of this thing because it is nothing more than a source of narcissistic supply that I’m entitled to use.”

An entitled narcissist.

A Quote From One of Our Community Members

“It was always mind-blowing to me to see how little my older narcissistic sister respected my life. She would do everything in her power to control me but would tell me that she was just trying to protect me from the ‘bad’ people in this world. I believed her for a while but as I got older and learned more, I began to see that she was just trying to keep me around because I was her main supply.” -Johnathan

When narcissists are able to keep their exes around, despite all of the abuse that they put them through, the sense of ownership (i.e. the act, state, or right of possessing something) gives the narcissist a tremendous amount of narcissistic supply.

Suggested Readings:

Our articles Will a Narcissist Obey a Restraining Order?andWill a Narcissist Try to Get Revenge? have a ton of information about narcissists feeling entitled to remaining in power and control of their exes that you might find helpful.

They Keep Tabs on Their Exes

The phrase “keep tabs” means to carefully watch (someone or something) in order to learn what that person or thing is doing. It is common for a narcissist to keep their exes around so they can keep tabs on them.

A narcissist spying on someone.

This is because keeping tabs on their exes gives narcissists all of the information that they need to remain in power and control. Remember, narcissists feel entitled to remaining in power and control of their exes’ for as long as they see fit.

There are three primary reasons that keeping tabs on their exes gives narcissists so much narcissistic supply.

The first reason is because it allows them to use their exes as backup sources of narcissistic supply.

We spoke about this in the previous section so we won’t go into too much detail here but when a narcissist knows the whos, whats, wheres, whens, hows, and whys of their exes’ lives, it is much easier to keep them around as backup sources of supply because they know everything that is going on in their exes’ lives (image below)

A narcissist getting reading to hoover his ex.

The second reason the keeping tabs on their exes gives narcissists narcissistic supply is because doing so allows them to observe the pain that they’ve caused them. You see, one of the ways that narcissists project their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto others is through abuse and manipulation.

If you didn’t know already, projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when someone takes parts of their identity that they find unacceptable and places them onto someone else.

For example, a man who is feeling insecure about his masculinity mocking other men for acting like women. Another example could be a husband who is attracted to a female coworker accusing his wife of being attracted to other men.

A narcissist using projection.

The parts of a narcissist identity that they find unacceptable are their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Specifically, feelings of being inadequate, worthless, weak, unwanted, and unlovable.

Suggested Reading:

If you are interested in learning more about the origin of a narcissist’s painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions, our article How Are Narcissists Made? has a lot of information that you may find helpful.

How exactly do narcissists project their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions onto others?

When a narcissist destroys the emotional stability of another person, it allows them to figuratively point their finger at them and think to themselves, “I’m not the one who is inadequate, worthless, weak, unwanted, and unlovable, they are!”

A narcissist with many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

By keeping tabs on an ex who is trying to heal from the narcissistic abuse that he or she experienced, narcissists are able to manage their painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions through projection.

Suggested Reading:

Our articles Why Do Narcissists Use Projection? and8 Examples of Narcissistic Projection have a ton of helpful information that you can use to learn more about the role that projection plays in a narcissist’s life.

The third and final reason that narcissists keep tabs on their exes is to isolate, silence, and discredit them. You see, narcissists work really hard to maintain a charming, charismatic, confident, intelligent, articulate, attractive, and successful public persona.

They do this because it helps them get the narcissistic supply that they need from their surrounding environment. The biggest threat to this public persona are the people that narcissists abuse because they are often the only ones who know that the narcissist’s public persona is a lie.

A narcissist pretending to be nice.

Narcissists know this and will often use flying monkeys, people who have been recruited by a narcissist to help them abuse others, to isolate, silence, and discredit the people that they’ve abused before the people that they’ve abused have a chance to expose them to others.

A Quote From One of Our Community Members

I somehow ended up becoming friends with the new supply after her and my narcissistic ex broke up. She told me that the narc would be all over my social media, calling his little minions to check up on me, and telling these ridiculous lies to try to turn people against me. – Julia

They Use Their Exes to Triangulate You

Triangulation is a manipulation tactic that occurs when someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party. It is designed to create a power imbalance so the person doing the triangulation can dominate the situation.

It is very common for a narcissist to keep their exes around so they can triangulate their current partners. For example, imagine that you are having an argument with a narcissist about their spending habits because it is creating a lot of debt for the both of you.

They could use one of their exes to triangulate you by saying something like, “Listen, I told my ex about you and he/she said that you are being too controlling and to be honest with you, I agree! He/she was never this controlling with me, that is why we have so much love for each other. If you want us to last, change your attitude now!”

A narcissist using triangulation.

Suggested Reading:

Our articleWhy Do Narcissists Triangulate You With an Ex? has a lot of helpful information that will help you better understand the reason that narcissists keep their exes around.

Narcissists love to use triangulation because it gives them a significant amount of power and control, which are two out of the five elements of narcissistic supply.

A Quote From One of Our Community Members

“I can’t remember a single argument that didn’t have some type of triangulation in it. He would triangulate me with anyone that he could but his exes were the most common. He would tell me that his exes told him that I wasn’t good enough for him and I would f*cking believe it every single time. For a while, all of our confrontations ended with me apologizing and groveling at his feet. I know it gave him so much narcissistic supply because it made him feel powerful.” -Izzy

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissists keep their exes around so they can use them as backup sources of narcissistic supply.


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:

Seidman, Gwendolyn, and Brooke Schlott. “Narcissistic admiration and rivalry and reactions to romantic breakup.” Personality and Individual Differences 186 (2022): 111342.

Ronningstam, Elsa. Identifying and understanding the narcissistic personality. Oxford University Press, 2005.