Narcissistic supply is a key cornerstone concept to be aware of when trying to understand how narcissists work and what drives them. It’s the psychological “food” or “fuel” they use to prop up their broken ego and sense of self, and they have an addictive relationship with this “supply”. They need to feed off the attention or emotional responses of others.
But how can we actually starve a narcissist of supply if we want to get rid of them? How can we withhold whatever props up their fragile identity in a way that leads them to go elsewhere to get their “supply”?
To starve a narcissist of supply, it is recommended to not feed them with any drama, conflict, aggrandizement or attention, nor respond to any of their attempts to provoke reactions in you. Instead, seek to be as boring, dull, uninteresting and plain as possible, which will eventually lead them to seek their sources of supply elsewhere.
In the therapeutic and recovery space, this is sometimes also known as Gray Rock tactics – where you’re being as dull and boring and lifeless as possible like a gray rock – to intentionally NOT feed the narcissist with what they want. It’s a very real tactic and if done gradually, subtly and with cunning, can be used to get rid of a narcissist from your life, and also to temporarily handle a narc ex you might happen to bump into in public.
Let’s go through the different ways of starving a narcissist of their supply so they get their “fix” from other people instead.
Do Not Feed The Narcissist With Any Adoration/Attention
The first thing to withdraw from your interactions with narcissists is any kind of positive attention, adoration or reinforcement that provided them “supply” by feeding into their grandiose image of themselves.
There is some subtlety required here, since it’s NOT advised to openly attack or undermine these things (unless you want to and are ready for a rageful response), since it will cause narcissistic injury to them and lead them to start viciously attacking you in response. But you don’t want to support or reinforce these things either.
Here are some suggestions here:
- Stop feeding their fake grandiose self image fantasy, whatever it is (the “best” this, the most beautiful that, the “smartest” this etc). You don’t need to undermine it, as this will irritate them, but don’t feed it either.
- Cut off or starve them of all opportunities to denigrate or mock others, if this is how they get their supply (they, the superior one, is talking about how someone else is inferior or stupid).
- Don’t give them any sexual contact and attention if this is what they feed off, or what they hooked you in with. No talking yourself into short term flings, thinking it’s OK because it’s “not serious”. Cut off all positive attention to them.
- Don’t feed any image of number 1/best/brightest/biggest etc fantasies they have of themselves. Again, don’t undermine or attack it, but don’t feed it either. You don’t want them thinking they can get this “supply” off you anymore.
- Be boring, dull and grey rock – don’t feed them silliness or entertainment if that’s what they’re used to.
- A lot of narcissists have their ego wrapped up in being “funny” or quick witted/sharp etc. Don’t take them on when they want you to laugh at their nonsense. Just meet them with silent treatment and folded arms, or something similar, and stick to dull, cold facts and observations and keep your interactions with them humorless and boring.
In summary, when conversing with them, don’t ignore them, as this will irritate them. You DO respond, but in as dull, boring and dry a way as possible to starve them of what they feed off.
“The NPD feeds off drama. Or they seem to. What they’re actually feeding off is your emotional response. Because your emotionality and you’re “upset-ness” in their heads is directly proportionate to how much you care about them, and how much you care about them is directly proportionate to how much power they have over you.
When you’re a gray rock, you’re dull and lifeless. Yes, you respond, but there’s no drama there, and you’re not showing them that you’re upset, but you are responding. You’re just a boring thing – they’ll go away. Eventually, they will go away. They have to. These people are (supply) addicts. They’re hungry ghosts. That hungry ghost will float away and find someone else who’s going to give them what it is they’re really (craving) for.”
Do Not Feed The Narcissist With Any Drama
This sort of follows on from the above point, but another way a narcissist will try and get you investing energy and attention on them is to either try to create drama with you, or bring some nonsense drama in their life to you, trying to get you involved in it. The Cluster B disorders are called the dramatic disorders for a reason – they’re constantly trying to feed off drama.
A common way of this is to try and provoke conflict with you – we’ll cover this in the next section.
But here are some other traps to avoid to make sure you don’t feed the narcissist any supply:
- If they try and blow things up to be more than they are and create drama, don’t rise to it. Stay calm, factual and proportional to whatever is happening in front of you.
- If they text or call you with some manufactured or real “chaos” scenario (eg. calling you at 4 in the morning with some nonsense story or some request to bail them out of something), don’t respond or get drawn in. Calmly tell them it’s not your problem and end the conversation. Don’t get involved with their nonsense.
- Don’t get drawn into long conversations in person or phone/email/text about whatever nonsense drama they bring up. Use as few words as possible (less words than them as well), don’t inflate or rebuke them, but stick to cold, dry, dull, neutral statements.
In other words, don’t feed the narcissist any more than is absolutely factually necessary to get through the interaction as quickly as possible and get away from them. Starving a narcissist of drama is starving them of one of their main sources of supply.
Here’s a good example of how to limit words when using gray rock tactics:
“If they send you a Facebook message that is 500 words, that seems to be them spilling their guts, you send one back that is 100 words.
If they send you a text message that is 20 words, you send one back that is five. If they come to your house when they pick up the kids and you talk to them and they talk for 2 minutes, you talk back for 10 seconds.
Literally use less words. Literally count the words, and split it by a fifth. (You’re like): ‘I’m only gonna give you a fifth back of what you just said to me’.
The words, the language, has power. We’re only beginning to understand how much the NPD mindset and the enabler mindset is actually a byproduct of a misappropriation of language”
Do Not Respond To The Narcissist’s Provocation
A particular form of drama that narcissists love to create that needs it’s own section is provocation and conflict. They love to manufacture conflict and feed off the negative emotional reactions of others if their usual forms of adoration/attention supply fail for whatever reason.
Therefore, you must starve a narcissist of any strong emotional reactions as part of your gray rock tactics.
Here are some best practices and examples of this:
- NEVER try to use reason, sincerity or logic with a narcissist, especially when they’ve turned nasty or confrontational. They’re not interested in reason; only in provoking emotional reactions in others and watching them get exasperated trying to reason with them. Drop the naivety and get streetwise to how they work. Save your energy
- If they send through a provocative text or email, do NOT respond trying to “correct” them or put them right; that’s exactly what they want. Instead, ignore and block them. Cut off all contact; this starves them of the satisfaction of having you get upset and angry and respond to them. They feed off your emotional responses; cut this off and you win.
- If they’re trying to provoke you in person, don’t get angry or confrontational. Just use as few words as possible; respond but don’t react, and get out of there as soon as possible.
- If they try to triangulate (especially flirting with others) in person, simply leave. Do not stay stuck there watching it play out. We can have this reaction where we feel “frozen” on the spot, but you need to learn to push through this and force yourself to leave toxic scenarios where they’re triangulating or playing others off against you. Just get out of there and end the relationship if you haven’t already.
- If they triangulate by text or social media (“hey, I’m just with Emma right now” – trying to get you jealous), just play dumb and don’t even rise to their provocation. If they circle back round and try and re-press the jealousy button, don’t address it again. Pretend you’ve got no idea what they’re doing, and feed them dull, factual, dry nonsense instead of jealous reactions. Bore them off.
- Delete them fully off your social media, as even after you’ve broken up, they’ll still put stuff on there to wind you up. They know you’ll still be checking up on them, so starve them of this attention by going full-on no contact and moving on with your life like they never existed.
- Be deliberately boring, dull, businesslike and uncommunicative with the narcissist whenever engaging.
- Keep interactions short and sweet, and withdraw as soon as possible.
- If there’s specific thing you know they draw narcissistic supply from (eg. belittling or feeling superior to others), don’t feed it to them.
- Don’t feed them any sillyness or entertainment. Stay dull and humorless.
- Don’t reveal anything personal, private, sincere or vulnerable to them. Or anything they can manipulate or use against you. Keep to dull, dry, meaningless factual observations (“oh, that cloud over there seems a bit more grey than the others” – stuff like that).
- Don’t provide them with any drama, nor get sucked into any of their drama.
- Don’t rise to any of their attempts to annoy, provoke or upset you. When it’s clear they’re saying something to you with the intent to wind you up or upset you, respond in a bland, boring way that doesn’t even acknowledge that (tactical naivety). Pretend you don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.
- Ignore any of their attempts to attack you for this new behavior.
- In cases where you must communicate with a narcissist long term (eg. when children are involved), all communication is kept as brief, boring and non dramatic as possible. Use as few words as possible in responses and don’t be drawn into lengthy engagement, disengaging from interactions with them as soon as possible.
In other words, do NOT fall into this trap, perfectly described by Richard Grannon:
“The narcissist (or sociopath) reaches out with a provocative communication, with the intent of upsetting or hurting you…..The victim gets their adrenaline spiked….they become angry or anxious or depressed….The victim feels instantly, neurotically compelled to redress the balance…and they reply way too instinctively, way too quickly, with way too much emotion….trying to use reason where there is none….
….(The victim feels): ‘I have to drop everything and answer straight away and send through a 500 word essay about what they just said was wrong, and it was wrong, and they shouldn’t and it was unfair, and this is because of this, and also when you say that to a person that means X etc etc.’
And you’re psycho-babbling and philosophizing and you’re pouring out all this stuff. And the (narcissist/sociopath) is sat back going “Ha ha ha ha! Got ya!”.
You’ve given them exactly what they want. Because you’re showing them you’re upset. You’re showing them you’re in an emotional state.
The narcissist/sociopath then goes into an emotional high….and they learn that this works, and they keep it in their toolbox. Effectively what we do over time is we teach the (toxic person) what hurts us….Don’t teach what hurts them what hurts you”
We’ve all been there, but responding like this is feeding the supply the narcissist is seeking; it’s playing into their hands. Get streetwise to how they feed off emotional responses, and you can cut this supply off.
Here’s another good quote I often use from Jackson Mackenzie summing up the need for calmness when dealing with these types of people in a way that doesn’t feed them supply:
One of the biggest things you can do for yourself if you are dealing with someone like this is to always remain calm when dealing with them because what you’ll find with psychopaths and narcissists especially is that they’re trying to provoke you.
They’re trying to provoke reactions so that you look crazy and hysterical and they can then sit back and play victim and say ‘oh look what this person did to me and how crazy they’re acting’.
If you remain calm completely with them, you gain that upper hand. They’re trying to put you on the defensive. They’re trying to make you feel like you’re under attack. So if they say the perfect thing that has you thinking ‘oh my god, I have to respond to that because I have the perfect response, you should know that was intentionally planned”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here.
This whole issue of narcissists/psychopaths, “supply” and especially the provocative and reaction seeking behavior they engage in to get this supply is a really important cornerstone of understanding the Cluster B disorders that we need to grind into our sensibilities to better deal with them.
Therefore, here’s some more related articles that cover this topic in detail:
- Narcissistic supply (defined plus examples – detailed guide)
- Reasons NOT to engage with a narcissist/psychopath
- Should you attempt to reason with a narcissist/psychopath?
- What happens when a narcissist loses their supply?
- How to intentionally feed supply to a narcissist (to protect yourself)
- Dealing with your boss trying to provoke you.
- How to irritate a narcissist (with examples)