The supply model of narcissism is a great way of understanding this peculiar and toxic personality disorder, but one specific question is what happens with a narcissist actually starts to lose their supply? When they have it, life is great and they’re on top of the world, but what about when they aren’t getting it anymore for whatever reason?
Here is a quick answer:
When a narcissist loses their supply, they start to fall into depletion and can become visibly deflated and depressed. To counteract this, they either attack and provoke negative reactions in others to inflate themselves, or discard the person they are with and move onto someone else who they think is a better source of supply
In other words, narcissists are fundamentally very broken and fragile individuals who have an addictive relationship with the supply they seek from others.
This can make them very volatile and changeable individuals, and also makes forming healthy relationships impossible for them, which is why these people need to be spotted and avoided at all costs for healthy people. If you are caught up in the process of a narcissist losing their supply, it can be very unpleasant, so it’s best to learn to identify and steer clear of these individuals to begin with.
Most readers probably have a general idea of what narcissistic supply is, but we’ll first briefly go over the concept of supply as it relates to narcissism, and then look at the different reactions you can expect when narcissists start to lose this supply.
The Supply Model of Narcissism Explained
The supply model of NPD is the best way to understand the disorder. It basically states that narcissists are constantly looking for some form of supply from other people, which confirms one of two things:
- How they’re so beautiful, clever, bright, funny, exceptional and special. Some kind of admiration/adoration/attention.
- How other people (or one target scapegoat individual or group in particular) is stupid and dumb, which makes them feel superior and “full” by comparison
This can take many different forms; here are just some of them (list is not exhaustive):
- Love (but they never really love you back)
- Being feared
- Control or power over others.
- Constantly being validated and affirmed in their twisted worldview 100% of the time.
- Sexual attention.
- A sense of special-ness, uniqueness and perfection.
- A sense of being the best/number 1/top dog in some field or environment
- A sense of being the smart, enlightened one, while everyone around them is a stupid, inferior servant.
- Constant silly-ness and back and forth humor, jokes, memes, and being fed constant entertainment, as long as they’re the center of attention.
- A back and forth implicit arrangement where you’ll always agree on stuff and never disagree or challenge any of his obvious character deficits.
All this comes from the fact that the narcissistic personality is a fundamentally broken type of personality, in that the person is malignantly in love with their own false self image. There is a break with reality there, but to keep this mental break intact, they need constant reassurance (supply) that their false view of themselves and the world is actually true.
“The NPD is a uniquely broken type of disorder….There isn’t another personality disorder quite like the narcissistic personality disorder. Some people would even argue that because of the differences with other major personality disorders, it doesn’t even qualify properly as a personality disorder, because it’s actually more like a machine like series of defense mechanisms that plays out in a very, very predictable way.
Which is why all narcissists sound the same. Which is why when you have someone who either has NPD, or is very familiar with NPD, they can predict with a high degree of accuracy, what your NPD will do next, or what they’re saying to you actually means, because they all think the same way”
Richard Grannon – Spartan Life Coach
Without Supply, the Narcissist Falls into Depletion
As long as narcissists are getting this supply from the people around them, then everything’s great. Their false self image is being propped up, they’re perfect and flawless and can do no wrong, and they can even be good people to be around.
However, if for whatever reason they aren’t getting this reinforcement or supply, then sooner or later they will start falling into depletion, and their mood will drop. This may happen more slowly for some narcissists than others, but sooner or later the lack of reinforcement starts to bring them into contact with the painful reality that their grandiose image of themselves is false and has no bearing in reality.
The pain of this is unbearable for the narcissist, and this is why the more fragile ones can even appear to be visibly deflated and depressed if they lose their source of supply. Paranoia and suspicion are also not uncommon, as they start to think the world is out to attack them as their bubble gets burst.
This might be why narcissists have been shown to be quite prone to depression – their sense of self is actually very fragile and is constantly at risk of being deflated if they stop getting fed their supply for whatever reason.
However, there are shades of gray to this. Some of the more overt narcissists are so overt (out-front) with their narcissism because they have a good/reliable supply of it – everyone in their environment is constantly reinforcing their false sense of self, and there are enough different sources of supply that they’re never usually short of it. It can often take longer for these people to fall into depletion.
By contrast, the more hidden or covert narcissist is more covert precisely because their supply is not so secure or reliable; perhaps they only get it in sporadic intervals, or from less people. These types of narcissists are often more noticeably fragile and deflated, and can fall into depletion more quickly. Think about the covert narcissist boss who everyone hates and realizes is a narcissist and is useless at his job. No one in his environment is reinforcing his fake sense of self, so it’s much easier for him to feel deflated. He isn’t getting a reliable source of supply.
However, regardless of context, all narcissists will eventually start to feel deflated and depressed psychologically at some point if they start to lose their sources of supply. Let’s look at the different ways they can react when this happens.
Narcissists will quickly get deflated and depressed if they aren’t getting fed their supply
Reaction #1 – Attacking & Provoking Reactions
When narcissists fall into this depressed, depleted state, they typically resort to a couple of options to get out of it.
Firstly, they start attacking and hurting others. This can involves things like:
- Rageful, vindictive outbursts
- Ignoring and silent treatment.
- More covert sniping and subtle digs.
- Gaslighting – where they try to invert and flip reality, claiming things didn’t happen when they did, or vice versa.
- Projection – where they suddenly start accusing you of things they’re doing themselves. Like cheating, lying or stealing.
- Suddenly attacking your appearance, competence or opinions at every opportunity. Trying to plant self doubt and uncertainty in you.
- They may launch smear campaigns against you in social or work circles, spreading lies and false rumors about you to others, making you out to be crazy or a troublemaker.
- In a work environment, will often start attacking you and chipping away at your confidence.
- Deliberately trying to embarrass and undermine you in front of others.
- Alternating in a mean-sweet pattern of abuse, sometimes being nice and other times being insulting and nasty.
- In romantic relationships, may openly start flirting and cheating with other people. Cheating will be especially common if their main source of supply was sexual attention. They’ll just move onto someone else.
- If there isn’t outright cheating, they’ll at least start comparing you unfavorably to other people in conversation to plant self doubt and insecurity.
- More generally, there’s in increase in drama and conflict if you’re in a relationship with them. You will feel your anxiety, annoyance and rumination start to increase – that’s what they want.
The whole point of all these tactics is to provoke a negative reaction in you, to get you upset. If narcissists can’t fill themselves up with supply through the main route (admiration/adoration/attention etc), then their secondary backup method is to inflate themselves by making others feel bad. When they make other people feel “down”, they feel “full” again.
This is when the sick, inverted mindset of the narcissist (and the Cluster B personalities in general) becomes apparent to normal people. How can someone literally get off on upsetting and provoking negative emotional reactions in others? But narcissists do, because they are literally supply addicts who’ll do whatever is necessary to keep their false self image afloat, even if it means hurting others if they can’t get their supply the usual way.
In some cases, the victim isn’t even aware that they’ve upset the narcissist. Sometimes, just accidentally saying something the wrong way or temporarily not doing something that was feeding them supply when you didn’t even realize it, can set off this toxic response in them.
The mistake many victims then make is to desperately try and rekindle their affections, which is a bad idea, as it puts you under their control and often doesn’t work anyway. Once a narcissist sets off on a toxic path, it’s hard to pull them back and moreover, once you realize you are dealing with a narcissist, you need to get away as fast as possible anyway.
If a narcissist ever resorts to these childish games to re-inflate themselves, do not get drawn in. They want you to engage so they can ramp up the irritation and annoyance inside you. These people can’t be reasoned with or made to change. Drop them cold and move on.
Narcissists will often get rageful and vindictive if they don’t get what they want
Reaction #2 – Discard
If the narcissist loses their source of supply, then another common consequence is to simply discard the person, because they are no longer of any use to the narcissist anymore. They were only ever viewing the other person as an object to be used for their own ends, and not as a real person. When the reality of this hits home for victims, it hurts.
Another common cause of this is when someone (quite rightly) starts to see some of the narcissist’s toxic behavior for what it is, and calls them out on it, no longer willing to prop up their false self image of perfection.
The narcissist will not take kindly to this, because it punctures their grandiose, fake view of themselves, where they are perfect and can do no wrong, and the discard can come soon after this, because you’re not propping up their fragile ego anymore by never disagreeing with them or calling them out.
Here are some common ways the discard can happen:
- The toxic person may simply break off all contact with the victim with no explanation or excuse. Designed to cause maximum pain by leaving victims without any answers and feeling the whole relationship was inconclusive and unfinished.
- May break off openly with a cruel, dismissive, cold message or conversation.
- May cheat openly without even trying to hide it, then blame you for them cheating to add to the insult.
- They will often wave new partners, friends and work associates in your face, either in person or on social media, trying to portray how much fun they are having with these new people now they ditched you, as they begin the cycle all over again with someone else. It’s all about mind games.
See our article on the idealize-devalue-discard cycle for more on this.
As a related point, this can also happen not so much if you’ve withdrawn their supply, but if they found a better source of supply from someone else. Given that their entire personality structure is built around getting this supply, and not on valuing people as people, they’ll have no problems dropping you coldly and abruptly if they think they’ve found a better and/or more reliable source of supply.
You might not have done anything wrong, but they’re addicts in need of a fix, and they’ll go wherever they think they can get it best, without any regard for who they may hurt along the way.
Hence the cruel, sudden and unexplained discards that narcissists are often known for. The victim is often left with a horrible sense of unanswered questions and inconclusiveness, but thankfully there’s a huge body of recovery literature now that helps people understand how the fundamentally broken nature of the narcissistic personality is what causes this, not them.
Beware of Hoovering (Chasing Old Sources of Supply)
This is another crucial thing that anyone who’s been caught up with a narcissist but successfully got rid of them needs to understand.
In some cases (not all), they can circle back months or years later trying to rekindle the relationship they had with you. Sometimes they can contact you again completely out the blue, and this can be confusing to some people who this happens to, but once you understand the supply model of narcissism, it’s actually very predictable.
Here are some ways this can play out:
- They’ll contact you again out the blue on social media or by text, email or some other means. This is why no contact is important to stop them doing this.
- They’ll go back to the seemingly innocent, sweet, caring image if this is what they initially reeled you in with.
- They may issue seemingly heartfelt apologies about how sorry they are about how they hurt you.
- There will be promises that the cheating, gas-lighting, projection, lying etc. won’t happen again.
- If you had been trying to get them to go to therapy because of their toxic behavior, they’ll promise to get help if you take them back.
- Any other changes in their behavior that you wanted them to make first time but they never did, they’ll latch onto these and promise to do them now, or claim they are “growing/changing/evolving/self aware” now when they haven’t changed at all.
- The general message they’ll try to hoover you back in with is “I’ll be the person you always wanted me to be”.
Following the supply model, there are two main reasons they’re doing this:
- They’re re-idealizing their old source of supply they got from you. There was something about it that they liked, and they want to see if they can get it again.
- Their current source of supply from the people around them at the moment is low, or has gone. Perhaps someone else has seen through their BS and discarded them as well, so now they’re addicts again in need of a fix.
- A combination of the above two factors.
“The narcissist drank all your “milkshake” and then moved onto someone else to drink their “milkshake”. But after a while they remember what your “milkshake” was like and they want to come back and try it again”
If you do take them back, they’ll keep up these apparent changes for a while, then drop them and go straight back to the old, abusive patterns. So it goes without saying that these attempts to reconnect with you need to be ignored or rebuffed. They don’t care about people; they care about the supply that comes with the people. Drop them cold and move on.
See our full article which explores this issue of narcissists trying to recontact you again out the blue to top up their supply.
Hoovering From The Psychopath/Narcissist: