Why Do Narcissists Need Constant Stimulation/Excitement?


This is one of the many questions people tangled up with narcissists will ask once they step back a bit and see how bizarre their personality is. One thing that you’ll commonly observe is how they need constant (and I mean, literally constant) stimulation and excitement, and quickly slump or otherwise turn toxic as soon as this stops. They’re like a child that needs constant psychological “baby-sitting”, constant attention. Why is this? Why are narcissists so addicted to having constant stimulus and being “fed” all the time with excitement?

As with many questions regarding how a narcissist behaves, it relates back to how broken, fragile, and externally directed the narcissistic personality is.

Narcissists need constant stimulus and excitement because in the absence of this, they quickly become bored and are brought back to their own baseline state of panic and emotional dysregulation. They essentially need to constantly be distracted from themselves.

In other words, however well some of them may camouflage it, the internal world of these people is a toxic mess, and their addiction to various forms of stimulation and excitement is one way of distracting themselves from this.

Once we realize this about narcissists, we see how fragile they actually are, and a lot of the mystique and aura around them vanishes.

Let’s examine this issue in a bit more detail.

“Planet Narco (The inner world of the narcissist):

A toxic, barren, tempestuous mess. Baseline state of panic and emotional dis-regulation. Power and emotional reaction fixated”

Richard Grannon

Why A Narcissist Needs Constantly Distracting From Their Own State

Regardless of the outer bluster and confidence projected by some narcissists, these people’s grip on reality is weak, and they know it.

Absent any stimulus, the baseline internal state of a narcissist (or any Cluster B disordered individual) is a toxic, disordered mess. This is why they need constant forms of “supply” – of which stimulus and excitement are just two – to distract from this and keep themselves afloat psychologically.

There are lots of different forms this narcissistic supply can take – see our article for more information and examples.

But related specifically to stimulus and excitement, here are some common examples:

  • A general “back and forth” dynamic in relationships, whereby the narcissist gives, but also expects, constant attention and stimulation. You might be constantly on the phone, messaging, emailing – they need constantly engaging with in some way.
  • Being fed constant “silliness” and back and forth humor/jokes/inside jokes.
  • Being titillated by constant silliness and nonsense in the media – the kind of asinine stuff that appears in tabloid newspapers.
  • A constant need to party and be absorbed in social groups, absorbed in “the crowd” (narcissists are often quite hedonistic in personality and lifestyle, and extremely materialistic as well).
  • Consuming entertainment like films/TV can also act as a low level form of stimulus if interpersonal “supply” is not available. A narcissist will never just sit in silence, and introspect or reflect, if no one is around. They’ll need something on in the background.
  • A particularly important nuance here is that narcissists are stimulated by ALL interaction, positive or negative. Therefore, if they can’t get fed their “supply” in positive ways (attention/adoration/adulation), they’re happy to resort to negative communication (provocative, reaction seeking behaviour such as bullying, gaslighting, covert digs/insults, triangulation etc).
  • In person, narcissists cannot stand any form of silence or pause in interaction, and will quickly start to react badly when confronted with this (tutting, sighing, rolling eyes, leaving, etc).
  • Another form of distraction and stimulus some narcissists resort to is workaholism (see our full article on the link between narcissism and workaholism)
  • On the excitement side, narcissists might be addicted to alcohol, drugs, dangerous sports, or anything else that gives them that dopamine rush they crave.
  • Some narcissists are also preoccupied with, or addicted to, sex as a form of excitement or stimulation.
  • In dating, some ways you can spot these people early on are:
      • A feeling of constantly being drained or used and needing to “perform” all the time for them.
      • A sense that this person is only staying with you because of what you can provide to them in the moment, and not for who you are.
      • A sense that they need to be constantly entertained just to stay in your presence.
      • Them displaying toxic expressions (rolled eyes, tutting, sighing) whenever the “entertainment” stops, even momentarily.
      • Them constantly demanding to be taken to the best and most expensive places to eat/drink/party/vacation etc. A strong materialistic basis to the relationship.

The flipside to all this is that whenever their sources of stimulus or excitement are withdrawn, they can either react obnoxiously, quickly leave to seek their “supply” elsewhere, or slump into a state of depression and deflation. It’s like they can’t handle it when they’re not being stimulated in some way.

“(narcissists) are pleasure seekers, they’re reaction seekers, they’re into stimulus. If you deprive them of that, they start to starve, they can’t deal with it. They’re addicts, so they’ll go somewhere else. They’ll go and get their “milkshake” somewhere else.

The Cluster B individual cannot stand dullness. Because in dullness, in the absence of stimulus, these people come back. They come back to themselves, and that’s torture. They can’t stand what goes on inside their own head.”

Richard Grannon

Starving A Narcissist Of Stimulus With Gray Rock Tactics

Once we’re armed with this knowledge of how fragile the narcissist is, we can actually use it to get rid of them from our lives. Because they’re so addicted to external sources of stimulus/excitement or “supply”, it follows logically that if we starve them of this supply, they’ll sooner or later have to go and get their fix from someone else.

In the recovery space, this is known as “grey rock” tactics, because you’re deliberately being as boring and dull as possible like a grey rock, to get them to go away.

Some ways to do “gray rock” include:

  • Be deliberately boring, dull, business-like and uncommunicative with the narcissist whenever engaging.
  • Keep interactions short, and withdraw as soon as possible.
  • Stick to only the essential topics/things that need dealing with unavoidably, nothing else.
  • 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. Stick to only the essential topics/things that need dealing with unavoidably.
  • 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 unavoidably 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.
  • Implement all of these tactics gradually and slowly so the narcissist does not notice – you are slowly withdrawing the “supply” they’ve fed off, getting them to go elsewhere.
  • In summary, when you do engage, do so with all flavour, passion, emotion and excitement removed. Make it dull and neutral.

See our full article on how to use Gray Rock tactics to starve a narcissist of supply for more information and examples.

Here are some general themes or messages you should aim to convey to the narcissist (without saying it openly of course, which will trigger them and set them off):

  • “Bore off! Go away! I’m not interested in playing your game anymore”
  • “Go find someone else to do your “thing” with”
  • “Go and get your “fix” elsewhere”
  • “Go and do your theatre performance, your big song and dance, with someone else”
  • “You don’t interest, energize or excite me anymore. You’re just another person to me and nothing special”

“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.”

Richard Grannon

Narcissism & The Externally Directed vs Internally Directed Contrast

This insight of how narcissists are so dependent on external stimulus can actually be an empowering one, because we see how fragile and vulnerable their outer-directedness actually makes them.

If external circumstances change against them, these people can collapse and slump into a right state and their lives can disintegrate. They have no real core or center of self and are ENTIRELY dependent on the outside world of people and things for any sense of self. That’s actually a very fragile position to be in.

Once we realize this, we start to see through the nonsense bluster act some of them put on, and we see how are not the all-powerful, flawless, perfect people they paint themselves to be. They’re actually the opposite, and addicted to the input of others to stay afloat psychologically.

However, it’s also instructive, since their mirror image counterpart, the co-dependent, is also outer-directed because they also need the approval and validation of others to maintain a stable emotional state, which is why we can be such people pleasers and fawners.

Large chunks of the general population, even if they aren’t narcissists, are also outer-directed and what I would call ANTI-psychological, in that they are very quick to seek out external sources of stimulation and distraction, but very averse to any kind of genuine introspection or self-reflection. Put more simply, if their TV is broken, they’re screwed, since they have no introspective or creative inner life and instead rely solely on what the external world “feeds” to them.

The lesson to take from this is to seek to move away from being solely outer-directed and move more towards being inner-directed, where you have a stable and core secure sense of self and “I-am-alright-ness” that’s always there, regardless of what’s going on in the outer world. Where you can engage with the outer world of people/things/stimulus, but are not dependent on these things for a sense of internal stability.

Therapy, meditation, and creative/vocational pursuits are some ways of moving towards this. Achieve this, and you’ll put yourself in a much stronger position than the 100% externally directed, stimulus-addicted narcissist.

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I like to draw on my personal experience and research to write and raise awareness about pathological personalities in the modern world

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