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Narcissistic supply is a concept introduced into psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938, to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.
The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration in codependents and the orally fixated, that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.
Building on Freud's concept of narcissistic satisfaction" and on the work of his colleague the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham's, Fenichel highlighted the narcissistic need in early development for supplies to enable young children to maintain a sense of mental equilibrium. He identified two main strategies for obtaining such narcissistic supplies – aggression and ingratiation - contrasting styles of approach which could later develop into the sadistic and the submissive respectively.
A childhood loss of essential supplies was for Fenichel key to a depressive disposition, as well as to a tendency to seek compensatory narcissistic supplies thereafter. Impulse neuroses, addictions including love addiction and gambling were all seen by him as products of the struggle for supplies in later life. Psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel (1920) had earlier considered neurotic gambling as an attempt to regain primitive love and attention in an adult context.
Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg considered the malignant narcissistic criminal to be coldly characterised by a disregard of others unless they could be idealised as sources of narcissistic supply. Self-psychologist Heinz Kohut saw those with narcissistic personality disorder as disintegrating mentally when cut off from a regular source of narcissistic supply. Those providing supply to such figures may be treated as if they are a part of the narcissist, in an eclipse of all personal boundaries.
The narcissistic manager will have two main sources of narcissistic supply: inanimate - status symbols like cars, gadgets or office views; and animate - flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates. Teammates may find everyday offers of support swiftly turn them into enabling sources of permanent supply, unless they are very careful to maintain proper boundaries. The narcissistic manager's need to protect such supply networks which will prevent them from taking objective decisions; while long-term strategies will be evaluated according to their potential for attention-gaining for the manager themself.