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How to Handle a Narcissist

This article is the work of Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism. His website:



Could negative input serve as Narcissistic Supply (NS)?


Yes, it can. NS includes all forms of attention - both positive and negative: fame, notoriety, adulation, fear, applause, approval. Whenever the narcissist gets attention, positive or negative, whenever he is in the "limelight", it constitutes NS. If he can manipulate people or influence them – positively or negatively – it qualifies as NS.

Even quarrelling with people and confronting them constitute NS. Perhaps not the conflict itself, but the narcissist's ability to influence other people, to make them feel the way he wants, to manipulate them, to make them do something or refrain from doing it - all count as forms of narcissistic supply. Hence the phenomenon of "serial litigators".


Does the narcissist want to be liked?


Would you wish to be liked by your television set? To the narcissist, people are mere tools, Sources of Supply. If, in order to secure this supply, he must be liked by them – he acts likable, helpful, collegial, and friendly. If the only way is to be feared – he makes sure they fear him. He does not really care either way as long as he is being attended to. Attention – whether in the form of fame or infamy – is what it's all about. His world revolves around this constant mirroring. I am seen therefore I exist, he thinks to himself.

But the classic narcissist also craves punishment. His actions are aimed to elicit social opprobrium and sanctions. His life is a Kafkaesque, ongoing trial and the never-ending proceedings are in themselves the punishment. Being penalized (reprimanded, incarcerated, abandoned) serves to vindicate and validate the internal damning voices of the narcissist's sadistic, ideal and immature Superego (really, the erstwhile voices of his parents or other caregivers). It confirms his worthlessness. It relieves him from the inner conflict he endures when he is successful: the conflict between the gnawing feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame and the need to relentlessly secure Narcissistic Supply.


How does the narcissist treat his past Sources of Narcissistic Supply? Does he regard them as enemies?


One should be careful not to romanticise the narcissist. His remorse and good behaviour are always linked to fears of losing his sources.

Narcissists have no enemies. They have only Sources of Narcissistic Supply. An enemy means attention means supply. One holds sway over one's enemy. If the narcissist has the power to provoke emotions in you, then you are still a Source of Supply to him, regardless of which emotions are provoked.

The narcissist seeks out his old Sources of Narcissistic Supply when he has absolutely no other NS Sources at his disposal. Narcissists frantically try to recycle their old and wasted sources in such a situation. But the narcissist would not do even that had he not felt that he could still successfully extract a modicum of NS from the old source (even to attack the narcissist is to recognise his existence and to attend to him!!!).

If you are an old Source of Narcissistic Supply, first, get over the excitement of seeing him again. It may be flattering, perhaps sexually arousing. Try to overcome these feelings.

Then, simply ignore him. Don't bother to respond in any way to his offer to get together. If he talks to you – keep quiet, don't answer. If he calls you – listen politely and then say goodbye and hang up. Return his gifts unopened. Indifference is what the narcissist cannot stand. It indicates a lack of attention and interest that constitutes the kernel of negative NS to be avoided.



Narcississtic Ex Brother in law

I've read the previous comments and I'm floored. My twin sisters ex husband is a narcissist. He and my sister have been separated for nearly 6 years and divorced for 2 years. They had no children together, yet he still tries to find a way to connect with some of our family members, especially our mother. He has recently developed the practice of sending her flowers on Mother's Day. For the 7 years he was married to my sister he never sent my mother flowers. My mother has always treated him like a son since high school and he is now 45 years old. On the surface sending flowers seems harmless, but he his really trying to get revenge on my sister for leaving their abusive marriage. He was livid and threw a huge temper tantrum when he was asked by relatives not to attend family gatherings anymore since he was no longer a member of the family. He insists on trying to stay attached to our mother in some small way as if his entire self worth is attached to her approval of him.
I had considered writing him a letter to tell him to stop sending flowers and making contact with my mother who is up in age now. I don't want to feed his supply. What's interesting is during his marriage to my sister, my mother and my sister could never get along and he fueled their conflict with each other. Since her divorce she has had therapy and so has my mother and they are very close and have healed their issues. The narcissistic Ex has no knowledge of this. His motivations are so transparent.
He refuses to move on and find a new mother-in-law.

Re: Narcississtic Ex Brother in law

Oh dear---this sounds really unpleasant. Hopefully, these articles can help you (and maybe other members of your family) figure out how not to respond to him. Knowing what's likely to make things worse is almost as valuable as knowing how to make them better.

Good luck---there's alot of useful information out there, and Sam Vaknin runs a useful website with many resources.

The roughest part, in my opinion, is that narcissism is often hard to recognize. Even good therapists often miss it, so family members may wander around for years knowing that something is wrong, but not knowing what it is.

Again, good luck!