Narcissistic supply is a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem. This is essential the fuel that keeps a Narcissist going. They can get it from their partners, friends, career, social status, online groups, etc. This admiration or ‘supply’ is essentially what the Narcissist needs to confirm that their internal sense of self is in fact real.
So what happens when a Narcissist loses a major source of his supply? A full blown identity crisis that only a Narcissist could brew up…
The Narcissist joined the military when he was 17 and left his home shortly after graduating high school. His entire adult life was shaped by the community, construct and rules of the military. The Narcissist thrived in this community, he was selected for an elite unit, he achieved rank faster than his peers, he was awarded for his valorous actions, and he was looked up to as a friend, mentor and expert in his community. By the time I met the Narcissist, he had been on several long deployments to the desert, and many many other smaller more secret deployments around the world. In fact, our very brief dating period was the time that we had before he had to deploy to the desert again for almost a year.
During our married years in the military the Narcissist was experiencing many symptoms of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) from his time in combat. He had trouble sleeping, when he did sleep he would have terrible nightmares, he would often talk, yell, have trigger finger, and other activities in his sleep, he was having a difficult time remembering things, reading was a challenge, he would stutter and get dyslexic when he tried to read or speak, and he was very, out of control, angry. So the Narcissist took a ‘back seat’ role at work where he could stay on base and be in charge of various activities versus deploying. He always framed it that he wanted to spend more time with me because we were newly married and he didn’t want to have our marriage suffer from deployments, but I think he was having a hard time with the PTSD and didn’t want to have to go back into that environment.
The Narcissist made the decision that he wanted to get out of the military, which I was completely supportive of because I thought it would help his PTSD symptoms, I thought I could get back to America and closer to my family again, and I was eager to start working again as well. Little did I know that this life change would be almost unbearable for the Narcissist and would end up driving me to my breaking point.
I had done all of the prep work for the Narcissist as I had gone back to the states a few months early to start getting our life together. We had a place to live, a vehicle, I had a good job and health benefits, and was going back to school. I also had the Narcissist’s school ready to go, he would start a few months after he got back.
The first thing that sent the Narcissist haywire was his physical appearance. The entire time I knew the Narcissist, he had the same haircut and wore the same style of clothes. We lived on an island for the beginning of our marriage so ripped jeans, flip flops, shorts and t-shirts were his staple items… that is when he wasn’t in his uniform or work out clothes. When he got back we went on endless shopping trips trying to find the “right” clothes to express his new found self. It was non-stop. We would shop, he would get things home and try them on, then bring them back to the store to exchange them for a different size, then bring them home and not like them at all and return them, then he would research other clothing sites, then we would shop more and repeat the entire process. Once we found a clothing company he liked, it became a constant battle around the fit of the clothing. He blamed dry cleaners for shrinking his clothes (one dry cleaner told him to never come back), he blamed the washer machine for ruining clothes, he sent thousands of dollars of clothes back to the company claiming that their sizes were not consistent and even though it said pre-shrunk, it still shrunk. He found a tailor and obsessively tailored his clothing to be just right.
Then there was the hair…. dear God the hair. The Narcissist had the same hairstyle the entire time I knew him, and a friendly little foreign man cut it the entire time we lived over seas with no issues. When he got here, the Narcissist wanted to grow his hair long a la his ‘daddy idol’ John Stamos. He started growing it long and literally every single day was a battle. He hated styling it different ways, he never felt comfortable with it, he made me stand in the bathroom with him while he styled it and tell him what I liked, what looked good, what he should do different. Then he decided he hated it long and wanted to go to a short style. He went through 3 hairdressers through this process, and made 2 of them cry. One of the female hairdressers actually asked him to never come back to her salon because she has never been so embarrassed in her life. He landed on a hairdresser who could manage his expectations, and went through a variety of hairstyles including one with purple streaks, blonde highlights, etc. He got it cut every 2 weeks, and would come to me with pictures and ideas for his hair and insist every week that he was ‘changing his style.’ He would come home from the salon and love it, and then the next day he would hate it and want something different. During the long hair incident the Narcissist also tried out a beard for a while. He went through a similar thing with the hair. He loved it then he hated it, then he couldn’t figure out how to get it to look right. Then he wanted the edges cleaned up, then he felt like he looked too manicured… then he shaved it off completely.
Aside from the physical appearance, the Narcissist was attending college full-time for the first time ever. Boy was that a douse of cold water for him. His professors didn’t understand him as a veteran, they treated him like a ‘normal’ college student. He struggled with the ambiguity of assignments and lack of direction and instruction from his professors. He became angry with the ‘dumb’ comments the college kids made in cultural classes that discussed veteran topics. He couldn’t focus on getting assignments completed. He changed his major 3 times. He failed several classes. I felt like a full-time mom through this process where I had to constantly nag him regarding assignments, actually going to class, explain what was expected of him, etc. In the end, I ended up doing at least 50% of his school work. I did most of his online course work while I was working my full time job and also managing all of my school work for my MBA. I still don’t know how I did it all without a mental breakdown.
Then there was work. The Narcissist really struggled with finding a work environment that he could thrive in. My mom got him an internship opportunity while he was still in school. He ended up hating it and his rationale to me was that there was a group of female leaders who hated him and treated him like crap. He said they made fun of his outfits and his shoes, and wouldn’t even let him take notes in meetings. Eventually the funding for his internship ended. The next job was a full-time opportunity that lasted less than a year. He explained to me that his female boss was crazy, potentially bi-polar, and she singled him out and treated him like a child. He quit that job with my support and my help. Over the 4 years that we were married and here in the US, the Narcissist worked probably 1 year of that time, while I worked full-time the entire time.
Through this identity crisis, I had to be the Narcissist’s only source of supply. I had to fill him up, keep him up, and work like a maniac to do so. I constantly had to pour love into that endless black hole and hope that it would stick. I had to talk him through how everyone else was crazy and didn’t see his potential… his professors, his supervisors, his peers. I had to stand in the changing rooms, the bathrooms, etc. for hours talking him through his clothing choices and hair choices. I was late for literally every event in my life over this period of time because the Narcissist had regular meltdowns over his outfits or his hair. I was 1 hour late for a company holiday dinner because the Narcissist was having a meltdown in the car in the parking lot over how his beard looked. I coddled him, I mothered him, I supported him, I did his school work, I earned the money, I protected him, I literally did everything and I don’t even know how I did it. I think I was just in pure survival mode.
The real icing on the cake, is that if you ask the Narcissist… he will tell you that: I make his hair out to be such a big deal… (he has the right to try new things and be unsure of them!) He will tell you that during his time of need when he was struggling to find himself after the military that I was unsupportive, angry, and made him feel guilty for the process. He will tell you that the reason he had trouble with school to begin with is because I was angry and mean and terrible and he was so stressed out about me that he couldn’t focus on school. He will tell you that he also couldn’t focus on his jobs because of how terrible I was and how awful our home life was. He will tell you that I “dulled his shine” (thats a direct quote) and that I “held him back from his true potential” (yep that one too).
When I think back on the marriage with my rose colored glasses… I wonder if I actually could have survived it all if we stayed in the military. He would have had his fill of supply from his career and his status within the military, he would have started deploying again so I would have had ~1 year stints of ‘freedom’ in the sense of not being controlled on a daily basis, and maybe I could have done that? And those are the moments that I bring myself back to reality and realize how much I’ve lowered my standards for normal after 8 years with a Narcissist…