Although narcissists would never admit it, they are by nature dependent on other people for their emotional survival. If they were loners, many lives would be spared immeasurable misery. But narcissists actively, persistently pursue others to obtain their “narcissistic supply,” or sense of worth in life. The narcissist as human parasite usually takes a heavy emotional and physiological toll on her “suppliers.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a parasite as follows:
“A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host and gets its food from or at the expense of its host. Parasites can cause disease in humans.”
Understanding narcissism through the lens of parasitism explains their need to “feed” on others as a means of supply. The individual with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) suffers from a destabilized identity and sense of inferiority based in the formative years of childhood. He attempts to adapt by projecting a “superior” persona. But he is always seeking the validation he did not receive at crucial developmental stages as a young and relatively unformed person. His incomplete sense of being compels him to seek self-worth elsewhere, either by aligning himself with high-status people and/or by devaluing and dissociating from those who either threaten his false persona or who somehow “lower” his status.
Like most parasites, narcissists rarely kill their hosts (although malignant ones may subject them to extreme violence). But like the mind-altering variety of parasite, the narcissist works to control the “brains” of her suppliers through a wide range of manipulations, from bullying to projecting, denying to gaslighting, guilt-tripping to silent-treatment. The narcissist continuously orchestrates the “reality” around her by enlisting others in supporting her delusions of grandeur and punishing and/or rejecting them if they do not comply. To the narcissist, her spouse questioning an opinion she has declared as patented truth or her child not making the soccer team are potential humiliations to which she may react with scorn or rage. In the parasitic narcissist’s eyes, both situations weaken the desirability of her “hosts,” or sources of supply, and thereby threaten her sense of well-being.