Narcissism is a complex and often misunderstood character disorder. Less attention has been paid to the person who supplies what the narcissist needs. This person is known as a narcissistic extension, and can suffer tremendous trauma and abuse while feeling blameworthy. It is a difficult dilemma to solve, and is often perpetuated in adult relationships when children have had narcissistic parents, and less so, parents who act as narcissistic extensions. This article discusses the role of the narcissistic extension, and its development, and how people who are narcissistic extensions, like narcissists, “see” what is not there, but, unlike narcissists, blame themselves for this, and the resulting relationship and familial problems.
Know what narcissism really is. Narcissism is a character disorder which causes the narcissist to “look outward” for a view that will reflect him/her as wonderful, similar to codependence; narcissism is often referred to as anti-codependency. Rather than having good self-esteem, the narcissist lacks it, and feels empty, and therefore must gain his pseudo-“self-esteem” from external sources: family, friends, lovers, workmates and children. Success is measured by over-inflation of one’s achievements, and by more concrete examples that seem to “prove” achievement: money; praise; status; promotion; being liked; being powerful; being overly nice, etc. Objectification of people mirrors their need to show themselves as having “objects” that conventionally define success. They desire the best and are perfectionists. Their perfectionism derives from their internal, sublimated sense of worthlessness, envy and shame. For the narcissist everything and everyone is, in essence, reduced to an object, and some work together quite usefully: i.e. a wealthy partner; a good physique in yourself or in another (partner). These objects are known as “supplies” which the narcissist feeds off and ultimately drains of their own self-worth. The definitive guide for the signs of sub-clinical narcissism is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a self report test but if you take it and think about your answers you will be able to apply those categories to others.
Analyze your behavior around the narcissist. Do you tend to pay more attention to their needs than to your own? Many people assume the role of a narcissistic extension, which means they are used, or allow themselves to be used, as a supply to keep the other person “on track”, or in control, or feeling okay. Often the person who extends the narcissist does not recognise what is happening as the narcissist (unconsciously or consciously) uses strategies that trick the narcissistic extension into believing they have certain invaluable traits. Narcissists can be excessively loving, due to their need for a supply of love, but their needs outweigh any real love, and the extension is simply that, a part of the narcissist, not a full human being.
Think outside the box. Don’t compare yourself to the stereotypical narcissistic extension; narcissistic extensions are not only trophy wives for well-paid executives. They are more often targeted by the narcissist for traits that the narcissist (possibly reflexively) realises he can manipulate. He thus always plays a game with his extension, turning them gradually from the beloved, elevated “person of their dreams” into an object who is debased, found wanting and “not good enough.” That is because the extension can never fill the narcissist’s ever-empty hole inside, and like an addiction, the narcissist’s need to feel whole always requires more and more. Being a narcissistic extension does not necessarily mean boosting the narcissist’s self-esteem, though it may include that. It might also involve being critical but engaged with the person. If there is withdrawal by the extension, the narcissist will panic and run.
Understand that the narcissist often makes use of some psychological games to get what they want. At the same time, they never succeed in their never-ending quest for new ways to prove to themselves they’re worth something. Thus, sooner or later, new material acquisitions or new people (or both) become necessary especially at a time of insecurity, or work and/or family problems, and particularly if the extension stops playing his or her inculcated role. The narcissist finds it exceedingly easy to devalue one previously “adored” narcissistic extension, and replace him or her with someone he ranks higher. This ranking is not rational, as it is the thrill of the new and exciting that keeps him from feeling empty and addressing his own weaknesses. He would rather move on, and, in a way, that is good news for the narcissistic extension. Once that often kind and benign person has been dropped, often callously, cruelly, silent treatment, desertion, etc (contradicting the entire positive spin he used to trap his “victim”), the next one will inevitably fall into the trap.
Be careful and use your intuition. It is not easy to spot a narcissist, as mentioned, as they can equally be “Mr Nice Guy” as “Mr I am.’ The signs are subtle, but one guiding rule is trust your immediate intuition, and do not believe his or her words; focus entirely on their actions.
Narcissistic manipulation can take many forms, depending on the narcissist’s sub-type. Arrogant/Malignant Narcissists (those who manifest it consciously, deliberately attacking or manipulating individuals) tend to be more overt, being either extremely domineering or nice (aka false altruism). They will often openly demean others, be overly critical, and boast of their own accomplishments. Shy/Covert Narcissists do not consciously manifest the disorder and hence do not usually consciously demean or manipulate others, and when they do, they rationalize their actions in a form of self-validation. These narcissists can be more insidious, as their actions are usually driven subconsciously and are hence much more subtle. Common traits are excessive neediness without reciprocating concern towards others (i.e constantly needing to talk about their problems, but rarely being supportive in return), a pattern of having difficulty maintaining friendships (as they move between people as supplies), etc.
A good giveaway that you’re being subjected to narcissistic manipulation when the obvious signs are lacking is a sort of “twilight zone” feeling; you find yourself constantly wanting to do things for the narcissist at your own cost (i.e constantly worrying that some small action of yours may hurt them, and such always catering to their emotional state). You may suddenly stop and examine your interactions with the narcissist and find yourself in a bizarre situation; doing things you normally would have no desire to do or would even be contrary to your own beliefs. Narcissists of both the overt and covert types are very proficient at gaining the sympathy of their supplies and becoming the center of their world.
Watch out for a friend/romantic-interest who seems to withhold compliments or attention beyond what would be normal in the relationship. One way narcissists manipulate their supplies is through withholding of affection/attention, which makes the supply value it all the more when they receive it. This subtle and seemingly innocuous form of manipulation can often lead to the supply idolizing the narcissist basking in the rare moment of praise/attention (keep in mind people have varying levels of affection/contact in relationships, it is only a sign when the withholding seems intentional or strategically used).
If you realize a person close to you is possibly a narcissist before they have abandoned you, the best course of action is to immediately distance yourself from them. Narcissists are essentially emotional vampires, who will always tantalize you with the possibility of becoming closer to them; they will act distant with you, but when you seem to be moving on, will feign affection (or in the case of those with the covert sub-type, will believe that they suddenly like you more) to anchor you to them once more. They depend on the feeling of superiority they receive when they feel desired by you; if you move on, they lose that validation. As such they will constantly work to make themselves the center of your life, blockading new friendships and romances (either by engaging the person and attempting to draw them away from you, or by attempting to make you appear less desirable). They will devalue your own accomplishments in order to make them feel better about their own.
Always keep in mind that narcissism is a disorder that is caused by poor parenting and/or bullying during the sufferers childhood. The primary driving force behind all narcissists actions against others, is a fundamental lack of self-esteem. They may superficially feel good about themselves, but they feel they lack any intrinsic goodness, and that the only way others can value them is through superficial notoriety or accomplishments. Being cruel to a narcissist will only affirm their belief that the world is driven by superficial interactions, and will not likely make them change for the better. It is best for yourself, as a supply to them, to distance yourself from them, as they will negatively affect your life. However, you should try to do while avoiding being mean or shunning them. There is no need to completely cut a narcissist from your life (unless they truly have no positives to their relationship with you), simply spend less time with them, attempt to take your mind away from the relationship.
Know that the narcissist can leave you at the very moment you stop making them feel important. No surprise when you know, but when you don’t it is a huge and traumatic shock, he/she leaves, usually without warning or explanation, or with lies, and has another person waiting in the wings. If asked about their earlier professions of love/friendship, they’ll shrug it off: “I meant it at the time.” Just like they mean it this time; to a greater or lesser degree they really believe ‘this is it! The perfect love which will complete me’ but they are deluded. The narcissist’s needs are insatiable and in time, this new extension will be dumped and replaced, just like all the others.
Be strong and patient with yourself. It often takes the person who has played the role of narcissistic extension some time to recover from the shock of being dumped. The narcissist may also go through a normal “bad patch” but cannot bear the feelings that arise, so he finds, easily enough, another to fill the place before he or she has a chance to feel empty. The narcissistic extension is in shock, and goes through the stages of grief. The poignant and problematical issue is that the narcissistic extension is grieving for what never was, and this means that it takes longer to get over the relationship. They have to miss out twice, in a sense, while the narcissist does not grieve, and just moves on, until, perhaps, one day, he exhausts all avenues and has to face himself, but, by now, he is metaphorically “unseen” and unknowable to his or her non-self.
Heal your wounds and rise again, liberated from that person’s negative influence on you. The narcissistic extension does his or her grief work and the grief work of the narcissist, and then has to accept that the narcissist never cared about or loved them, as the narcissist simply substitutes them with “other supplies” for love, and the extension must come to terms with the fact that their life with that person was a lie. It is difficult and painful work but it is work that eventually enables growth and the reintegration of the extension as an “I,” the antithesis of narcissistic and a person of true empathy and compassion. So, if you identify yourself playing this role, recognise it, do something, go through the harsh grief and recognition of the truth, and know that you will be a happier and healthier person who knows they can and do love.
- Toxic Love: Understanding Narcissistic Rage (projectblissful.com)
- Toxic Narcissism in Relationships: Top 10 Warning Signs You’re Being Gaslighted (projectblissful.com)
- A bit more research on the ogre (shitmyfildoes.wordpress.com)