How to Avoid Becoming Narcissistic Supply

Six things I wish someone had told me.

“Anyone can be duped by a narcissist. If you are a kind …sensitive person who knows how to love, you can be duped.” — Pyschology Today

If narcissists are as diabolical as we’ve been lead to believe (and they really are), and if anyone is susceptible to being duped by a narcissist (also true), what are people like me — once described by a therapist as Grade A Narcissistic Supplysupposed to do?

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The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse, from

1. Here’s what makes you ‘Grade A’ supply

First of all you, need to understand that you’re probably an extremely nice person. You are empathetic, compassionate, authentic, and honest. Unfortunately, this may also mean you have shitty boundaries (as I did and sometimes still do).

“By being in a relationship with such a nurturing, loving person, the person with narcissism is able to consume that person’s authentic love and extract narcissistic supply. Once fed over the course of days, weeks, or months, the person with narcissism is satiated and may grow bored with his or her partner. He or she must secure the supply of another target, usually in short order.” —

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Nosferatu (image source: Eastman Museum) Vampires are a perfect metaphor for narcissists. In the narcissist’s case, they feed on admiration and ego-stroking rather than blood, and the emotional toll the feeding takes on their victims can easily be described as “draining.”

2. Understand That You Fawn, and Why

We’ve all heard of fight or flight, and maybe you’ve also heard of fight, flight, or freeze, but there is a fourth response, known as fawn:

“When you’ve tried fight, flight, or freeze several times without success, you may find yourself using the fawn response … You can recognize this if you notice that no matter how poorly someone treats you, you are more concerned about making them happy than about doing what’s right for you.” —

If you grew up in a home with abuse, if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist for an extended period of time, or if you have often referred to yourself as a “people pleaser” you’re probably good at fawning — stroking the ego of another person as a method of self-preservation. Although the term “fawn” was first coined by Pete Walker, this article by Sam Dylan Finch does an excellent job explaining the fawn trauma response.

3. Avoid the Narcissist Rabbit Hole

It’s tempting and easy to fall into a pattern of learning everything about narcissists in an attempt to protect yourself. We think that if we can only understand why they do what they do, things will finally make sense, and we will be able to recognize other narcissists in the future.

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image source:

4. Learn How to Parent Yourself

No one is coming to save you, except you.

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image source: Shahida Arabi @selfcarewarrior

5. Become a Boundary-Setting Expert

Setting boundaries when you’ve never done it before is kind of like growing a brand new body part. But setting clear boundaries is the single most important skill you can learn to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse— malleable boundaries make you easy to manipulate and basically paint a narcissist supply target on your back.

6. Increase Your Window of Tolerance

Your window of tolerance is essentially the space between hyPER-arousal (freaking out, probably in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) and hyPO-arousal (feeling empty or numb). When you are living in the cycle of narcissistic abuse, you are likely outside of your window of tolerance — and because of what you’ve been through, your window of tolerance may be fairly narrow:

“When we have unhealed traumas, our systems may not be fully present. They might not fully know or feel that the danger has passed and can become fixed in states of hypoarousal and hyperarousal or fluctuate between the two states”. — good

In order to heal, you’ll need to not only get inside your window of tolerance, but you’ll need to learn how to stay there.

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Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

Erin Michelle is a book coach, writer, & editor.

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