BY JEN MAKIN CMHC
The word narcissism is everywhere these days. On YouTube, TikTok, Snapfish and I believe that the word “gaslighting” was the #1 searched word in 2022. So, now that we are all educating ourselves on narcissism, how do we recognize them in our lives and not become their supply.
This word “supply,” in my terms, means to allow someone to use you in a certain way that props up the other person, makes them feel better about themselves or doesn’t hold them responsible for their actions.
A mother - daughter interaction:
Daughter: Mom, you really embarrassed me in front of my friends when you called me my childhood nickname. That is like when I was a little thing.
Mom: Oh Shelly, your friends didn’t seem to mind, if anything they all started telling stories about their own nicknames! It was a great conversation starter.
Daughter: I don’t care about conversation starters. I don’t appreciate you just telling them my nickname, I didn’t like it.
Mom: Fine, you win. I win the “Worst Mom in the World Award,” as always.
Daughter: Mom, I am not saying that. You’re a great mom. I just didn’t like that. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
The mom became the victim immediately and the daughter became supply. It became her job, her duty, to prop up her mom, becoming her supply. Supply entails letting the other person off the hook for their behavior and instead comforting them for having their intense response.
Sometimes when we are around other people, we feel drained after our interaction with them. This could be an indication that we were their supply.
Sister 1 - Alice (through text): Hey, what are you doing today?
Sister 2 - Clara : Not sure, what’s up?
Alice: Want to go shopping?
Clara: You know how I love shopping. Sure I have a few things to return.
Alice: Great! I need to get a bunch of baby stuff and run to Costco and a few other things. I’ll come pick you up!
Clara: Actually, I don’t think I am up for that kind of shopping. Costco on a Saturday sounds like a nightmare.
Alice: This what you always do Clara. You say you’ll come and then you ditch me. We never hang out anymore.
Clara: It’s not that I don’t want to hang out, I just am not up for that.
Alice: Whatever. You always do this.
Clara: I do not. I am sorry that I hurt you. I love you sis and love to spend time with you.
Alice: Have a good one. (click)
In that situation, Sister 2 attempted to set a boundary about “shopping” and Sister 1 attempted to shame her for this. Then Sister 1 became supply, as she attempted to talk Sister 1 out of being mad at her. In a healthy relationship, people are allowed to set boundaries, change their mind and say no without being shamed.
A bunch of friends are out to eat for dinner. They start drinking and one friend says that he would prefer not to drink and actually needs to head home to study.
Friend 1 - Jimmy: It’s been a fun night but I gotta head out.
Friend 2 - Mike: Just like Jimmy to always bail before the fun is over.
Jimmy: I have a huge biology test tomorrow and this class is crushing me.
Mike: We get it, you have other friends that matter more than us. Go hang with them.
Jimmy: Mike, you guys are my best friends …
Mike: Then why are you leaving?
Jimmy: … I gotta study
Mike: Whatever Jimmy. Do you.
Jimmy leaves with a knot in his throat. It’s not safe for him to set limits for himself. For him to say that he needs to study and would prefer not to drink all night on a school night. Though he enjoys the freedom of college, he also doesn’t want to be in it for the rest of his life. He is doing his best to take it seriously. Jimmy has to become supply for Mike, doing his best to ensure that he is a good friend.
But no amount of assurance works with narcissism. It’s like a well with no bottom. No matter how much blood, sweat and tears you put down the well, it will never fill up. It will never be enough. You can look into the well and see your years of dried blood, sweat and tears dribbling down the walls of the well but there’s no sight of a bottom. It’s just a bottomless pit of a relationship.
If you find yourself feeling more like supply and less like an equal partner in any relationship, maybe take a step back to re-evaluate things. No contact or jumping the gun isn’t always the best course of action, but taking a break and educating yourself on how to set boundaries and allow others to be uncomfortable could be helpful.
You are not responsible for other people’s feelings when you set healthy boundaries. If the other person experiences discomfort, it is your responsibility to learn to sit in it and acknowledge the discomfort while working through it instead of avoiding it, talking around it or apologizing.
Now, I’m not saying that going into a bank and waving around a gun and then saying, “I can’t help that you’re scared.” YOU are responsible for YOUR conduct. YOU are responsible for your tone and delivery. YOU are responsible to not use words of abuse, name calling or blaming. But, YOU can set boundaries and learn to stop being accountable for others discomfort as a result of your boundary.
A HEALTHIER WAY
Dad: Hey Shiela, I haven’t seen you in a while and want to take you to lunch sometime.
Daughter: Thanks for reaching out, Dad. I am slammed this week but I’ll touch base as soon as I have some time.
Dad: I get it, you’re busy. Don’t have any time for Dear Old Dad.
Daughter: I always have time for you, I’ll be in touch soon.
Dad: Sure doesn’t seem like it lately.
Daughter: Talk soon!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
This type of communication makes a lot of my clients uncomfortable at first. They think I’m being rude or mean. Some have physical reactions when role playing, like belly aches or tightness in their chest. Setting boundaries, like any skill we are learning. Babies don’t walk or talk in a day. It takes time and they fall down, cry and get back up. So fall down, cry and get back up. But don’t lie to yourself. Identify supply and set boundaries.
Practice. Practice. Practice.