FAQ #43
Narcissistic Signal, Stimulus and 
Hibernation Mini-Cycles





by Dr. Sam Vaknin


I know a narcissist intimately. Sometimes he is hyperactive, full of ideas, optimism, plans. At other times, he is hypoactive, almost zombie-like.


You are witnessing to the narcissistic signal-stimulus-hibernation mini-cycle. In the Essay I described the euphoric and dysphoric cycles. These are LIFE cycles. They are longer, all encompassing, all consuming and all-pervasive. They are different from manic-depressive cycles (in the bipolar disorder) in that they are reactive, caused by easily identifiable external events or circumstances. For instance: the narcissist reacts with dysphoria and anhedonia to a loss of the Pathological Narcissistic Space, or to major life crises (financial problems, divorce, imprisonment, loss of social status and peer appreciation, etc.).

But the narcissist constantly endures similar, though much shorter and much weaker, cycles. He has brief periods of mania. Then he can be entertaining, charming, and charismatic. Then he is "full of ideas and plans", attractive and leader-like. In the manic phase, he is restless (often insomniac), full of pent up energy, explosive, dramatic, creative, an excellent performer and manager. Suddenly, and often for no apparent reason, he becomes subdued, depressed, devoid of energy, pessimistic, even "zombie-like". He oversleeps, his eating patterns change, he is slow and pays no attention to his external appearance or to the impression that he leaves on others. The contrast is very sharp and striking. While in the manic phase, the narcissist is talkative – in the depressive phase he is passively-aggressively silent. He vacillates between being imaginative and being dull, being social and being antisocial, being obsessed with time and achievement and lying in bed for hours, being a leader and being led.

These mini-cycles, though outwardly manic-depressive (or cyclothymic) – are not. They are the result of subtle fluctuations in the volatile flow of Narcissistic Supply.

The narcissist is addicted to Narcissistic Supply: admiration, adoration, approval, attention and so on. All his activities, thoughts, plans, aspirations, inspiration, daydreams – in short, all the aspects of his life – are dedicated to the securing of a relatively stable and predictable flow of such supply. He even resorts to Secondary Narcissistic Supply Sources (a spouse, his colleagues, or his business – SNSS) in order to "accumulate" a reserve of past Narcissistic Supply for times of short supply. The SNSS serve to smooth and regulate the vicissitudes of the supply emanating from the Primary Narcissistic Supply Sources (PNSS). The process of obtaining and securing Narcissistic Supply, in the first place, is complex and multi-phased.

To jump start it, the narcissist emits a "narcissistic signal". It is a message – written, verbal, behavioural – intended to foster the generation of Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist may send letters to magazines, offering to write for them (for free, if need be). He may dress, behave, or make statements intended to elicit admiration (or attention). He may consistently and continuously describe himself in glamorous and flattering terms (or, conversely, berate himself in order to be contradicted by others). Anything would do – just so as to become well known and to impress people. Narcissistic signals are emitted whenever an important element changes in a narcissist's life: his workplace, his domicile, his position, or his spouse. It is intended to re-establish the equilibrium between outside uncertainty (which inevitably follows such changes) and inner uncertainty (which is the result of the disruption of the patterns and flows of Narcissistic Supply caused by said changes).

The narcissistic signal is, ideally, answered to a "narcissistic stimulus". This is a positive sign or response from other people indicating their willingness to swallow the narcissistic bait and to provide the narcissist with Narcissistic Supply. Such a stimulus brings the narcissist back to life. It energises him. Once more, he becomes a fountain of ideas, plans, schedules, visions and dreams. The narcissistic stimulus pushes the narcissist into the manic phase of the mini-cycle.

The narcissistic signal is preceded by a depressive phase. To obtain Narcissistic Supply, the narcissist has to toil. He has to work hard to create Sources of Supply (PNSS, SNSS) and to maintain them. These are demanding tasks. They are often very tiring. Exhaustion plays a major role in the mini-cycles. His energy depleted, his creativity at its end, his resources stretched to the maximum – the narcissist reposes, "plays dead", withdraws from life. This is the phase of "narcissistic hibernation". This is the depressive part of the mini-cycle.

The narcissist invariably goes into narcissistic hibernation before the emission of a narcissistic signal. He does so in order to gather the energies that he knows are going to be needed in the later phases. He surveys the terrain, in an effort to determine the richest and most rewarding sources, veins and venues of Narcissistic Supply. He contemplates the possible structures of the various signals, in order to ensure that the most effective one is emitted. On the other hand, he invariably enters the manic phase of the mini-cycle whenever in receipt of the narcissistic stimulus. He is then ready to confront the great amount of labour facing him in the pursuit of Narcissistic Supply.

Thus, caught between mini-cycles of mania and depression and bigger cycles of euphoria and dysphoria – the narcissist leads his turbulent life. It is no wonder that he gradually develops into a paranoid. It is easy to feel persecuted and at the mercy of forces mysterious, capricious and powerful – when this, indeed, is the case.


This information was written by:

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
The author of Malignant Self Love -
Narcissism Revisited ORDER

Copyright Notice

This material is copyrighted. Free, unrestricted use is allowed on a non commercial basis. The author's name and a link to this Website must be incorporated in any reproduction of the material for any use and by any means.