The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration from codependents, or such a need in the orally fixated, that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.
Building on Freud's concept of narcissistic satisfaction and on the work of his colleague the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham, Fenichel highlighted the narcissistic need in early development for supplies to enable young children to maintain a sense of mental equilibrium. He identified two main strategies for obtaining such narcissistic supplies—aggression and ingratiation—contrasting styles of approach which could later develop into the sadistic and the submissive respectively.
A childhood loss of essential supplies was for Fenichel key to a depressive disposition, as well as to a tendency to seek compensatory narcissistic supplies thereafter. Impulse neuroses, addictions including love addiction and gambling were all seen by him as products of the struggle for supplies in later life. Psychoanalyst Ernst Simmel (1920) had earlier considered neurotic gambling as an attempt to regain primitive love and attention in an adult context.