Love bombing is when a narcissist "bombs" their target with "love," or more specifically, attention, affection, communication, and compliments. Love bombing is a term that is usually associated with cults and how they go about recruiting members. The same concept, however, is used by narcissists regardless of the role they play in a person's life, whether that is as a cult leader, an abusive partner or parent, an online-dating scammer, a con artist, a coworker, or neighbor.
Love bombing often leads to rushed intimacy, heavy amounts of mirroring, a whirlwind romance, a high degree of future faking, and a feeling of a soul-mate connection.
Love bombing happens fast
Love bombing tends to start very fast, with the narcissist spending hours daily talking, messaging, or spending time with their target. The narcissist is often very quick to begin hinting or saying that they have a soul-mate connection with their target, and that they love them, or that they are so glad to have finally found them. The constant compliments, communication, and emphasis on the soul-mate connection can make a target feel loved and appreciated. For someone who is starved emotionally, love bombing can feel intoxicating or even addicting. Because love bombing can feel so right, a target rarely sees anything wrong with how fast things are moving. They might have some concerns that things are a little too good to be true. More often than not, the target is thrilled to spend hours upon hours every day communicating with this person and soon making them their whole life. They will be defensive and start distancing themselves from anyone concerned about how fast things are moving or who has concerns about this new person in their life.
Examples of Love Bombing
Shannon met Will through an online dating site. After a few texts, things began to pick up steam. Shannon was shocked at how much they had in common and how much Will wanted the same things out of life that she did. They seemed to be so on the same page that Shannon felt a deep connection she'd never felt before with anyone she'd ever dated. They began talking and texting for close to six hours every day. Soon, she didn't have time for anything or anyone else outside of work and Will. She was more than happy to make Will her whole world. Everything just felt so right. She was becoming almost addicted to hearing from him, and within the first two weeks, Will told her that he loved her and wanted to marry her. Shannon was flattered, but she was also concerned, as she felt Will's professions of love seemed immature and not something an adult would say or feel. After all, they'd only known each other for a few weeks. Shannon told Will that she thought they were moving a little too fast and didn't think he knew her well enough to love her. Will said to her that he felt the way he felt, and instead of telling Shannon "I love you," he began telling her "As you wish," which was code for "I love you"—a line that came from her favorite movie, "The Princess Bride." Shannon thought Will's intensity was sweet, and she felt so loved with all the attention he was giving her.
Shannon's friends were concerned with how much time she was spending with Will and how fast things were moving. Shannon became defensive of her relationship and told herself that they were jealous of their relationship or had issues with men, and she began to withdraw (isolate) from them.
Kelli had decided that online dating was a haven for narcissists and married men looking to cheat, so she decided that from here on out, she was only going to meet men the old-fashioned way—in real life. She was thrilled when she met Scott at her gym several weeks later. After a few conversations, things began to pick up quickly. Scott texted Kelli throughout the day, from good-morning texts, good-afternoon texts to good-night texts, and several dozen texts in between. When she'd get home, they would Skype for a few hours while she was making dinner so they could catch up on each other's day. They had much in common, and Kelli found herself telling Scott things she wouldn't usually say to a person she hardly knew.
Even though she'd only been talking to him for about two weeks, he didn't feel like a stranger. If anything, he felt like her best friend. The amount of time she spent communicating with Scott was a little concerning for her, but, at the same time, it was refreshing because her last boyfriend wasn't attentive at all and only texted her when he was bored or horny. She brushed her concerns aside, telling herself that she needed to appreciate a good man. After all, how many women would complain that their boyfriend was too good for them? She quashed her hesitation and concern by telling herself that maybe she'd never experienced real love before, and that was why this relationship felt so "off."
After three months of dating, Scott moved in with Kelli, and that's when she began to see some of his controlling and abusive behavior. Kelli felt emotionally deflated. She'd been down this road before and knew she needed to break up with Scott, but she also knew how difficult it would most likely be to get him out of her house.
Joel and Rachel had been married for two years. During this time, Rachel had seen flashes of extreme anger and controlling behavior from Joel, all of which she chalked up to either his culture or his stress at work. It wasn't until they had their first child that his behavior escalated, and he became very verbally abusive. She couldn't believe the switch in his personality. It was like living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and she never knew which side was going to surface. At first, she and her friends and family chalked up his behavior to the stress and lack of sleep with the new baby. But even when her mother babysat to give them some time alone, he would still lash out at Rachel. Rachel finally told Joel that she couldn't handle his yelling and name-calling anymore and that she was taking the children and moving out. The next day Rachel came home to a candlelit dinner, flowers, and a sign that said, "I love you." It was so romantic and thoughtful that Rachel unpacked her bags and gave Joel another chance. Rachel's best friend Nadia, who had been in an abusive relationship and who had gone through something very similar, pointed out that while he did all these nice things, he never actually apologized or was fully accountable for his behavior. Rachel knew that Nadia was right, but she wanted to believe that maybe this time Joel had seen the light and that their relationship was turning a corner. She became angry with Nadia and told her that he wouldn't make these extraordinary efforts to keep their family together if he didn't care. Nadia replied that Joel's great efforts weren't love, they were love bombing, and that he wasn't sincere, he was manipulative.
Love bombing is dangerous and isolating
Love bombing is dangerous and effective because the narcissist not only isolates their target from their support system so they can make the abuser their whole world, but the target is willingly going along with distancing themselves from their support system. Because love bombing can feel like the start of an ideal situation or relationship, it can be challenging for a person to see it best as either immature or, worst, false flattery and manipulative, and walk away from it want to slow things down. After all, it can be tough to walk away from someone coming across like the ideal partner who wants to live the perfect life with you.
For all these reasons, love bombing often goes hand in hand with the first stage in the cycle of narcissistic abuse, which runs the course of "idealize, devalue, discard." Love bombing not only happens when a narcissist first spots their target but it also often happens each time the target tries to leave the relationship. It can be difficult to walk away from a person who either promises to change and says all the right things or is seemingly taking massive action to change, such as going to therapy, church, or rehab. A relationship or dynamic with a narcissist often has a high degree of intensity and over-the-top behavior. During the love-bombing phase, it can feel like a fairy tale. During the discard stage, it can feel like a nightmare.
Many former targets of narcissists want to warn the new target. If they try to, they will often find that the new target doesn't believe them and instead gets defensive and maybe even join in with the narcissist on a smear campaign against the former target. After all, during this love bombing/idealization stage, it's hard to believe that Prince (or Princess) Charming is a person's worst nightmare.
To the former target, it can seem as though the narcissist did find true love with their new partner, leaving the former target to wonder if they were the problem all along because, after all, the narcissist and their latest target seem so happy together. The new target is going through the love-bombing phase, and odds are, with time, the narcissist will devalue them in very much the same way. Abusers abuse others due to issues within themselves, not because of problems within others.
Keep in mind that if the narcissist is making a great effort to show you or the world how perfect their new life is with you, they are doing so in large part to grind you further down. This part of the continuation of the devalue and discard cycle you are in with them. To a narcissist, it's a triple win. They get the satisfaction of grinding down their former target, love bombing their new target, and then getting all of their enablers and fan club to rally around them and their new-found great relationship. After all, the odds are that the narcissist has been painting themselves as a victim of you this whole time.
Important points about love bombing
Two points about love bombing that I want to drive home. First, even people who have been caught up with love bombing before still have a hard time walking away from it or slowing things down because they are often concerned that this time, it's the real thing. They don't want to potentially lose out on a great person just because they've been previously abused. This is especially the case if they were in a relationship with an overt narcissist. An overt narcissist is someone who is a selfish, controlling, verbally abusive jerk. If someone has experienced an overt narcissist and then is love-bombed by a narcissist who comes across as attentive and overly romantic, this kind of over-the-top behavior can seem like an ideal and healthy behavior.
Second, many people struggle with intense feelings of depression and numbness after a relationship with a narcissist. They find themselves wondering if they'll ever "love" or be "loved" like this again—especially if they are starting to date again. It's normal to mistake love bombing for love because it is so intense, but it's not real. And real love can't compete with the intensity and theatrics that make up love bombing. So please know that those excessive gestures of love bombing by the narcissist is not loving. At best, it is immature, and at worst, it is malicious and manipulative.
All the highs and lows create intense feelings that are also not love, chemistry, or a soul-mate connection. They are trauma bonds that are created by the highs and lows of their behavior. Once you can see love bombing as the smoke and mirrors designed to suck you in, it is easier to walk away. Real love is based on appreciation, caring, concern, and the desire for the other person to feel happy and fulfilled. Real love takes time to develop, and it makes a person feel safe, secure, valued, and appreciated. It does not make a person feel emotionally devastated, anxious, unhinged, depressed, or suicidal, and it does not include abuse.
If you are dating again, please go at a comfortable pace. If you feel concerned or confused by any behavior you are experiencing, then these are signs to take some steps back both physically and emotionally until you can see clearly. There is no downside to taking things slow. If a person truly respects you, they will respect your boundaries too.
As always, if you feel like something is off, it's because something is off.