By Dana Morningstar
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 (and originally) associated with cults and how they go about recruiting members; however, the same concept 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 (or scam artist in general), a coworker, neighbor, etc.
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 tends to start off very fast, with the narcissist spending hours every day talking, messaging, or spending time with their target. The narcissist is often very quick (within the first week or two) to start 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—and for someone who is starved out 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—although 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…and will be defensive and start distancing themselves from anyone who is concerned about how fast things are moving, or who has concerns about this new person in their life.
What makes love bombing so dangerous and effective is that the narcissist is not only isolating 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. And because love bombing can feel like the start of the most ideal situation or relationship, it can be really difficult for a person to see it as either immature (at best) or false flattery and manipulative (at worst), and to walk away from it—or to even want to slow things down. After all, it can be really hard to walk away from someone who is coming across like the ideal partner who wants to live the ideal 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. And again, it can be very hard to walk away from a person who either promises to change and says all the right things, or who is seemingly taking massive action to change, such as going to therapy, church, or rehab (but who is really learning that they need to hide their double life better). A relationship or dynamic with a narcissist often has a high degree of intensity and over-the-top behavior that during the love bombing phase can feel like a fairy tale, and during the discard stage can feel like a nightmare.
Many former targets of narcissists want to warn the new target, and if they try to, they will often find that the new target doesn’t believe them, and instead gets defensive and maybe even joins in with the narcissist on a smear campaign against the former target. After all, during this love-bombing/idealization stage, it’s really hard to believe that Prince (or Princess) Charming is actually a person’s worst nightmare.
Another point about love bombing is that to the former target, it can seem as though the narcissist really did find true love with their new partner, leaving the former target to wonder if they really were the problem all along, because after all, the narcissist and their new target seem so happy together. This is because 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—because abusers abuse others due to issues within themselves, not because of issues within others.
Also keep in mind that if the narcissist is making a grand effort to show you (or the world on Facebook or other social media) how perfect their new life is with their new partner, they are doing so in large part to further grind you down—which is part of the continuation of the devalue-and-discard cycle you are in with them. So, 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—because after all, odds are that the narcissist has been painting themselves as a victim of you this whole time.
Two last points about love bombing that I really want to drive home. First is that 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 maybe this time it’s the real thing, and 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. If a person has had an overt narcissist in their life, who was an absolutely selfish, controlling, verbally-abusive jerk, and then they are love bombed by a narcissist who comes across as attentive and overly romantic, this kind of over-the-top behavior can really seem like ideal and healthy behavior.
Second, a lot of 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 are not love. At best it is immature, and at worst it is malicious and manipulative. The intense feelings that are created by all the highs and lows 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 be 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 are feeling 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.
And, as always, if you feel like something is off, it’s because something is off.
Example: Sarah met John through an online dating site, and after a few texts, things really began to pick up steam. Sarah was shocked at how much they had in common and how much John wanted the same things out of life that she did. They seemed to be so on the same page that Sarah 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 John, but she was more than happy to make John her whole world. Everything just felt so right. She was becoming almost addicted to hearing from him, and within the first two weeks John told her that he loved her and wanted to marry her. Sarah was flattered, but she was also concerned, as she felt John’s professions of love seemed really immature, and not something an adult would say or feel—after all, they’d only known each other for a few weeks. Sarah told John that she felt they were moving a little too fast, and that she didn’t think he knew her well enough to love her. John told her that he felt the way he felt, and instead of telling Sarah “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.” Sarah thought John’s intensity was sweet, and she felt so loved with all the attention he was giving her.
Some of Sarah’s friends were concerned with how much time she was spending with John and how fast things were moving. Sarah 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.
Example: Susan 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 Susan 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 Susan found herself telling Scott things that she wouldn’t normally tell 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 to 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 Susan, and that’s when she began to see some of his controlling and abusive behavior. Susan 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 going to be to get him out of her house.
Example: Ryan and Rachel had been married for two years. During this time, Rachel had seen flashes of both extreme anger and controlling behavior from Ryan, 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 Ryan 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 Ryan another chance. Rachel’s best friend Sarah (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 Sarah was right, but she wanted to believe that maybe this time Ryan had seen the light and that their relationship was actually turning a corner. She became angry with Sarah, and told her that if he didn’t care at all he wouldn’t make these great efforts to try to keep their family together. Sarah replied that Ryan’s grand efforts weren’t love, that they were love bombing, and that he wasn’t being sincere, he was being manipulative.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”