Who wouldn’t want to be showered with love and attention by the person they are in a relationship with. But what if it starts to feel a little too much too soon? What if it’s making you feel uneasy and confused? You have begun to notice this pattern where your partner bombards you with affection and then makes you feel like you owe them something in return. If this is happening with you, we might have a case of narcissist love bombing on our hands.
To understand this behavior, we talked to psychologist Pragati Sureka (MA in Clinical Psychology, professional credits from Harvard Medical School), who specializes in addressing issues like anger management, parenting issues, and abusive and loveless marriage through emotional ability resources. She talked us through narcissism and love bombing, abuse cycles, examples and solutions.
What Is Narcissistic Love Bombing?
Pragati talks to us about the genesis of this term to better understand its essence. She says, “The term love bombing was not coined by psychologists. This was used in the 1970s by members of the Unification Church. New members were to be love-bombed by the recruiters. Which meant they were to be showered with attention, flattery and affection to lure them into the cult and gain their unconditional obedience.”
For the current usage of the term, Pragati says, “Like in the cult, love bombing is used to encourage loyalty and obedience, but in a relationship.” Narcissist love bombing is a tool of abuse and manipulation. It is a means of establishing control over a person. The ultimate aim of love bombing is to gain something back in return. The abuser showers their victim with attention, gifts, praises, acts of service with the aim of gaining their trust. The abuser then tries to get something out of the victim in return.
This behavior makes the victim feel indebted to the abuser and feel pressured to give them what they want. When the victim refuses to give in to the demands or tries to set healthy boundaries the abuser forces the victim to feel guilty or ungrateful. The victim may initially feel that they owe their abuser something.
When wondering what is narcissistic love bombing please note, while anyone can be a love-bomber, this manipulative behavior is most commonly found in people with narcissistic traits. Love-bombing at its core is a self centered, narcissistic exercise which is why people with narcissistic traits in their personality as well as people who are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD usually exhibit this behavior.
Related Reading: Trauma Bonding: Why People Stay In Abusive Relationships
NPD And Love Bombing
Anyone can love bomb, but a love bomber will show narcissistic tendencies because of the core nature of this act being centered around the idea of the attainment of self-serving needs through manipulative means. For this reason narcissism and love bombing fit together like a puzzle. A love bomber therefore is either someone with narcissistic tendencies or a person diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes narcissists as exhibiting a grandiose sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, and need for admiration. Other traits include arrogance and haughty behavior, exploitative and manipulative tendencies aimed at personal gain, and fantasies of success, power, beauty and brilliance. These traits create a conducive environment for dynamics of abuse to fester in a relationship.
All these traits also hint at one thing. That a narcissist will do anything in their power to ensure that their narcissist supply of ego boosting is never hindered. Love bombing is one such tactic for them to ensure that there is someone in their life who will fulfill their toxic demands. It’s a process to manipulate their way into gaining control over a person. They give some with the intention of extracting much more later.
Pragati adds another layer to this discussion. She says for a love bombing narcissist, “They chronically feel empty and have very low self-esteem. They get involved in a relationship to prop up their own image but find themselves incapable of loving another because they don’t feel good about themselves. They get a power thrill from being needed.
She also adds, “Narcissists find someone with the qualities they lack and try to control them and live through them. For example, a narcissist who finds themself incompetent at public speaking or addressing a group, may wish to control a more charismatic person to be able hide their own flaws.”
The Love Bombing Abuse Cycle
Narcissist love bombing often happens as a predictable narcissist cycle of abuse. People in such abusive relationships experience this as a series of three stages.
This is the first stage of the narcissist love bombing cycle. We are familiar with stage as the phase that consists of the act of love-bombing that we have come to understand. This stage is called as “Idealization” because that is exactly what the abuser does. They create an ideal image of the victim as well as the relationship and make them feel like there was no one in the world more perfect than the victim.
The narcissist abuser bombards the victim with flattery, attention, gifts, relentless communication and other forms of idealization they may learn that the victim enjoys. This phase feels euphoric to the victim. “Too good to be true” is a common feeling victims of narcissist love bombing victims identify with. The victim begins to gradually feel like they are in an enmeshed relationship with the abuser.
Once the abuser feels assured of their victim’s loyalty and empathy, the period of attention-giving stops and devaluing begins. Abusers shift to being manipulative, critical, complaining and a control freak instead. The victim feels like they owe their abuser empathy and understanding because of the love they had received. They feels compelled to give in to their demands.
Pragati says, “Victims get backhanded compliments from them. Initially where the abuser adored everything, now comes a phase when they start looking bored with the victim. They don’t want to invest their emotions, effort, or time with the victim. Sexual issues may start showing. When the victim expresses a need for healthy boundaries, it only seems to escalate matters further.”
Related Reading: How To Make A Narcissist Miserable – 13 Things To Do
In several such abusive relationships, at this stage the narcissist love bomber may break up the relationship. They may discard the victim after having manipulated them and move on to someone else to find a new victim. In several other relationships where the breakup is not a formal breakup, an abuser ends the relationship in spirit by not paying any attention to the victim. They ignore them, make them feel as if they are not worthy of their attention.
At this stage, the relationship either ends for good, or takes a break. The discarded victim feels confused and used, unable to understand why someone who loved them so much felt comfortable ignoring their need for respect and value.
Hoovering is the stage where the narcissist love bombing cycle circles back to the first step. The narcissists again must manipulate either the same victim or a new victim to be able to fill up their dwindling narcissist supply. Love bombing begins again in the form of covert narcissistic hoovering.
After devaluing and discarding their partner, hoovering or Love Bombing 2.0 may start looking like stalking and apologizing, making grand proclamations of love and apology. Not giving the victim space to express their anger, forcefully seeking forgiveness, insincere apologies, flattery, attention, gifts… and the cycle continues.
How Long Does The Love Bombing Stage Last?
“The love bombing stage lasts as long as it is needed,” says Pragati. “An abuser will love bomb for as long as it will take to establish control over the victim before they can switch to making demands. They need to make sure that they have you in their control and have secured your loyalty.”
Narcissist love bombing phase can last for a few days, a few weeks, months or years. There is no set timeline just like a courtship period or honeymoon phase of a relationship where two people give their absolute best to each other. They begin to take it easy and allow other things to take over once partners have a sense of security. This security tell them that the foundational work in the relationship has been done, trust and intimacy is established and some leeway may be taken. This typically is a normal, intuitive and unconscious shift.
The same intuition works in narcissist love bombing, only that this is manipulative in nature. The intention is different. When thinking of how long does the love bombing stage last, it also raises another question, how does one distinguish real display of affection, the good and normal kind of love from narcissist love bombing.
Pragati answers, “When real people fall in love they also show vulnerabilities about themselves. We are all unique individuals. We show our good sides, but inevitably we end up showing our bad sides too. But if you are only seeing someone’s good side, they might be manipulating you.” She adds, “Love bombing feels like being smothered with attention, flattery and adoration. You might feel elated but also confused, beginning to feel ‘wow, this is too good to be true’. Unfortunately, when something feels too good to be true, it usually is.”
Narcissist Love Bombing Examples
Now that we understand what narcissist love bombing is we must look at what this love bombing looks like. It is important to note that these narcissist love bombing examples are to be studied in context of each other and the feeling they instigate in the victim. By itself, each of these examples can also be a way of healthy expression of genuine love and admiration.
- Compliments: A love bombing narcissist abuser will bombard the victim with compliments and insincere flattery
- Gifts: Over-the-top gifts or spending excessively on the victim makes the victim feel indebted to the abuser. They feel obligated to fulfill the demands of the abuser
- “Soul-mate”: Bringing up concepts of “the one”, “soulmates and deep soul connection”, “destiny” and similar such expression in the very beginning of the relationship when it doesn’t seem sincere
- Forced Commitment: Forcing commitment and slyly demanding it back from the victim early in the relationship when it feels unwarranted
- Relentlessly keeping in touch: Not allowing the victim to have their space, breathe and evaluate their new feelings is hidden under the garb of constant communication and relentlessly keeping in touch. The victim is often left without any time to be by themselves or socialize otherwise
Pragati gives an example of a healthy relationship versus an abusive relationship marked by narcissist love bombing. She says, “In a healthy relationship, people are ready to acknowledge the ups and downs. People are ready to apologize and listen to their partner’s perspective and work on themselves. For example, a person may tell their partner, ‘You raised your voice, I didn’t like it.’ The partner would respond with, “Oh you felt that? I am so sorry.” That’s an instinctive reaction towards someone who loves you and who you love back.
But when we talk of narcissist love bombing, initially the person will say these things. But there will come a point when a person will only become argumentative and blame you. They will say things like ‘You are always complaining, you are never satisfied.’ The response to any complaint that you voice against your partner, is on a very different tangent.”
Related Reading: 11 Things Toxic Partners Often Say – And Why
So what should you keep in mind if you find yourself in an abusive relationship, that is abusive emotionally verbally and mentally, with a love bombing narcissist partner who you feel has been manipulating you in a similar way. Pragati warns, “The victim of love bombing usually can’t seem to recognize the pattern of abuse or find themselves incapabale of coming out of such an equation. They may have low self-esteem or can’t find in them the capacity for self-love. They are so swept away by the flattery or adoration that they do not stop to think that this might be too good to be true.”
But these behaviors are all usually over-the-top and make the victim feel pleased and surprised but also uncomfortable. Which is why it becomes important to be aware of one’s emotions. “Pay attention to what you feel. If something feels off, chances are something is off,” says Pragati. Also notice how your partner responds to your needs and concerns. If they don’t make the effort to address your concerns or they lash out when you do, it is a huge red flag.
You can always consider seeking support from trusted ones amongst your friends and family. Pragati also advises to ask for help from trained counselors most adept at handling such cases. She clearly states, “Perhaps it’s not the regular family counseling that will work. This is a case of one person being a narcissist and the other person a co-dependent. Someone who specifically deals with personality disorders and understands the root of these behaviors would be more suitable for dealing with your case.
If you are looking for help, Bonobology’s panel of expert and skilled counselors are here to help you.
A love bombing narcissist bombards and smothers their victim with attention, flattery, gifts, expensive gestures, praises and the likes. Conversation of how they are the one and how their relationship is destined to be is also common. This narcissist love bombing examples all happen in a too-much-too-soon fashion. These are not done as a genuine display of over the top excitement for a new relationship. What is narcissistic love bombing if not a manipulatory move done with the intention of earning the obedience and loyalty of their partner, so that they can easily be exploited later.
Our expert Pragati responds, “Love bombing is usually done by master manipulators. Which is why narcissism and love bombing go hand in hand. A love bombing narcissist wants to build a false image. Initially they might want you to believe that you are the best thing on the planet. But later, once they have you in control, they exploit you and get their way with you. They want a lot of dog eyed devotion and adoration from you to serve their need for narcissistic supply of ego boosting. An empathetic victim of narcissistic love bombing feels that they owe their abusive partner something in return for all the “love”, attention and often money they spend on them.
Narcissists may easily fall in love or feel attracted to each other because of their similarities. They may feel attracted to each other’s narcissistic over-the-top personality. The “Idealization” or the love bombing stage in their relationship will not only happen but also thrive. But very soon, as both try to devalue each other and exploit each other, chaos will ensue, as both partners may refuse to give in to each other’s demands as it is not easy for a narcissist to feel obligated or empathetic towards any other person.