I’ve come to believe that the “love-bombing” stage that takes place early in a relationship with a narcissist is the most sinister and dangerous period in the entire relationship.
It’s discussed frequently, but usually only in conjunction with the other stages in the narcissistic abuse cycle: idealization-devaluation-discard or sometimes idealization-devaluation-discard-hoover. It’s often not discussed on its own, because the other stages feel so much more intensely negative that it’s easy to ignore why love-bombing is so bad.
It’s sometimes overlooked because it’s often not perceived as abusive since what happens during this stage is so downright pleasant. Pleasant, in fact, is an understatement.
Love-bombing takes place in the stage that comes first, the idealization stage, which is the one where you fall in love and form a bond with the narcissist. It’s the one where your partner draws you into a perfect world seemingly created just for the two of you that, after everything begins to deteriorate, you will yearn for the return of for the duration of the relationship.
It’s called love-bombing for a reason.
Shahidi Arabi writes, “The idealization phase can only be described as pure, unadulterated ecstasy – both for the victim and the predator. Love-bombing – the excessive praise and flattery the predator showers on the prey – might as well be crack cocaine.”
Yep. That’s about right. When it comes to my own relationship, I remember the moment I knew I was in love with my ex-boyfriend. Then it was almost a spiritual experience for a few months afterward before things spiraled downward.
But that’s why this period at the beginning should not be overlooked. It’s a set-up that is just as real, abusive, and destructive as any of the other parts of the relationship. There are two reasons I consider this period so dangerous that I would argue it’s actually the most abusive of the entire relationship.
1. The Love-Bombing is Itself a False Construction Designed to Manipulate Us in One Way or Another.
Although narcissists may actually believe they love you and may engage in acts and show emotions that look like love, their motivations are much different than those of the rest of us.
Narcissists and psychopaths do not want the same things out of relationships that the rest of us do. When we enter into relationships with them, we assume we are entering a relationship based on a foundation of trust, honesty, and respect in which we are valued for our individual selves and in which our needs and desires are important.
Narcissists, however, are extracting from the people they are close to the “supply” needed to maintain their positive view of themselves. They will do whatever is necessary to get it.
This can include excessively flattering you, pretending to be interested in the same things that you are, mirroring your thoughts and emotions and even physical actions, lying about their pasts or their future intentions, and dominating your time and attention.
These are the types of actions that take place during “love-bombing,” but it is all carefully crafted and purposely manufactured so that they can receive your love, attention, affection, adoration, and empathy, as they have deemed you a high-quality supplier of these things.
“The main difference between jerks and abusers is the idealize and grooming phase,” Jackson MacKenzie writes in Psychopath Free. “Most of us have no problem spotting nasty people– we avoid them. But psychopaths present themselves as your mirror image. A soul mate. They quickly declare that no one has ever made them so happy in their life– they compare you to past exes, holding you high above everyone else. They sniff out your vulnerabilities, insecurities, and dreams. And based on their findings, they transform their entire personalities to become your perfect match.”
Narcissists have learned that when they spin this web around their partners early, their partners drop their guard and make themselves vulnerable. While we believe that we have found someone who accepts and loves us for who we are, someone who wants the best for us, they have learned how to manipulate our emotions to draw us closer so that we will provide them with the validation to their egos.
As soon as the real world steps in– as soon as you tell them “no,” or disagree with them about something, or want or need something that contradicts them, the mask will begin to slide, because the things the said to us and the way they treated us was conditional, based on how we treated them not who we actually are.
There may be glimpses of who they really are, tests we have to pass. They may tell us, “I’m a bad person,” to see how we react. Will we say, “No you’re not” and pull them close?
When they explode over the little things that feel like criticism to a narcissist, what will we do? For example, any of the following might incite narcissistic rage:
- telling them that you won’t cancel your plans to be them
- telling them that you don’t like horror films because they make you scared and don’t want to watch one with them
- telling them that you prefer to order something different on a menu than what they suggested
- not responding “quickly enough” to text messages
- pointing out a stain on their clothing
- disagreeing on which sports team should win a championship or speaking up at all when you have an alternate opinion on anything
- pointing out an error in their work or providing constructive criticism
- pointing out an inconsistency in their story
- asking them not to do something in a firm but fair manner (e.g., “I don’t like being tickled. Please don’t do it.”)
- crying or being upset about a lie that they told you
These scenarios and others feel like attacks or rejections.
Narcissists need the people around them to reflect back to them their own view of their “idealized” self. Because, merely by you being yourself and living your life, you will inevitably do or say something that fails to make them feel perfect because it ignites shame or worthlessness, you will fall from the pedestal as they project it onto you.
If the narcissist explodes in rage and then attacks you over any of these things, will you walk away or will you think it’s a one-off? These incidents may start to occur slowly. They’re grooming you for their abuse.
The entire time that you were being real, truthful and genuine, their love for you has been conditional– based only on whether you do what they want you to do.
The person presented to us by narcissists during the love-bombing stage isn’t real. It is a deception, a mask, worn for us in order to get us to open our souls and hand over our lives. By telling us what we want to hear and weaving a false reality, they can then escape their own emptiness and use our genuine hearts to feel special and alive.
Love-bombing is dangerous because it is used to steal our best selves and try to drain us of who we are.
2. The Emotions Generated in Us By the Love-Bombing are Weaponized Against Us.
It would be bad enough if love-bombing was only dangerous and negative because it was false advertising that lured unsuspecting people into relationships.
Love-bombing is also dangerous because the narcissist uses what they learn about their partners to control them once they are in the relationships to keep them there.
Partners are groomed during the love-bombing phase to endure what is to come in several ways.
1. Partners get cognitive dissonance and are unsure of how their partner can go from treating them like the love of their life to treating them like they don’t matter. The first impression usually becomes the core belief and is the most resistant to change.
Therefore, the partner finds it difficult not to resolve the cognitive dissonance in favor of the positive view of the narcissist presented during the love-bombing stage. He or she will withstand abusive treatment, thinking there are logical reasons for it and believing the “true self” of the narcissist is the one presented at the beginning
2. Partners are more likely to second-guess themselves and take the blame when things go wrong in the relationship because they have been groomed from the beginning to believe that they are with someone who is trustworthy and has their best interests at heart.
3. Partners will long for and miss the narcissist during silent treatments or when breaking up. They romanticize that period of the relationship, may get “abuse amnesia,” and start to believe they will never have a connection with anyone like the one they had with the narcissist. It can keep them ensnared in the relationship for a long time, unable to go no-contact, and even if they are able to break away, idealizing the relationship can keep them from moving on.
Love-bombing almost always starts on day one, and it is part of the indoctrination that sets the stage for everything else that will take place in the rest of the relationship, and for the rest of our lives, as we institute no-contact and then maintain it.
H.G. Tudor, a self-aware narcissist, admits as much about the love-bombing when he writes, “Your head will eventually accept what happened, that you were charmed, entranced and enchanted and you never stood a chance… Your heart will never accept that it was not real. That crack, that fracture, that tiny chink that remains from your frenetic and devastating time with me shall always remain. It is through it that I can return as I slip, shadow like into your heart through that unhealed wound. That is why we did what we did; so we always had a way back in… You will have to maintain that vigilance for the rest of your life. Our polluting influence, if ever allowed near you again, will creep and trickle through the hole that will never seal.”
Our own emotions are used to trap us into the relationship and then to make it difficult to ever escape.
It seems clear that love-bombing is just as abusive as any of the more obvious forms of abuse. This is when the sleight-of-hand takes place and the poison is slowly injected into us– one sweet drop at a time. Partners need to heal not just from the trauma of the blatant abuse, but from the sickness of that infection.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the following:
- How to Get Over a Narcissist: You Absolutely Must Do This
- Stop Blaming Yourself! Narcissists Target Others Based on Their Good Qualities
- 9 Types of Narcissists: The Ultimate Guide
- Can a Narcissists Love You? Yes, but It’s Complicated
- Using One of the Narcissist’s Biggest Lies Against Them
- Outsmart the Narcissist: A Guide to Breaking the Idealize-Devalue-Discard-Hoover Cycle