Love Bombing: The seed of the narcissistic abuse
By: Gina Valencia
This is the second post in a series on narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and narcissistic abuse and recovery. Each month we will take a deep dive look at these topics, as well as attempt to decipher the actions and impact of narcissistic abuse.
A narcissist can be a friend, a co-w
orker, an institution, a romantic partner, a child, even your own parent. In fact, many of us unknowingly experienced a narcissistic relationship with the latter.
For this post, we will focus on the beginning stages of a romantic relationship with a narcissist.
The early stages of a romantic relationship with a narcissist resembles a fairytale. How could it not? Being showered with excessive admiration, overwhelmed with attention and affection, compliments galore, all of which fill the decades deep void resulting from insecurity and a lack of unconditional love.
But how are these actions different than that of someone who genuinely feels these emotions and wants to really make you happy?
The difference is, intent.
During courtship, the narcissist sweeps their target off of their feet under the guise of unconditional love. The narcissist is also seeking unconditional love, the kind he did not receive from his narcissistic parent; the kind of love which would allow him to individuate from his parent; love that would have equipped the narcissist with the tools to become an independent and individual adult. The adult child narcissist proclaims to his target (know as narcissistic supply) that this love is the first of its kind, convincing the victim that this relationship is almost existentially special and rare. However, the narcissist has found “their ideal mommy” in the victim, not an equal. He will then ‘merge’ with the victim so that the narcissist can later individuate from their own parent through the victim.
The surest way to merge with a victim? Love bomb the hell out of them.
What is Love Bombing?
Former professor of psychology and writer Sam Vaknin, who coined the phrase “narcissistic abuse” in 1995 and has written numerous works on the subject, recently gave his definition of love bombing.
“Love bombing, as the name implies, is when you weaponize the expression of affection and love and compassion and attention in order -- with explicit intent -- to manipulate another person into a behavior which you deem beneficial to you.”
Because there is a fine line between love bombing and genuine love, Vaknin warns about being extremely careful when attempting to ‘criminalize certain behaviors,’ otherwise, well-intended individuals will become terrified to show any signs of affection to potential partners.
However, Vaknin continues that the difference is that love bombing is “pathological, dysfunctional, and abusive. It’s manipulative; an integral part of coercive control.”
He describes love bombing as ‘over the top, UN-believable, IN-credible’ premature actions at the very beginning of a relationship that have less to do with the victim, and all to do with the narcissist’s survival-based attempts to secure the victim as a partner.
In many situations, the target of the narcissist is highly empathic, yet lacks self-worth and self-love, and is desperate for unconditional love. The moment a narcissist rides in on a white horse bearing undying unconditionally love, the target’s codependency on Prince Charming kicks in to high gear, and the process of reduced boundaries and self-abandonment begins. The target never recognizes the red flags because they are not typical abusive clues; no hitting, no screaming; only fairy tale love. Using love bombing and idealization, the narcissist (Prince-not- so-Charming) lures the target into a partnership. As Vaknin puts it, ‘there is a pronounced element of fantasy.’
Common Lovebombing tactics, according to therapist Manit Kaur Ruprai, are; a partner “tells you they love you and you are their soulmate within weeks; they ask you to move in with them at a fast pace; they slate their ex.”
The Foundation is Laid
This initial stage of love bombing behavior lays the foundation for future manipulation. Lovebombing is the seed of narcissistic abuse, because once a target is made to feel safe and accepted “unconditionally,” the narcissist eventually drops the tiring work of the exaggerated romantic gestures. Since the narcissist was driven primally by need to secure “supply,” once they have their ‘mate’, the excessive acts stop. The narcissist’s actions are never 100% genuine because a narcissist isn’t capable of being truthful and genuine themselves, and because they are operating from a survival mentality. The target/victim is now hooked to the narcissist’s ‘love and affection,’ and may stay for months, even years, trying to hold on to the potential of ‘what was.'
This reduction of lovebombing disorients and confuses the victim; one day, they are a queen; the next day, the narcissist deems the victim as selfish for wanting attention. The narcissist wants to share the world with the victim, then push them away. For fear of losing this fairy tale love, the desperate victim vows to please the narcissist, but feels intimidated and scared to upset him. Holding the power, the narcissist begins intermittently withholding his love and affection. This inconsistency creates for the victim a constant state of walking on eggshells.
The now codependent victim is trauma bonded to the narcissist; attached to their abuser through the established ‘cycle of physical or emotional trauma followed by positive reinforcement,' according to online mental health resource Sandstone Care.
Once their love bombing earns the victim’s trust and confidence, the narcissist’s hooks are in; it will become much easier the narcissist to maneuver the victim’s opinions and feelings to influence their actions. The fairy tale love slowly erodes, eventually transforming into psychological and emotional manipulation, and the next phase of narcissistic abuse: Devaluation.
In the next post we will discuss Devaluation and how the narcissist has embedded his sense of lack with his victim’s.