The love bombing phase may be one of the most malicious aspects of narcissistic abuse. Not everyone experiences this phase, but for those who do, it tethers them to the abusive cycle by formulating an extremely powerful trauma bond.
The love bombing phase is a period in a narcissistic relationship where the narcissist will overwhelm their victim with spontaneous trips and gifts, they’ll morph into the embodiment of the victim’s “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect”, there will be a lot of communication and time spent together, and captivating levels of intimacy.
This will continue for a short period of time, and then all of a sudden, the narcissist pulls the rug out from under the victim’s feet, and begins to devalue and project their emotional instability onto them.
Narcissists do such a good job at faking authenticity during this phase that many of those who’ve suffered love bombing have described the phase as magical and/or a once in a lifetime experience.
This phase is so destabilizing because the victim will hold onto the way their abuser made them feel during the love bombing phase, and use it to rationalize, justify, and normalize the forthcoming abuse for months, years, and even decades.
A common belief among those who haven’t experienced an abusive relationship is that if the abuse is as bad as they say it is, they should just leave. There are many reasons why it’s never as simple as that but when it comes to the love bombing phase, it makes the victim feel as if they’ve met someone who loves them like no-one ever could, that isn’t easy to let go.
The hardest part about experiencing emotional and/or physical abuse at any stage of your life is learning how to gravitate towards healthy relationships rather than abusive ones. It may sound simple to those who haven’t experienced abuse, but it’s not.
The trauma that comes from abuse destroys one’s self-esteem and plagues them with self-doubt. Without the proper guidance, healthy relationships could feel almost foreign to those who’ve suffered abuse, causing them to gravitate towards abusive relationships in the future.
It is our hope that the complete guide to the love bombing phase we’ve laid out below will help guide those who need it.
Readers can expect to learn more about what the love bombing phase looks like with different types of narcissism, other forms of manipulation embedded in the love bombing phase, and a study among 231 survivors of narcissistic abuse that reveals the best way to protect yourself from the love bombing phase.
Table of Contents:
- What Does the Love Bombing Phase Look Like?
- Be Aware of Mirroring & Future Faking
- Intermittent Reinforcement
- Trauma Bond
- What Should You Take Away From This Article?
What Does the Love Bombing Phase Look Like?
One thing that readers should know about the love bombing phase is that depending on the type of narcissism someone is dealing with, the dynamics of the phase can be slightly different, especially with malignant narcissism.
In addition, the dynamics of the love bombing phase will have a strong correlation with the way the narcissists accumulates narcissistic supply.
Narcissism covers a wide spectrum of personality traits, however, most of the information you’ll find from your average blogger, vlogger, or even some therapists only addresses grandiose and covert narcissism. This is because grandiose narcissism is the embodiment of the traditional definition of narcissism.
In addition, researchers have found that under the right circumstances, grandiose and covert narcissism are interchangeable. Meaning that grandiose narcissists could show behavioral patterns commonly associated with covert narcissists and vice versa.
Grandiose narcissists are very flashy, well put together, captivating, charming, and charismatic while covert narcissists have mastered the ability to victimize themselves. They often come off as depressed and portray themselves as severely underrated by the world by using statements like the following:
- I should’ve gone to private school but I didn’t grow up with the type of money they did. If I had, I would probably be the CEO of the company as well.
- I would’ve gone to the NBA if my coach wasn’t so biased. He would only play the players who sucked up to him the most. I guess hard work doesn’t always pay off.
- I could’ve been a doctor if my professor actually knew what he was talking about. I was so much more intelligent than him, he was practically holding me back for 4 years of my life.
On the other hand, malignant and communal narcissism have flown under the radar for so long because of how well they hide themselves.
Malignant narcissism is dangerously similar to psychopathy, so close that malignant narcissists are often labeled as psychopathic. What separates them is that malignant narcissists have emotions like remorse, guilt, and shame while psychopaths’ don’t.
Malignant narcissists have a tendency to disregard the safety of others in the pursuit of money, power, and pleasure. They’re drawn to addictive and compulsive behaviors, and they are both physically and psychologically aggressive.
Communal narcissists often come off as overly empathic. You read that correctly, communal narcissists accumulate their narcissistic supply by doing charitable things for others. They’re the type of people who make large donations, provide for those in need, travel to developing countries as a volunteer, and many other honorable things as long as the camera is rolling.
Why Is This Significant?
The most important thing that someone needs to do in order to break free from an abusive cycle is to acknowledge that what they are experiencing is abuse, which can only be achieved by accumulating a sufficient amount of knowledge about the abuse they endured.
Because the love bombing phase lays such a powerful foundation, it would be detrimental to one’s healing journey if they were led to believe they didn’t experience a love bombing phase simply because they were looking through the lens of only one type of narcissism.
- Love bombing with a malignant narcissist could circulate around their paranoia and need for control. Meaning that they need to constantly be updated about where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing.
- With grandiose narcissists love bombing is more likely to circulate around their grandiosity. There will be spontaneous moments, grandiose outings, high levels of intimacy and so on.
- With communal narcissists the love bombing could circulate around their charitable actions. You could be drawn to them because of how good of a person they portray themselves as. They will most likely drag you into their charitable actions, which will make you feel good as well.
- A covert narcissist may love bomb you by making you feel like their savior. The narrative they create will portray them as an underrated and mistreated person who you are able to connect with. They’ll make you feel like you have a responsibility to make sure they’re validated and admired the way they believe they should be.
The different scenarios I listed above have the potential to make the victim feel as if they have a very unique connection with their abuser and it’s intense because of how interested their abuser is in them. It ignites the victim’s desire to be wanted and blinds them from the controlling and manipulative ways of their abuser.
While the traditional definition of love bombing focuses on grandiose narcissism, it’s important to understand that love bombing is a manipulative tactic narcissists use to shift the spotlight away from their red flags. There are a lot of moving parts in the narcissistic realm.
While love bombing usually aligns with grandiose narcissism, it can also manifest differently among the other types of narcissism.
Be Aware of Mirroring & Future Faking
The love bombing phase is impossible without mirroring and future faking, which are two manipulative tactics narcissists use to morph into the embodiment of their victim’s “Mr. or Mrs Perfect.” In a healthy relationship, mirroring is a form of nonverbal communication that strengthens the couples’ bond and allows each person to see the other accurately.
Mirroring in a healthy relationship is meant to validate the other’s emotional state.
In a narcissistic relationship, mirroring is used to gather sensitive information about the victim, therefore it’s completely one-sided. The narcissist will pay a lot of attention to the victim’s desires, vulnerabilities, goals, core values, insecurities and reflect them back to the victim.
When put in a situation where they’re required to give up sensitive information back about themselves, they’ll manipulate the conversation away from themselves and back onto the victim.
This type of behavior is a major red flag, but is very well hidden in the heat of the moment because more often than not, mirroring makes the victim feel as if they’ve met someone who understands them better than anyone else.
When a narcissist mirrors their victim, they aren’t doing it to strengthen the relationship, they’re doing it to gather data about their victim so they can manipulate them more effectively.
When a narcissist gathers enough information about their victim during the mirroring phase, they are able to future fake them as well. Future faking is a manipulative tactic that is designed for coercion, distraction, and control.
At some point the love bombing phase will feel uncomfortable. When this happens and the victim begins to doubt the relationship, tries to set a boundary, or confronts the narcissist about something that makes them uncomfortable, the narcissist will future fake them back into the relationship.
When a narcissist uses future faking on their victim, they take all of the information they gathered during the mirroring expeditions, and mimic the desired future, goals, and aspirations that their victim has to keep them in the relationship.
The Yin and Yang relationship that mirroring and future faking has lays an incredibly strong foundation for some of the other aspects of the love bombing phase; intermittent reinforcement, and trauma bonds.
Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of rewards at irregular intervals. In a narcissistic relationship, this essentially means that the narcissist will learn how much abuse their victim can endure before they have to show some level of empathy.
The connection intermittent reinforcement has with the foundation laid during the mirroring and future faking phase, is the feeling of hope. As you now know, narcissist gather an insane amount of data throughout the mirroring and future faking phase. At the time, it makes the victim feel as if the relationship is strong because the narcissist knows them very well.
Sadly, while the narcissist does know them very well, it’s not to strengthen the relationship. The narcissist uses the information they gather while mirroring to manipulate the victim more effectively. We spoke about how they do that with future faking, but they also use the information with intermittent reinforcement as well.
When the love bombing phase ends, the devaluation phase begins.
The scary part about intermittent reinforcement is that it manipulates the chemicals in the victim’s brain. Because of how emotionally starved victims of narcissistic abuse become, even the slightest amounts of empathy act as the “reward” we’re talking about with intermittent reinforcement.
When the narcissist decides to strategically drop these moments of empathy to initiate intermittent reinforcement, it triggers the victims reward sector in their brain, flooding it with dopamine.
Imagine experiencing the love bombing phase and then being thrown into a pervasive environment of manipulation and emotional abuse for what feels like an eternity. Then all of a sudden, your abuser calls you beautiful, opens the door for you, or takes you out on a fantastic date. It’s going to feel amazing, and you’ll most likely want to chase that feeling that the good times are coming back.
That’s exactly what intermittent reinforcement is. It floods the victim’s brain with dopamine and they become addicted to the feeling it brings. It’s a very powerful form of manipulation in the narcissistic realm and it keeps many victims of narcissistic abuse trapped for months, years, and even decades.
“I desperately needed his attention, love, and approval. The love bombing part of our relationship was so addicting. I had never had someone pay attention to me that much before, I truly believed that he was the one.”Hannah
A trauma bond is an emotional attachment between two people that is formed through emotional and/or physical abuse. It’s used when describing a person who can’t leave an abusive relationship. While one can be prone to trauma bonding through a low self-esteem and a history of trauma, this section is going to focus on how they’re formed through intermittent reinforcement and the love bombing phase.
Much like mirroring and future faking, love bombing and intermittent reinforcement also have a Yin and Yang type of relationship.
The love bombing phase feels like you’ve been put up on a pedestal and admired by your “Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.” When the pedestal is pulled out from under you with no reasoning or warning, the fall to the devaluation phase is going to be devastating.
What ends up happening is that the narcissist will slowly become your only source of happiness because you’ll consciously or subconsciously hold onto the memories of the love bombing phase, and every time you experience intermittent reinforcement, you’ll be flooded with those memories again.
This causes you to normalize, rationalize, and justify your abuser’s behavior under pretense that one day, everything will be back to normal, which is a trauma bond.
One of the hardest parts about breaking a trauma bond that is formed through love bombing and intermittent reinforcement is that it often makes you terrified that if you leave, your abuser will change and be better for someone else.
That fear is precisely what makes these types of trauma bonds nearly unbreakable.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
We wanted to know from those who’ve experienced the love bombing, what is the best way to protect yourself from it? So we conducted a study among 231 survivors of narcissistic abuse to find out.
Setting boundaries is really important, not just in narcissistic relationships, but in all relationships. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how to set boundaries, setting a boundary could manifest by limiting the amount of communication throughout the day, asking for space when you need it, or even being honest.
They are very hard to set with a narcissist because it challenges their sense of specialness. Narcissists believe that they’re entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want. So when you set a boundary with them, you’ll most likely be met with passive-aggressive behavior or rage.
The moment your boundaries aren’t respected, you should leave the environment immediately and don’t look back!
At the end of the day, we all want our own love story. We all want to be wanted. Therefore, it’s really important that we understand the difference between healthy connection and love bombing.
Healthy connections can certainly have all of the characteristics that love bombing has. They can be spontaneous, captivating, passionate, and full of intimacy. With that being said, the difference between a healthy connection and love bombing is the balance between spontaneity and respecting each other’s boundaries.
The love bombing phase is often plagued with non-stop communication, gifts, sexual experiences, unannounced visits, and time spent together. It can feel very nice at first, but eventually many victims of narcissistic abuse reach a point where they need space.
When they try to enforce their boundaries and/or voice their concerns with either the narcissist or those they choose to confide in, they are often met with hypersensitivity and rage from the narcissist, and criticism from those they confide in.
“I clearly remember waking up one morning during the love bombing to missed calls and text messages from my ex husband and just feeling so drained. We had a fantastic time together but I needed some time to focus on myself. When I told him this he got very angry, accused me of cheating, and stormed out of the house.
It was so strange because all I had said was that I was going to go to my parents’ cabin alone for two weeks to spend time with myself. I told my friends about what happened and they told me that I sounded like I was scared of making a commitment. It made me question myself so much, I ended up bringing him with me to the cabin and the rest is history…” Andrea
In a healthy relationship:
- There is a healthy amount of communication.
- Both parties ensure that they listen and attempt to understand each other.
- The boundaries one sets are acknowledged and respected.
- There is a significant amount of self-awareness from both sides.
- There is a willingness to make compromises
- Vulnerabilities and insecurities are taken into consideration and not weaponized.
For those who have experienced the love bombing phase, it’s very important for you to rise above the noise of the love bombing phase, and ensure you recognize the difference between love bombing and a healthy connection.
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