As special or unique as the love bombing phase makes the connection between two people feel, it is actually a very powerful form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is a consistent pattern of abusive words and/or non-physical bullying behavior that is designed to enable an abuser to erode their victim’s  self-esteem, corrupt their mental health, and remain in power and/or control of the relationship. 

Love bombing is emotional abuse because it allows abusers to extract enough information about the victim’s identity to erode their self-esteem, corrupt their mental health through mirroring, a form of manipulation, and put themselves in a position of power and control once they abruptly end the love bombing phase.

The love bombing phase is to blame for some of the most powerful trauma bonds imaginable. It can be really hard for the victims and survivors of abusive relationships to acknowledge and/or let go of the special, unique and even magical connection they thought they had with their abuser because of love bombing. 

Why? 

Abusers who love bomb are very good at filling the void in their victim’s life. They learn the ins and outs of their victim’s identity very quickly and use the information they gather to transform themselves into the perfect romantic partner, family member, co-worker, or friend. Letting go of someone who is abusive often appears to be the obvious decision to makes but for vicitms of love bombing it can be excruciating.

Understanding what makes the love bombing phase emotional abuse will help soothe the pain of letting go of the wish for things to be different. 

What Makes the Love Bombing Phase a Form of Emotional Abuse? 

If you were to compare the definition of emotional abuse with the concept of love bombing, love bombing wouldn’t necessarily be considered a form of emotional abuse. 

You see, love bombing is often depicted as a phase in the beginning stages of a unhealthy/abusive relationship that is full of grandiose outings, a lot of communication, spontaneity, a lot of intimacy, and an overwhelming amount of gifts, compliments and time spent together. 

Emotional abuse are non-physical behaviors that are designed to control, isolate, or frighten the victim. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, emotional abuse could manifest in the form of threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others.

At a quick glance, these two are polar opposites but once you take a closer look at the complexity of the love bombing phase, it becomes clear that they aren’t so different after all. 

Many of the Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse Are Hidden In the Love Bombing Phase

The love bombing phase is a narcissistic behavior pattern. When you examine the phase at a facet level, narcissistic traits like grandiosity, arrogance, superficial charm, manipulation, lack of empathy, and an incessant need for validation/admiration are very easy to identify. 

Unfortunately, these narcissistic traits are nearly impossible to identify for those experiencing the love bombing phase because they’re often hidden by a manipulative tactic called mirroring. 

In a healthy relationship, mirroring is when two people unconsciously mimic one another’s identity. This could manifest in something subtle like similar speech patterns or something more obvious like taking a liking to one another’s hobbies. It’s a healthy behavior that enables both parties to see one another accurately and often strengthens the bond that they share.

In an unhealthy/abusive relationship, mirroring is when an abuser will maintain a falsified identity to portray themselves as the perfect romantic partner, friend, family member, or co-worker. When an abuser mirrors their victim, they do not allow the victim to see them accurately because of their self-centered, manipulative, insecure, and vulnerable profile. 

What ends up happening is that the abuser just continues to check off box after box on the victim’s imaginary checklist for the perfect romantic partner, friend, co-worker, or family member and this is where the ideologies behind love bombing begin to formulate. 

What does that mean? 

Something that is often overlooked in the love bombing phase is the fact that there isn’t necessarily a ridged definition of what the love bombing phase looks like, even though we’ve been led to believe so. 

Simply put, the love bombing phase is essentially an abuser using mirroing to figure out how they can fill the void in their victim’s lives. 

For example, if someone with a deeply rooted need to “rescue” or “fix” others were to cross paths with an abuser who uses love bombing, you can almost gaurentee that the abuser will present themselves in a very victimized way to fill the void in the victim’s life. 

Another example would be if someone with a deeply rooted need for security and/or stability were to cross paths with an abuser who uses love bombing, the dynamics of the love bombing phase would ciruclate around the abuser ensuring that he/she does everything in their power to manipulate the victim into a false sense of security and/or stability. 

One of the reasons that it is so important to understand that the love bombing phase can manifest in a variety of different ways is because its ability to do so is precisely how many of the warning signs of emotional abuse fly under the victim’s radar. 

When analyzing love bombing on a facet level, it is clear that the abuser’s need for constant communication, excessive amount of time spent together, and sense of entitlement to know where the victim is and what they’re doing at all times is a manifestation of some of the warning signs of emotional abuse: manipulation, an unhealthy amount of jealousy, and a need to constantly monitor the victim.

Unfortunately, an abuser’s ability to use mirroring to present themselves as essentially the best thing that has ever happened to the victim creates an overwhelming amount of cognitive dissonance, we’ll talk about this in the next section, which disguises the warning signs as love. 

The Dynamics of the Love Bombing Phase Causes the Victim to use Cognitive Dissonance and Leaves Them With an Overwhelming Amount of Neglected Trauma

A key aspect of the love bombing phase that often gets overlooked is the initiation of the devaluation phase. In our article How Long Does the Love Bombing Phase Last? (Case Study) we conducted a study among 221 survivors of abusive relationship who experienced the love bombing phase and found that the average duration of the phase amongst the participants was 5.5 months. 

That is 5.5 months of a very manipulative, exploitative, entitled, and intelligent individual transforming themselves into the embodiment of the victim’s perfect romantic partner, best friend, co-worker, or family member. 

Oftentimes the victim has envisioned a fabulous future with their abuser. So, when the love bombing comes to an end and the abuser initiates the devaluation phase, the victim is forced to choose between holding onto the fabulous image they have of their abuser or accepting that the person who means everything to them is a fraud. 

Sadly, most victims of an abuser using the love bombing phase use something called cognitive dissonance to rationalize, justify, and normalize their abuser’s behavior once the devaluation phase begins.  

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among the information we have, what we believe, and the behavior we’re experiencing, it causes an insane amount of psychological tension. To regulate this tension, we change one or more of the inconsistencies to make everything consistent. 

A really simple example of this would be someone cheating on their diet. Imagine that John set a New Year’s resolution to lose 50 pounds. So far he has lost 35 pounds then BOOM, his friend has a birthday party with a ton of alcohol and unhealthy food. 

He knows that he’s so close to his goal. He knows that if he doesn’t remain disciplined at the party that he will betray the resolution he set. But he also wants to have a really fun time with his friends so he convinces himself that one night of fun won’t destroy his progress. 

That is cognitive dissonance. When John convinced himself that he could ignore his diet without any significant repercussions, he was changing one of the elements to make everything consistent. 

In John’s situation, yeah, one night of fun probably isn’t going to destroy his progress. But when cognitive dissonance is used to normalize, rationalize, and justify abusive behavior, it often sets victims back months, years, and even decades. 

How this often plays out is that the abuser initiates the devaluation phase by being mean, prone to rage, controlling, avoiding intimacy and so on. This forces the victim to choose between holding onto the image they have of their abuser from the love bombing phase or acknowledging that the abuser is in fact an abuser. 

Cognitive dissonance is when the victim finds something to rationalize, normalize, and justify staying in the relationship. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Emotional abuse is a consistent pattern of abusive words and/or non-physical bullying behavior that is designed to enable an abuser to erode their victim’s self-esteem, corrupt their mental health, and remain in power and/or control of the relationship. 

When an abuser who uses love bombing places their victim up on a pedestal by mirroring their identity, manipulating them into believing that they have a really unique/special connection with them, and provides them with a false sense of emotional security, they’re placing themselves in a position from which they have power and control over the victim.

When they dropkick the pedestal right out from under the victim by initiating the devaluation phase, they’re eroding the victim’s self-esteem, corrupting their mental health, and without the victim seeking qualified medical guidance, they remain in a position of power and/or control over the victim. 

Love bombing is emotional abuse. 

It’s really important for the victims and survivors of abusive relationships who’ve experienced love bombing to understand the severity of the situation they’re in as fast, and safely, as possible. 

Why? 

In our article Why Is Love Bombing So Dangerous we spoke about a study we conducted in another article What Happens During Narcissistic Rage where we conducted a survey among 100 survivors of abusive relationship and found that 79/100 of the participants experienced at least 3/5 types of abuse that we outlined.

  • Neglect
    • Includes but is not limited to failure to provide sufficient supervision, nourishment, or medical care, or the failure to fulfill others needs for which the victim cannot provide themselves, or the silent treatment.
  • Psychological Violence
    • Includes but is not limited to expressive aggression (e.g., humiliating and degrading), coercive control (e.g., limiting access to things or people, and excessive monitoring of a person’s whereabouts or communications), threats of physical or sexual violence, control of reproductive or sexual health, and exploitation of a person’s vulnerability (e.g., immigration status or disability).
  • Physical Violence A
    • Includes but is not limited to throwing objects, punching walls, breaking windows, slamming doors, driving in an aggressive manner.
  • Physical Violence B
    • Includes but is not limited to scratching, pushing, shoving, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, slapping, punching, hitting, burning, use of a weapon, use of restraint or one’s body against another person, and locking someone in the closet/room.
  • Sexual Violence
    • Includes but is not limited to forced, alcohol/drug-facilitated or unwanted penetration, sexual touching, or non-contact acts of a sexual nature. A perpetrator forcing or coercing a victim to engage in sexual acts with a third party also qualifies as sexual violence.

All of the participants reported that they experienced psychological violence, which is interchangeable with emotional abuse, so in a follow up study designed to determine how often the psychological violence perluded the physical violence, 79/100 of the participants reported that the psychological violence they experienced did in fact come before the physical violence. 

Abuse should never be overlooked or minimized. The love bombing phase is emotional abuse and should be treated as an indicator of much more violent forthcoming abuse. 

“Before They Bite, They Bark. Before They Hit You, They Hit Near You”- Maid, A Netflix Series About Domestic Abuse

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Rees CA. Understanding emotional abuse Archives of Disease in Childhood 2010; 95:59-67