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Love Bombing: A Narcissist's Secret Weapon

A whirlwind romance should never feel like a manipulation of your heart.

Key points

  • Love bombing is the practice of overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction.
  • A narcississt may use flattery and attention to build themselves up as the perfect partner and gain trust.
  • Narcissists can be skilled at putting on the mask that their target will find most attractive.
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If the growing number of matchmaking businesses and websites is any indication, almost everyone who isn't in a relationship wants to be. Whether you want to be “in love” or “be loved,” there’s likely a specialized business out there somewhere ready to hook you up with “like-minded adults,” “discreet older gentlemen,” “rural Romeos,” “Christian singles,” or whatever your "type" might be. While communication technology and internet connections make it a lot easier to find potential partners, they also increase the risk that you will encounter some less than perfect matches.

When you openly advertise your interest in a romantic relationship, you also signal your availability to any circling narcissists or social predators. If one senses that your guard is down, he or she may assume that you are an easier target for manipulation. And one of the most effective ways of manipulating a potential partner is through flattery and "love bombs."

Love bombing feels good, until it doesn't.

Love bombing is the practice of overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction—think flattering comments, tokens of affection, or love notes on the mirror, kitchen table, or windshield, and you’re beginning to get the picture. It’s flowers delivered at work with hearts dotting the i’s in your name. It’s texts that increase in frequency as they increase in romantic fervor. It’s surprise appearances designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber—and, not coincidentally, less time with others, or on your own.

We all love to be loved, until it starts to feel like being stalked.

When someone tells you just how special you are, it can be intoxicating, at first. However, when a person uses such comments to keep your focus trained on him or her, or to keep bringing you back in if you’ve started to back off, it could be a case of manipulation. Not everyone who whispers sweet nothings in your ear is a narcissist or predator, of course, but if you’re feeling that something just isn’t right about the person or your relationship, these constant reminders of "how good you are together"—when you suspect that you really aren’t—can be an effort to keep you tethered. It’s often the first line used by a potential abuser.

Why do narcissists love bomb?

Narcissists in particular are known for their skills at manipulation, as much as their penchant for self-love. They may use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partner, the better to gain your trust, affection—and, ultimately, adoration. Narcissists often learn through experience that once partners see through their facades, the relationship may self-destruct. Once they have convinced you of how good the two of you are together, a narcissist will try to shape your role in the relationship into a member of their "supporting cast." For this and other reasons, narcissists typically struggle to maintain equal, mutually satisfying relationships.

Narcissists move quickly to avoid detection, so the more someone tries to flatter you into submission, the more diligently you need to explore their motives.

If they say they adore me, how can they be narcissists?

Nonstop attention and daily roses can sound appealing, but if you were the object of this type of affection—from someone you just met—you’d probably think it was more creepy than charming. Most of us prefer relationships that unfold in a relatively gradual way. It’s normal to feel a rush of excitement at every glance, touch, or meeting at the start of a new romantic relationship, but when someone’s trying to move it along too fast, it can be more than a little disconcerting.

When we think of a love-bombing campaign, we need to remember that the end goal is to win. When the narcissist uses this strategy, he or she does so to capture their prey before the prey gets too wise to the game. It’s like when you’re trying to entice your dog to come to you at the dog park—you use your sweetest voice, pet names, and maybe even bring out the special treats. You want to win over your dog’s trust and get him close enough to you to snap the leash back on his collar. Narcissists are going to do whatever it takes to get close enough to a romantic interest as quickly as they can before their target bolts.

Individuals who are especially high in the trait of narcissism, or the minority who are pathological narcissists, may see others simply as objects to satisfy their desire for connection or manipulation.

Again, there may be other explanations for “love at first sight” stories: Sometimes people really do just click from the start, and the relationship builds quickly, but still at a healthy pace that is comfortable for both partners. Other times, a lovesick soul may be trying to do anything possible to attract a partner. These cases often elicit pity in the pursued, whereas narcissistic pursuers generate quite a different emotionanxiety, sometimes fear, and sometimes revulsion.

True love or manipulation: How can you tell?

There’s a saying that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. From time immemorial, this saying has rung true: When someone is building you up into more than you know that anyone could actually be—or gifting you in ways that are beginning to feel too extravagant, or co-opting your time because they want to spend so much of theirs with you while surreptitiously manipulating you to have little time left over for friends or family—these are signs that the relationship isn’t quite as balanced as it should be.

When a relationship moves too fast—or one partner tries to push it too forcefully—it’s essential that you call your partner on it, and let him or her know how you feel. If he or she is willing to listen and dial it back a notch, there may be reason to give them, and the relationship, more time to develop. If a partner won’t listen to your protestations and just tries to excuse away the smothering behavior, that’s a sign that there’s only likely to be less freedom and more manipulation in the future if you stay together.

When you’re eager to find a partner, it can be exciting to be the focus of someone you find attractive. Beware, though, because narcissists can be skilled at putting on the mask that their target will find most attractive. Healthy whirlwind romances do happen, but if you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of a tornado of attention and it’s more unsettling than not, it’s time to step back and have a conversation. If they’re unable to change their behavior to better match your needs, it’s unlikely that the person is a match for you.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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