You think you’ve met the love of your life?
Stop. Take a step back. Why do you think that?
If you have just met somebody who is saying that you are “soul mates” and declaring their undying love for you after a few weeks, you might have just become the victim of something called “love bombing.”
According to Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and author, love bombing is where you are showered with affection, gifts, and promises for the future, making you believe you may have discovered love at first sight. Someone is loving, caring, affectionate, and seems to just “get” you. Things progress really quickly, and you start to wonder whether this is what you’ve been missing all along.
However, it doesn’t last, and as soon as you show a hint of caring about anything other than your new partner, they will get furious with you and label you as “selfish.” Their mask slips, and you see someone mean, belittling, and unreasonable underneath. They can’t comprehend that you have anything else going on in your life, and they completely turn on you.
It’s a form of conditioning, Archer writes in a blog post on Psychology Today. It’s a tactic manipulative people use, and is in fact a form of abuse. If you are dating someone with dark triad personality traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism, or psychopathy — then it is probably a way they were grooming you.
It’s a bit like training an animal. Love bombing is the reinforcement, where the abuser showers you with love if you act how they want you to. If you don’t, then the devaluation stage happens, where they withdraw all their kindness and instead punish you with whatever they feel is appropriate — shouting at you, giving you the silent treatment, or even physically abusing you.
It can be hard to spot
It’s difficult to pinpoint love bombing in the short term, because all new relationships are exciting. There is promise, and potential, and getting to know someone you like gives you butterflies. The emotional highs and feelings of giddiness are normal, and not necessarily cause for alarm.
What isn’t normal, however, is how quickly you to fall into a serious relationship. What isn’t normal is the amount of time this new person is demanding from you. Social media, texting, emails, and instant messaging make it incredibly easy to be in constant contact with someone if you want to, and an abuser who wants to love bomb you will easily take advantage of that.
You may have gone into the relationship with the intention of taking things slow, or keeping things casual, but somehow you found yourself forced into a corner to do the exact opposite. You’re talking to them so much you start to believe you were made for each other.
Before you know it, they might have declared you “the one,” be making plans to marry you, or have even already moved in with you.
What makes you vulnerable
There are several reasons why you might fall for a love bombing abuser. In a blog post in Psychology Today, Joe Pierre, a Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Professor at UCLA, explains how narcissists are attractive because they have traits such as self-sufficiency, confidence, and ambition.
However, sometimes people go for the same type of abusive relationships over and over again, because of their own issues they haven’t worked through. Deborah Ward, author of the book “Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness,” explains in a different blog post that there is a psychological theory that we are attracted to people who remind us of our parents.
If we experienced trauma in the past, whether that’s with parents or with past relationships, we may try and fill the void with dating people who are similar. This is because we might subconsciously think we can fix the past by repeating it with a different person. The damaging, toxic relationship you build may feel comfortable because it is the type you are used to.
Going through trauma doesn’t necessarily make someone weak, though. According to Perpetua Neo, a therapist and specialist of dark triad personality types, these past experiences make victims of love bombing very kind and empathetic. Abusers can merely take advantage of this because they know they are with someone who will explain away their negative traits.
“People think often if you are attracted to a narcissist, you tend to be someone quite weak and very passive in your life… but they tend to be very high achieving women,” Neo told Business Insider. “A very common trait I see in my clients is they’re over-empathetic… but you stop empathising with yourself, because you explain everything away for other people.”
When the love bombing turns into devaluation, it can be very traumatising and heart-breaking for the victim. Everything they do from that moment on will be to try to bring back the wonderful person they thought they had. In reality, this person never actually existed. It was a mask all along.
All the gifts and affection were “transactional,” Neo says, because narcissistic abusers are always thinking about what they can get out of a situation. Every move and every choice is calculated. In return, you end up feeling used and a shell of your former self.
“They love bomb and then they devalue you, so you’re always on high alert, and you never want to do anything wrong,” Neo said. “Because of that your standards are lowering, your boundaries are getting pinched upon, and you lose your sense of self.”
If you do manage to break out of the abusive relationship, this will — hopefully — all become clear over time. The fog may eventually clear, and all the love bombing words and actions may suddenly be apparent for what they were: empty promises.
In reality, there is nothing wrong with taking a relationship slow, and anyone worth being with will respect that. Archer says in his blog post that the best thing you can do is to slow down, take a step back, and remind yourself of your boundaries. If you feel like you’re being pressured in any way, you may well be the target of a love bomber. So try to avoid getting wrapped up in the moment, and remember to protect yourself.
After all, as the old saying goes: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”