Narcissists use dangerous subterfuge to manipulate their partners. You may not have heard of this tactic, or if you have, you may not even tell you’re experiencing it. People call it ‘love bombing’. It’s the emotion-manipulative tactic used by an abuser to gain control and build up trust before they start displaying their toxic behavior. Most of the time, they also use this love bombing tactic to make up for every abusive behavior they do. As a result, their partners may not always recognize that they are being a victim of ‘love bombing’. All the kind words and gestures cloud their judgment.
Is what your partner giving you love or love bombing? Sometimes, it can be really hard to tell them apart. So before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s first understand what “love bombing” is.
What is love bombing?
When two people start a new relationship, it can be exciting, joyful, and overwhelming. “Love bombing” refers to situations where one partner exhibits exaggerated displays of affection at the onset of the relationship. This could be anything from intense compliments to lavish gifts and excessive gestures of appreciation. It may seem like a dream come true in the beginning, but this behavior often masks underlying issues that can damage a relationship if not addressed properly.
What is a dreamy romance for you might not be the same for your partner—particularly if they are a narcissist. The thing about dating a narcissist is that a narcissist may not always know they are one. So, all the love bombing and manipulation may just come naturally to them.
Dr. Dana McNeil, a Gottman-certified Marriage and Family Therapist and our founder, says that a narcissist suffers from a lack of empathy and extremely low self-esteem. This makes it hard for them to connect with others on an emotional level.
So, it’s in your best interest to identify whether your partner is a narcissist or not. No matter how much you are attracted to your partner or feel connected to them, it’s not worth going through the emotional wringer caused by a toxic relationship.
But how do you recognize the signs of love bombing? Here is how:
The six signs that your partner is love bombing you
There are six tell-tale signs that your partner may be love bombing you as a way to control you and manipulate you.
1. Over-the-top affection
If your partner comes on too strong and showers you with excessive compliments, gifts, and physical affection, it’s likely you are being love bombed. It can be overwhelming at first, and you may start believing that you are the center of their world.
But this can only be your partner “prepping” for the manipulation and the toxic behavior that may soon follow. They are trying to reel you in and make you feel so good that you will give them what they want. Your inhibitions go down, and the lines between love and love bombing eventually get blurred. Inhibitions.
Now, not every overwhelming display of emotion is love bombing, which is why you should also look for the next signs to be sure.
2. Constant attention
Love bombers oftentimes display intense passion and affection at the start of a relationship. They are always keen to be in constant contact with the person they love and become jealous if you are not available for them all the time. As a way to express their feelings, love bombers may even take up excessive phone calls, texts, emails, and physical visits.
This might come across as all love-dovey at first, but understand that this isn’t a sign of a healthy relationship. If your partner is constantly begging for your attention, it can be a sign of insecurity. You may feel like you are the only person that matters to them — you are not.
Margalis Fjelstad, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, calls this need for constant attention a core narcissist trait. The only person that matters to a narcissist is often themselves. And this need of being in constant contact may be an attempt to stroke their fragile egos.’
Is the reason for your existence to be at someone’s beck and call for the rest of your life?
It’s not. Right?
Because if you are partner keeps demanding constant attention from you, this is exactly what they are trying to reduce your life to. They overwhelm you with constant contact, become clingy in face-to-face interactions, and get mighty upset when they don’t get them.
3. Pressure to commit
It’s natural to want to get close to someone when you first meet them, but if your partner constantly pressures you for commitment, this is another red flag that you might be in a relationship with a narcissist.
Love bombers are known for pushing for commitment too soon and may try to rush you into a decision that does not suit either of your needs. If you are confused about whether it is love or love bombing, understand this: when partners want to escalate their relationship too fast, you can never tell for sure if they really care about your feelings or if they are just out for something else.
Your partner may have an exaggerated sense of entitlement, and they may not really respect what you really want — in this case, to take the relationship slowly. Psychology Today calls such individuals “Grandiose Narcissists”.
If your partner doesn’t understand what you want and doesn’t respect your wishes to move ahead slowly, it’s very likely that you are dealing with one.
Does your partner regularly have you convinced that something is your fault when, just a few moments ago, you were absolutely certain it wasn’t?
You might be the victim of one of the most devastating techniques in a manipulator’s textbook: Gaslighting. Here is how it works:
The manipulator makes the victim feel crazy. They will say things like, “You’re imagining things,” “you’re overreacting,” “you think way too much,” and “Don’t you see how much I love you?” If they are controlling a relationship and the victim tries to get out, they will try to turn everything around and make it seem like the victim is the problem. Gas lighting is often used on victims of narcissistic abuse.
Love bombers may also twist the facts to make you feel like you’re the one in the wrong, or resort to guilt-tripping their partners when their attempts to control develop a crack. But gas lighting, or guilt-tripping of any kind, has no place in a healthy relationship. You want your relationship to be a safe harbor and a place of trust.
So, if you experience the occasional gaslighting in between episodes of love bombing, it might be a good idea to take a step back and look at your relationship from a distance.
5. Changes in intensity
Another glaring sign of narcissistic love bombing is the change in your partner’s intensity of affection.
Do you see a pattern with your partner where they spoil you with exaggerated love and affection one moment, and the next, they are pushing you away? It must have made you wonder if it’s all your fault. It turns out that this is a common pattern of behavior that is associated with narcissists.
The person you are dating might be using guilt and fear tactics to gain control over you. This kind of unpredictable ‘Jekyll and Hyde behavior’, where a person swings from being kind and loving to being aggressive or hostile, is a sign that they are a toxic person.
Love bombers may seem initially attractive and charming, but they can be dangerous if they attempt to isolate you from your support network. They may manipulate you into thinking that you don’t need the support of other people or that spending time with them will prevent you from building a strong bond with them.
This is a key difference between love and love bombing. You must remember that spending time with friends and family can provide valuable emotional support, and it should not be discouraged or restricted by a partner. The person who loves you would never clip your wings and keep you away from your friends and family.
What to do next?
Spotting a narcissistic partner in the early stages of a relationship can be a challenge. Unfortunately, this can have serious long-term consequences. If you feel like your partner is displaying narcissistic traits or indulging in love bombing, it may be time to reassess your relationship and decide if it’s worth the effort to stay in it. With that said, there are still many people who try, despite all odds, to keep their relationship going and make it work for the betterment of everyone involved.
Dr. Dana McNeil gives the following three tips that have helped most of her clients:
1. Hold regular check-ins
Dr. Dana McNeil always recommends her clients hold regular check-ins to see how they and their partners are doing emotionally. This is a great opportunity to address unresolved issues and discuss important matters that haven’t been discussed yet. Both you and your person talk uninterrupted for a set period of time and take stock of the situation. But this only works if both partners are willing participants and are honest and upfront.
2. Consider the Gottman Method
The Gottman Method, developed by husband-and-wife team Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman, can improve the well-being of both individuals and couples looking to create or maintain a healthy relationship. This system provides science-based tools for partners to communicate more effectively and lovingly with each other; it can help nurture strong, lifelong relationships regardless of the couple’s circumstances.
However, it may not be effective if you are doing it on your own. Engaging Gottman-certified experts would certainly help you apply it properly to your marriage.
3. Get them professional help
Narcissists often struggle to recognize their own flaws, leading them to believe they are perfect and don’t need therapy. As such, it can be difficult to help narcissists understand that they should seek professional help. If your partner is a narcissist, you may need to address certain behaviors and patterns in the relationship before looking into why those might exist for them to open up to the idea of therapy.