Are you vulnerable to love bombing? Is it difficult for you to resist the high of what feels like intense instant attraction? Do you believe in love at first sight? Do most of your relationships begin and end with a “bang,” albeit different kinds of bangs?
For example, they begin with crazy chemistry and end as just plain crazy? Do you find emotionally healthy women and men boring or unattractive (even when they’re objectively attractive)? Looking back on your relationship history, are the partners you’ve been the most attracted to or “in love” also the ones who’ve been the most unstable and destructive to self and others?
Yeah, that’s a problem.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, love bombing is a manipulation tactic. Basically, love bombing is a form of seduction by which a predator drugs a target with intense flattery, attention, affection, adoration, sexual and/or nonsexual touch, responsiveness and the promise of lasting relationship or some other heart’s desire. When effective, the target feels a sense of special-ness, belonging, acceptance and “finally happy at last” that can be intoxicating. Subsequently, the target becomes dependent on the love bomber to feel good about themselves.
Are you vulnerable to love bombing?
Another way to ask the question is do you have a greater vulnerability to narcissists, histrionics, borderlines, sociopaths, psychopaths and other relationship cons and predators? In my clinical practice, the majority of my clients’ relationships began with intense idealization or love bombing. This isn’t simply a matter of having “bad pickers.” Many of the men and women I work with have specific emotional and psychological vulnerabilities to relationship con artists. Again, the usual predators are narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, psychopaths and other people in the Cluster B variety pack.
Perhaps you find it hard to believe that there are people who can resist this kind of extreme seduction. Actually, not only are there a great many people who find it easy to resist, they’re repulsed by it. Many of the tactics used by personality disordered individuals who love bomb adult targets are similar or identical to the seduction tactics that cult recruiter and pedophiles use. In this respect, love bombing is also a means to groom the target for future abuse.
What makes you immune to love bombing?
Predators, including relationship predators, like easy prey. There are several traits that can make a person easy or easier prey. First, let’s look at what makes one immune (or mostly immune) to love bombing and other kinds of cheap seduction:
- Being raised by reasonably emotionally healthy parents.
- Internalizing a solid sense of self, worthiness, lovableness, special-ness and good enough-ness in childhood.
- Healthy personal boundaries and self-respect.
- Recognizing that there are twisted people in the world who can’t can’t be helped or saved. And that it’s not your responsibility to do so even if it were possible.
In other words, people who possess self-respect, self-love and who thirsty for love and approval. Sometimes, (i.e., infrequently) I work with clients who fit this description. Typically, they became prey because they encountered the NPD, BPD or HPD at a vulnerable time in their life due to a stressful life event. For example, having socially isolated for 20 months because of the Covid pandemic.
What makes you vulnerable to love bombing?
There are multiple factors that make one vulnerable to love bombing. The majority of my clients’ vulnerabilities stem from childhood wounds and interpersonal dysfunction like codependency. The more factors you have, the more vulnerable you are. For example, people who are:
- Codependency and vulnerability to trauma bonds.
- Personality disordered.
- Experiencing or just experienced a destabilizing or stressful life event.
Many clients became involved with a personality disordered partner shortly after a destabilizing event. For example, a bad break-up, the death of a loved one, being fired, changing careers, a severe depression or some other life stressor. During periods of heightened stress, some people are more susceptible than others to a person who claims to have all the answers or offers instant companionship and intimacy. This is someone who’s ripe for love bombing and future faking. In other words, they want love and a shortcut solution to their emotional distress.
For people who are codependent, love bombing temporarily fulfills their deepest wishes for unconditional love, adoration and care. If you don’t experience unconditional love as a kid, love bombing seems like unconditional love as an adult. Fundamentally, codpendents are people whose identity and relationship style dysfunctional beliefs that develop in childhood.
For example, codependents:
- Confuse being needed with being loved.
- Sacrifice or ignore their own well-being in order to prove their love.
- Believe if they patiently tolerate and enable abuse, eventually they’ll get love, appreciation and then it will be their turn to for “unconditional love.”
- Believe they can actually fix, save or rescue someone who’s mentally or characterologically ill into being capable of healthy love relationships.
- Have little (if any) healthy relationship models or experience.
Typically, codependents lack the ability to recognize romantic interest in healthier women and men. Like I tell my clients, if a woman says yes to a second date, she’s probably interested. If she’s ready to move in with you on the second date, she’s probably nuts. In other words, the subtler romantic interest cues of non-disordered individuals don’t register. They can, however, recognize the extreme interest signals of a NPD, BPD or HPD who’s locked on a new target. Many codependents misinterpret love bombing as proof that the other party really likes them. In reality, it’s an indication you’re likely dealing with a person who has serious issues.
These characteristics are similar to those which make a person vulnerable to cult recruitment. Michael Langone, PhD (1988) identified a list of cult victim traits that are similar to the traits of abuse victims such as:
- Dependent. An intense desire for a sense of belonging, approval, acceptance, a lack of self-confidence and a fear of being alone.
- Unassertive. Non-confrontational, people-pleasers who go along to get along.
- Gullible. Believes what anyone who speaks with certainty or authority says without critical thought or push back.
- Naive and idealistic. Believes that everyone’s good, has some redeeming quality or can change for the better.
- Need for meaning. Believes that life has a “higher purpose” and that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes people are just abusive jerks and there’s no deeper meaning attached to it.
- Cultural disillusionment. Lonely, socially isolated and alienated.
- Uninformed. Lacks an information and awareness of how people can be manipulated and exploited.
Margaret Singer, PhD (1987) explains, “Everyone is influenced and persuaded daily in various ways, but the vulnerability to influence varies. The ability to fend off persuaders is reduced when one is rushed, stressed, uncertain, lonely, indifferent, uninformed, distracted, or fatigued . . . Also affecting vulnerability are the status and power of the persuader.”
Many clients describe their narcissistic, borderline or histrionic ex as incredibly beautiful, handsome, charming and intelligent. The ex seemed to good to be true and these clients couldn’t believe their luck. Why would this amazing woman or man be interested in them? Alternately, other clients are manipulated by victim stories. They felt strong, powerful and capable by playing hero, rescuer or knight in shining armor. In both scenarios, these clients were manipulated and conned.
If you can relate to any of this, I encourage you to identify and understand what makes you vulnerable to relationship predators. And then find a professional to help you do the work to heal them.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals with relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. For over a decade, she has specialized in helping men and women break free of abusive relationships, cope with the stress of ongoing abuse and heal from the trauma. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. If you’d like to work with Dr. Palmatier, please visit the Schedule a Session page or you can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Michael D. Langone, Cults: Questions and Answers, p. 5. In 1988 the American Family Foundation (now ICSA) published this pamphlet. It provided a basic understanding of cults and the issues surrounding them, including definitions, how cults are different from recognized authoritarian and hierarchical groups, an explanation of thought reform, and why cults are harmful to individuals and to society.
- Margaret T. Singer, “Group Phychodynamics,” in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, e.d. Robert Berkow (Rahway, N.J.:Merck Sharp & Dome Research Laboratories, 1987), pp 1468, 1470