Let’s talk about love-bombing, and how it can disrupt and even destroy women’s lives. But FIRST let’s talk about Asking For A Friend the new YouTube podcast hosted by Elisabeth Ovesen, who many of us remember as the New York Times best-selling author Karrine Steffans. Do your goggles if you don’t know who Karrine Steffans is. Honestly, I’m a fan. I am fully present for and in support of Black women starting over, showing up as brand new, and winning as a result. Sis is back, looking amazing and doing a damn good job speaking about love and relationships on this new show. As someone who has been writing about love and relationships for over a decade, I can tell you that a lot of content I see that is supposed to guide readers and viewers towards making healthy dating and mating decisions falls incredibly short. Ovesen, though, very effortlessly speaks about defining love bombing, how to recognize it and how to escape it while providing sound, researched-based advice.
In episode one of “Asking For A Friend,” Ovesen answers her producer Alex’s question about a friend he believes is being over-the-top by buying a woman the friend is romantically interested in a bunch of gifts too early in the dating process. Ovesen shares that it sounds like his friend is love-bombing the woman he’s dating. She also provides another relatable example (and one side of the Kanye debacle we aren’t discussing much): It absolutely appears that Kanye love-bombed Julia Fox. One minute, Kanye was buying Fox and all her friends Birkin bags, and the next minute he was carrying out a very public and very troubling quest to save his marriage and reunite with his now ex-wife Kim Kardashian—and in the next minute, emerged with a new bae Chaney Jones. Julia Fox, after being quite public about her relationship with Kanye, all of a sudden disappeared from Kanye’s side and from the public eye altogether. Now, maybe Fox saw the dumpster fire that would become Kanye’s public image and exited stage left, but being love-bombed by famous men with long money and possible narcissistic personalities is also not a huge reach.
Olsen reminds women that certain men, maybe like Kanye or Alex’s friend, use gifts to love-bomb women, and she describes love-bombing as a manipulation tactic that plays out in three phases—the idealization phase, the devaluation stage and the discarding stage.
According to this piece in Cosmo, “Love bombing is characterized by excessive attention, admiration, and affection with the goal to make the recipient feel dependent and obligated to that person.” The article goes on to say that to the targets of this kind of manipulation, “[L]ove bombing feels really good because of the boost of dopamine and endorphins you receive. You feel special, needed, loved, valuable, and worthy, which are all the components that contribute to and increase a person’s self-esteem.” In the idealization stage of love-bombing, everything feels perfect. The person being love bombed feels that they’ve finally found someone who is fully into them, is ready for commitment, is consistent, and who constantly showers them with love, adoration, validation, gifts, attention and more.
“Love bombers seek to quickly obtain the affection and attention of someone they are romantically pursuing by presenting an idealized image of themselves,” says licensed professional counselor Lori M. Nixon- Bethea, PhD.
Dr. Nixon-Bethea believes that the goal of this initial behavior is to boost the love-bombers ego by “gaining power” over the person their target. Although love-bombers (who are often narcissists) often have severely inflated egos, they also need and feel entitled to constant validation from others, and especially towards the people they are love-bombing. The bigger the conquest for the love-bomber, the bigger the inflation of their ego. The point of it, for the narcissist—or otherwise abusive person—is to win the recipient over by making them feel completely secure within the relationship. Signs to look for in the idealization stage of love-bombing: the love-bomber will demand all of your attention and sometimes work to isolate you from your family and friends, they will offer compliments and affection in excess, and they will try to persuade you to commit to them very early in the courtship stage.
During the devaluation stage of love-bombing, the love-bomber switches things up completely and becomes “difficult, abusive or manipulative,” which wholly confuses and disorients the person being love-bombed. In my recent experience with love-bombing, the love-bomber I was involved with would have random moments of rage and complete meltdowns. They would overreact to tiny moments of conflict or miscommunication. Those moments of emotional deregulation were always blamed on outside sources, but they eventually became more and more frequent. I went from being the absolute perfect partner in every way to someone who was treated like a constant annoyance and inconvenience. If I spoke up about the love-bomber’s abusive and erratic behavior, the person attempted to demean me by pointing out what they perceived to be my flaws—most times that list of flaws seemed brutal and unending. The goal was to invalidate my thoughts, and to steal my voice and self-esteem. Small disagreements, or call outs for abusive and gaslighting behavior, would escalate quickly into days of arguing. Narcissists abhor being criticized or made to feel less than perfect, so anytime I spoke up I was punished with constant emotional withdrawal, bickering, yelling, my love-bomber hanging up in my face and blocking me, and more awful reactions. Of course, like many being love-bombed, I was confused by these moments of mental and emotional abuse. What happened to the loving supportive person I had committed to? What was I doing wrong? How could I be a more loving and supportive partner?
Side note: trying to accommodate or satisfy a love-bomber, a narcissist, or an abuser in general, is a fruitless task. You’d probably get a better result trying to vacuum sand away at the beach.
Before my love-bomber was completely ready to move theirmanipulative behavior into the discard stage, they would gaslight me, promise to address their awful behavior in therapy, and do anything else that might allow them access to me until they were completely ready to throw me and the relationship away. By the time the devaluation stage of love-bombing has ended, and the love-bomber has decided to discard the relationship, the person being love-bombed is likely anxious and confused, and possibly also depressed. I was all three. And while my nervous system was a wreck, I was still chasing the dopamine high I felt at the start of the relationship. By this time, the love-bomber had achieved all they desired from the relationship- the positive and perfect public presentation (Narcissists are all about public performance, after all.), and the boost they needed for their ego. What came next was an abrupt and absurd exit from the relationship, leaving me in a complete state of shock and pain.
Love-bombing is a serious form of mental and emotional abuse. It’s not simply a case of a failed relationship. The entire intention behind love bombing is to harm others through psychological manipulation. And narcissists and other abusers who struggle with feeling empathy for others simply don’t care about how they damage the minds and hearts of those they target. Ovesen, at the end of Asking For a Friend gives great advice on how to avoid being love-bombed. If things look too good to be true, they probably are. When love-bombing behaviors show up—especially if those behaviors are spotted during the idealization stage, call them out immediately and don’t allow the love-bomber to gaslight you. If love-bombers see that you can’t be easily manipulated and controlled, they might move on quickly to another, easier target. Ovesen also suggests that women move on after the first red flag that signals abuse. With love-bombing there should be a one flag rule. Don’t allow yourself to be isolated from those who love and know youand who might be able to offer insight and support as you try to make sense of what is happening to you. I’ll also add seek therapy. A therapist can help you understand what is happening in a love-bombing situation from a psychological standpoint, why it’s happening, and why it’s imperative to get out. Most importantly, Oveseen offers, and I absolutely agree, do not punish yourself for being love-bombed and don’t allow the experience to sour you on dating and finding the real love you desire. Of course, take some time to heal and understand behaviors and patterns connected to your love-bomb experience, but never give up on yourself or on love.