“The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.”
This classic quote from Madame de Staël (1766–1817) is certainly intriguing. But it requires qualification—its most notable exception being extremely narcissistic men or abusive males generally.
It should be added, however, that narcissistic women can be love bombers as well, although, to date, no statistical comparisons of its relative prominence between genders exist, to my knowledge. But, at least indirectly, the literature I’ve explored suggests that it’s more common among men than women.1
Consonant with my own past experience as a psychologist, I’ve probably seen about twice as many men love bombers as women—despite, in many respects, they’re betraying their underlying narcissism equally.
For example, they’d mirror one another in unashamedly transgressing the other’s boundaries (as in, uninvited, actually reading the other’s diary) and, too, blaming their relationship problems on their partner’s selfishness or insensitivity. Even as they flagrantly victimized the “bombee,” they could self-righteously proclaim that they were the real victims.
So, keeping in mind that either gender can love bomb, to avoid the awkwardness of constantly writing “he/she” or “she/he” in the descriptions below, I’ll regularly employ the male pronoun. Also, be aware that not all love bombers are narcissists, and not all narcissists are love bombers. Further, not all love bombers suffered serious psychic wounds during childhood.
The Mutual Quest for Unconditional Love
Many writers regard narcissists, despite their bravado, and bloated sense of entitlement, as harboring underlying insecurities from childhood. As a result, this argument goes, they’ve developed powerful tactics to conceal their anxiety and damaged self-image.
Desperately needing what professionals typically designate as “narcissistic supply” to permeate an emptiness they’re rarely cognizant of, they’re attracted to others who will honor and validate their (defense-laden) superiority.
So, what kind of person would be willing to ultimately degrade themselves to accept—or at least tolerate—such compensatory scheming behavior?
Any such duo is paradoxical since the two individuals may be much less contrasting than complementary— the unexpressed motivation of one feeding into the other. For convenience, going forward, I’ll abbreviate the term “narcissist” to “N” and identify their target as “V” for victim.
If the V plays into the N’s over-the-top fantasies, it’s because these fantasies may reflect their own. Frequently, growing up, the woman also felt insecure in her family. And, like the N, many of the Vs had N parents too self-absorbed to enable them to feel adequately attended to, appreciated, or cared for.
What, albeit unconsciously, Vs customarily long for is an intimate, loving relationship that will provide them with what was absent when they were younger and may have culminated in the scalding wound of mental and emotional abandonment.
In consequence, the N’s overblown love bombing would seem to fit the bill for Vs perfectly, making them putty in the N’s treacherous hands. Never before has the V basked in such extravagant, glorious homage, so flattered, praised, adored—even worshipped.
Figuratively on his knees professing his ardor and humbly beseeching the V to return it—lavishing expensive gifts on her or precipitously whisking her off to exotic islands—she’s compelled or rushed into returning these flamboyant demonstrations of affection.
By such gestures swept off her feet, the V loses her balance. Acquiescing to the stringent requirements of this unprecedented relationship (for, if only unaware, she’s determined the N to be “the one”), she strives to re-balance herself according to the N’s dictates.
It’s essential to add that the N has also adjusted his balance to guarantee that the relationship will offer him the unconditional love and acceptance he, too, never experienced growing up.
Here, we have the joint illusion—or collusion—of compatibility or spiritual kinship based much less on any shared identity than on pledges, promises, misleading words, and duplicitous deeds.
Both the N and the V must then act in ways that will preserve their sense of relational control. In his case, he asserts (or rather demands) what must happen in the V’s life for him to be assured that he matters more to her than anyone or anything else.
And, in the V’s case, to assure herself that she’ll remain his genuine, undying true love, she willingly concedes to these demands—ironically, by “assertively” renouncing her assertiveness. Unable to feel whole or secure within herself, she feels obliged to derive the security available only from without.
Although she’s likely to feel pressured, wanting to take things slower, feeling so highly valued (after all, that’s long been her heart’s deepest desire), she allows her boundaries to be trampled on—even violating them herself.
For instance, capitulating to the N’s jealous nature, she defers to his efforts to isolate her from family and friends. As he makes plain to her, his insistence (presumably) is only for her to acknowledge the primacy and exclusivity of their super-special relationship.
From Idealization to Devaluation: Rudely Knocking the Victim Off Her Pedestal
Although there were hints of problems to come during the N and V’s surreal courtship, once their relationship enters its second, far more harmful stage—particularly to the V—the until-then well-camouflaged threats to their common need for independence, autonomy, and self-respect now occupy center stage.
The N becomes increasingly suspicious and distrustful that he’ll have to surrender his dominance and control if he’s forced to recognize his “mark” as now his equal. In attaining the V’s commitment, which he so diligently sought earlier, he experiences (however abstrusely) mounting anxiety about merging with his no-longer-subordinate attachment object.
Needing, therefore, to emotionally distinguish himself from his mate, he resorts to anger, contempt, and even hatred to uphold his cardinal sense of superiority.
In turn, the V, feeling downcast, deserted, and desperate to retrieve the intimate attachment and euphoric feelings of specialness now actively denied her, responds to the N in an obsequious manner sharply contrasting with his behavioral distancing.
With her idyllic relationship vision so seriously undercut by the N’s insults and condescension, she tries ever harder to gratify his preferences—in the process, sadly compromising her self-esteem and integrity.
But, regardless of how much she can admit it to herself, she also resents this gross betrayal of her love. After all, she’s not done anything she can understand that would account for his callous treatment of her.
And when she protests his so-soured attitude, the N either adamantly gaslights her, making her doubt her eyes and ears, or offers her intermittent reinforcement to assure her willingness to stay—and stay one-down in the relationship.
Demonstrating it in contrary ways, they share the same fear of abandonment. The N, as long as the V remains a narcissistic supply, is afraid to lose her as a less-than, inferior emotional dependent. And the V, yearning for the relationship to return to what it once was—or seemed—doesn’t want (exemplifying cognitive dissonance) to recognize that the wonderful feelings she’d once experienced were all a sham.
In short, both the N and the V are now gravely disappointed in one another, suffering anew from old, disturbing feelings of insecurity. Their shared desire to feel safe in a healing relationship—which explains their largely unconscious incentive to engage in the first place—has failed miserably. They’ve tried to accomplish through mutual dependency what ultimately can only be achieved inside themselves.
Assuming that the N is at or near the pole of the N spectrum, the deadlock between them is unresolvable. And as so many counselors have pointed out, it’s best for the V to escape from the trap she couldn’t help falling into.
She may need to renew the supportive friendships she’d relinquished. And possibly undertake mental health counseling to gain—or get back—the confidence and courage to leave the relationship that’s so injured her sense of self.
Here, I should reiterate that if it’s the woman who’s carried out the manipulative love bombing and her defenses are so extreme that she cannot empathize with her partner’s dilemma, then it’s the man who needs to extricate himself from this dysfunctional union.
But, regardless of their gender, both of them must free themselves from the relationship imprisoning them. Otherwise, they’ll forfeit the opportunity to live a life as rewarding as, potentially, it can be—once they liberate their psyche from an abusiveness likely worse than anything they may have endured growing up.
© 2023 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.