BY JEN MAKIN, CMHC
When we think of the word “love,” all of the fuzzy feelings rush through us. We think of cuddles and chocolate, movies and make-outs. Our heart is warmed and our hands become sweaty. After all, love is a magical thing.
Love bombing is none of those things. You may see flowers or smell a warm meal. But the facts are: love bombing is part of the narcissistic abuse cycle.
NARCISSISTIC ABUSE CYCLE
Within a relationship cycle, there can be ups and downs and all arounds. My husband once said, “Sometimes you have to have it out, to figure it out.” To me, good communication is a hallmark to any healthy relationship.
But within the narcissistic abuse cycle, there’s oftentimes ignoring, manipulation, confusion, games and tears.
Here’s how the cycle is broken down:
Stage 1: IDEALIZATION
This stage can be intoxicating. You can do no wrong and he showers you with gifts and words of affirmation. This is where love bombing lives. Flowers, chocolates, surprises at work, big gestures. You are placed highly onto a pedestal of recognition.
During the Idealization stage, he love bombs. Love bombing is where he shows an abundance of affection and attention. You tell your friends all of the kind gestures that he’s doing. You especially tell the ones that strongly dislike him and sell them on the idea that he’s not all bad. When they begin to argue a bit, you shove a piece of chocolate in their mouth.
Even when dozens of roses come in, there’s something inside of you that feels a bit frozen and scared. You shake off those feelings (self-betrayal) and smile as you meticulously place them in a beautiful vase for the wolf to see. You take pictures and post them on social media.
Just the flowers though because the bruise on your lip from where you ran into a cupboard is not quite healed. Or was it a coldsore. You can’t recall. Either way, it’s not the truth that your boyfriend popped your mouth after you mentioned the faint smell of perfume on him when you hugged him.
Stage 2: DEVALUATION
Then, ever so subtly, you enter the stage of backhanded comments, passive aggressiveness, verbal abuse and overall disregard. This feels like emotional whiplash as you just had a blissful night of love making. Your eyes sting as you look over at the flowers beginning to wilt.
This stage can also include abuse of all kinds. Violence, name calling, terrifying moments of horror or just an absence of any feeling toward you other than rage. You feel you can do nothing right.
This stage is also about concealing the truth. Secrecy breeds toxicity. You run to the drug store to grab some green concealer to hide the bruise. It’s crazy how clumsy you are, slipping over the garden hose and giving yourself a black eye.
You look in the mirror enough, tapping on the concealer, and say it enough that you begin to believe it. You wipe away the sting of tears because it’s messing with the truth. It’s clearing away the concealment of the bruise.
Stage 3: DISCARD
Out of the blue, he drops you. He discards you like trash. Name calling you and creating a smear campaign against you. And the hardest part of this, is that it’s out of nowhere. Things could be going so well, at least in your mind, and then he drops you like a hot potato.
Their language is twisty-turny and everything is turned around on you, sounding like:
You need help!
My life was so peaceful before I met you and you bring nothing but chaos.
You did this; you made this me. Not me!
Then, the cycle repeats itself …
Stage 4: REPETITION
Then it starts over. You’re back to stage one. The butterflies slowly come out of their cocoons and begin to flutter around your stomach. You see the flowers, but the wounds from the whiplash and horror from the car accident of Devaluation still sits in your spirit.
Your body remembers the feelings of the spit on your face as he screamed in your face. It remembers the tears that are still dried on your pillow after he took off in the middle of the night because you did something wrong. You can’t remember what though.
That’s another thing. You can’t remember anything. You mean to, and sometimes you write things down. But you’re finding that even when you go back to that handwritten sticky note, it’s out of context and you can’t remember anything about it. You try to, but it feels like there’s some kind of block.
This cycle is alive and well in many households across the world. The hope of love bombing keeps women trapped within the walls of this abusive tornado. The hope that, “He’s in there.”
When he does show who he really is during the Idealization Stage, it can be so confusing. I don’t think the word confusing cuts it.
It literally feels like you’ve been in a car accident or are recovering from a nasty fall. Your body feels bruised and battered. Your head pounds. Your stomach is in knots. Your muscles twist leaving a dull ache. Your back spasms and screams.
Here’s the kicker. In the Idealization Stage, bruises and battering is replaced with butterflies and band-aids. Your head is kissed. Your stomach slowly starts to unknot and food has a rich flavor. Your muscles loosen and your body relaxes.
You gaslight yourself.
That is the most dangerous aspect of this Cycle. You begin to believe the unending lies that things will get better. That he’s finally living the words he promises. The nightmare is finally ending and the fairy tale you believed in at the beginning of the relationship is in the opening credits.
You can relax. You slip into the back, careful not to twist your neck in a certain way due to the car accident from last week. But you allow your body to relax and you close your eyes and allow the fancy tall tales he's feeding you with a fork to dance around your head.
Your body jolts up as you hear a door slam. The nightmare is beginning again. Your mind races at all the things it could have been. You didn’t park the car right. You kept him up with your book light, and he missed his big meeting. You didn’t make him breakfast and now you're indulging in the tub. Adults don’t do that.
You lift the plug, slowly allowing the drain to pull down your false hope.
How to Break It
Recognizing the narcissistic abuse cycle, even small aspects, is the first step. It’s a key ingredient to the recipe of self-love. Another ingredient is self-honesty. Instead of concealing, push the truth into the light.
Say things like:
He hit me.
He left again.
He promised not to text her and he did.
He ignored me all day… again.
He blamed me for all our misery.
Pulling the secrecy into the light is the first step. Telling a trusted loved one could be the second step. Go at your own pace and slowly see reality. Allow space for self-exploration and identifying the truth. Believe your truths when it is realized. Self-care, be gentle with yourself and have compassion.
Find your voice and never lose it.