You probably know what flattery and helpfulness are, but how about love bombing? Keep reading to learn more.

At the core of narcissism is deep insecurity. Despite efforts to appear strong and confident, narcissists crave your admiration and affirmation. Approval junkies, they wonder: “What do I need to do to get you onto my team?”

Some overt or malignant narcissists are quite forward in demanding your loyalty in the sense that they will out-argue anyone, becoming bossy and critical. They will overcome you with sheer brute force and strength of character, demanding your fealty.

Others, however, will use more cheery tactics to win you over, at least at the onset of relationships. They wish to create an image of decency and attentiveness, leaving no doubt that they are worthy of your trust and good will. In romantic relationships we call this pattern love-bombing, and elsewhere it takes the form of flattery and helpfulness. True to the classic narcissistic style, they can imitate positive traits hoping you will become a giver of narcissistic supply. What they display on the outside is not consistent with their true inner intent, but for a while, they will disguise their dysfunction. That’s how they operate.

This pattern is quite common as they pursue romance, but it is not limited to that. They can turn on the charm inside larger family gatherings, in social scenarios, at work, in organizations, within politics, in church settings, at school, and beyond. Their mindset is: Friendliness first, followed by the hammer. They will offer sugar and butter, only to reveal later that you are in their debt. They dare not show their true colors up front, but you’ll figure it out in due time.

Here’s how love bombing works:

Narcissists can begin with a façade of friendliness.

They like learning your interests and preferences. In conversations they can seem curious about your life and what turns you on. They can remember details about you, illustrating later that they are eager to meet your needs. Narcissists smile readily and seem quite agreeable.

They will do special favors.

As they learn which buttons to press, they can circle around with an extra measure of assistance. It can be something as simple as helping with domestic chores, spending extra time on a work project with you, or picking up your favorite items unexpectedly at the store. They may bring gifts, sometimes small, sometimes expensive. When you protest that they don’t need to do so, they simply grin and let you know it is their pleasure. With pseudo humility, they convey: “I’m just being nice, how about that!”

They show a willingness to overlook your flaws and mistakes.

When you disclose past blunders, or if you err in your current circumstances, they can seem quite merciful. “Oh, don’t worry about all that. We’re all human, and I want you to feel safe with me.” They may even ask you to talk about other psychological wounds you have experienced, responding with compassion. Of course, later you will learn it was mere data gathering, but in the present sense, it appears sincere.

They will openly idealize you.

Narcissists can cleverly draw you in with compliments about how unique you are: “I’ve never met anyone quite as wonderful as you.” You will be praised as one of a kind, someone deserving of special honor.

They might even display [false] vulnerability.

Sensing that you might be pulled in by a sob story, they may reveal their own past woes, telling of hurts and disappointments, which illustrate how similar they are to you. Of course, later it will dawn on you that they paint themselves as a victim, and the vulnerability was actually disguised criticism of others. But at the time you can feel a kindred spirit with them.

They are especially nice when there is an audience.

Narcissists feel affirmed when they entice you to feel good about them, but why waste the effort on just you? When in the presence of others, they can pour on the goodness, presuming that others, too, will pick up on their magnanimous qualities. They want to set the stage for your friends and acquaintances to later express jealousy for being connected to such a wonderful person.

Over time, though, narcissists cannot keep up the veneer. The timing will vary from a few weeks to months or even years, but eventually you will begin learning of their disappointments in you. They might express small frustrations that will increasingly turn larger. They will ask questions about why you are not as into them as they prefer. Criticisms will increase as will impatience and demands.

Eventually you will be blasted by the narcissist’s anger. That emotion has always been central to their character, and it will inevitably show up in a wide range of behaviors. They may pout and fume. They can give stinging rebukes and reprimands. Perhaps they will use punishing withdrawal. They will definitely use shame and guilt. They will argue and gripe. You will be reminded that you are an ingrate, a liar, trash, or a loser.

Once-flattering narcissists can become vicious. And then comes the smear campaign and the discard. It’s what they are, it’s what they do. In the end, they can be just as exaggerated with their disdain as they originally were with their flattery.

As you move away from the narcissist’s love bombing, remember…these are very needy people.

Their motto is: “Feed me, feed me.” You never were special, but you were being used as a prop. They were projecting onto you what they so desperately crave for themselves. Narcissists yearn for nothing more than ego stroking, control, dominance, and superiority. They honestly believe that is their birthright.

Your task is to go into your interior beliefs, reminding yourself that personal esteem is drawn from your connection with love, peace, dignity, and respect, and not facsimiles thereof. Yes, goodness, helpfulness, and affirmation are still positive qualities. You need not become jaded by the narcissist’s phony use of them. But it is quite necessary to remember, if someone seems too good to be true…

…you know the rest.

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