How can you tell the difference between narcissistic love bombing and healthy romantic interest?
You might not be surprised to know that one of the biggest questions I hear from both readers and narcissistic abuse recovery coaching clients is how to know the difference between a narcissist who is love bombing and a normal person who is just genuinely interested in you.
Why is it so hard to tell the difference between a love bomber and someone who is really interested in you on a healthy level?
The fact is that on the outside, a love bomber and a healthy person who has fallen in love might appear to be pretty similar.
You probably already know that statistically speaking, nearly EVERYONE is more willing to overlook little flaws in the beginning of a relationship – and nearly everyone is a little more careful with how they treat their partners early in the relationship.
And even in so-called “normal” relationships, as time goes on, nearly everyone finds something that used to be cute or at least tolerable about their partners to be at least remotely irritating.
Nearly everyone argues, and nearly everyone admits to being mean to their partner when they didn’t need to be at one time or another.
So what differentiates a normal, healthy relationship from a narcissistic one? Here are a few key differences to watch for next time you’re considering getting involved with someone new after you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse in a relationship.
1. The Insta-Love Factor
A narcissist will almost always proclaim love or soulmate status very early in the relationship, and this will almost always lead to insta-commitment on his/her part.
A healthy person will take his/her time and get to know you before rushing into things. To be fair, there are a few real-live cases of “love at first sight” that are totally legit – but if we’re being honest with ourselves, those are few and far between. And if this person is really your “One,” they won’t mind taking things slowly.
2. The TIME factor
“I just want to spend every second of every day with you!” ~The Narcissist, rolling over and stroking your face as you wake up together for the third time, 76 hours into your first date.
“I can’t stop thinking about you…hope you’re having a good day.” ~A Healthy Person, texting you at lunchtime the day after you had an amazing third date.
When you meet a narcissist, you can find yourself just completely and absolutely bowled over and just WOWed by his/her level of awesome – so much so that all you feel like doing is being near him/her. And, truth is, the very same thing can happen with a new healthy love interest, too.
The difference here is that while a healthy relationship can and often does have an infatuation phase, it also still allows you to stay involved with the other important parts of your life – family, work, spirituality, etc. It does NOT require or beg you to dump your life and your people in order to avoid missing anything.
A “healthy” person MIGHT want to spend every moment with you, but will understand and support your need to continue with your regular life while you get to know one another – even if it means he tags along for your family events and on outings with your friends sometimes. It does NOT require you to stop living your own life – that’s a red flag of narcissistic behavior.
3. The Drama Factor
When you’re dealing with a narcissist, there are lots of red flag signs early in the relationship – and one of them is often a drama factor. Narcissists often shock you early in the relationship with some strangely placed little outburst or fit – and one that’ll quickly be righted and for which he/she will often apologize.
For example, maybe she will blow up at a waiter a little too aggressively when the food shows up cold, or maybe he will be super-bitchy to a friend or relative on the phone.
And if you question him or mention the behavior to him, he will explain it away by explaining why he is justified in his treatment of that person – such as “oh, he has owed me money for like 15 years – he deserves what he gets,” or ” she has always had it out for me!” – it’s never the narcissist’s fault.
While a “normal” person may have a drama moment here and there, they’re more understandable and aren’t so world-stopping as those experienced under the reign of a narcissist.
They might break down if something major happens – they lose their job, a friend dies, their dog dies or something else that YOU might also feel like breaking down about. But they won’t freak out if they ask you for some money to buy a soda and you don’t have any change. See what I mean?
4. The Empathy Factor
If you’re in an early relationship with a narcissist, there are little subtle things that will happen in your conversations that can tip you off if you watch for them. Simple patterns that will be evident if you know what to notice.
One of the biggest is how empathetic the narcissist is capable of being. Watch what happens when someone in your or the narc’s life experiences pain or tragedy in their lives – see how the narcissist behaves. You can tell when someone is genuinely concerned versus when someone’s sort of “being polite,” right?
A narc can be a really good actor, and he might even be really good at follow up questions when he’s in the love bombing phase. But when things are “back to normal,” a narc will change the subject if the topic varies from something that interests him – often rudely or by creating a big scene to get the attention back on himself.
If you’re the one dealing with the trouble, a healthy person who’s “really into you” will show genuine concern when someone you care about is hurt or goes through hard times, and he/she will never make the pain or tragedy ABOUT THEM at all.
Instead, they’ll stand by you in whatever way is appropriate at that phase in your relationship – whether that means stepping back to allow you time to deal with the issue or to grieve with your family, or it means to literally stand by you while you go through it.
If your love interest is the one dealing with the trouble, he will be concerned as much as you might be about a similar situation, and he will want you to stand by him in whatever way is appropriate at that level in your relationship – while a narc will want you to feel sorry for him/her while you baby and spoil him/her to help end the pain (whether it’s their personal pain or not). It’ll be all about the narc, not the person actually experiencing the issue.
Okay, so what are the best ways to narc-proof your future love life?
So, here are three easy steps you can take to avoid becoming involved with a narcissist in the future.
It’s so simple, you won’t believe it – but it works.
Are you ready for this? Here’s what you need to do to avoid getting involved with a narcissist again in the future.
1. You have to TAKE YOUR TIME in the relationship.
Make a rule for yourself that you won’t go too fast and commit too soon. For example, after I left my ex husband, I made a rule for myself that I would not allow anyone to propose to me until we had been monogamously dating for at least one year – and then I decided that I’d make it a long engagement just to be safe.
You can set your own rules based on your own perception of how long it took you to recognize that you were dealing with a narcissist in the first place.
This can apply to literally any personal relationship, and even to professional ones on certain levels – that is, you sort of maintain your guard in each type of relationship for an appropriate length of time before you assume you can trust them.
2. You have to STAY CONNECTED to other people!
In order to keep your life in balance and protect yourself from getting enmeshed with another narcissistic abuser, you really need to be careful to still actively cultivate relationships with a variety of people in your life, even and especially when you’re in the beginning phases of new relationships and friendships.
Remember how bad it felt when you were isolated from everyone by the narcissist? This is the time that you need to be especially vigilant of staying connected.
I don’t care how in love you are, and I don’t care how much you think it’s YOUR idea to stay in bed for 17 days straight and ignore your phones – DO NOT DO IT!
Promise yourself that you’ll have regular contact with the other important people in your life, even if you need to schedule it.
Get yourself connected to a good support network and stick with them – and consider having a recovery buddy who will check in with you on a regular basis and help you remember to remain connected to your network of support and love – this will help to ensure that you don’t inadvertently fall into your old patterns.
This can happen before we realize it!
3. Listen to your gut.
Remember when you got involved with your narcissist and you felt a little “off” but you couldn’t quite put your finger on it? Or maybe you never felt quite comfortable in the relationship, like you might lose it at any moment? Maybe you lived in fear of being alone or of falling flat without him/her.
This is another very important part of protecting yourself from getting involved with another narcissist – you have to listen to your “gut” – your heart – those feelings that creep up inside you when you don’t want to listen to them.
If something doesn’t feel right, there is a reason! If you’re not sure, go back to #1 – just take your time. There’s really no reason you need to rush, right?
If it’s truly a healthy and mutually good relationship and the person you’ve been waiting for all of your life, time will be of no concern – just take your time getting to know each other and enjoy the process. It can be deliciously satisfying.
What do you think? What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.