6 Signs of Love Bombing with Dr. Steve Sultanoff

Signs of Love Bombing with Steve Sultanoff, PhD

LOVE BOMBING is a manipulation technique used by one person to gaslight another in order to control and dominate them. It is commonly used by highly narcissistic people and people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it can be used by other types of manipulators as well. The aim is to give the perpetrator an advantage over the recipient of the abuse. This is accomplished using a schedule of intermittent reinforcement that alternates between love bombing and devaluation to deliberately induce, escalate, and then soothe anxiety in the victim-survivor. One of the dangers of love bombing is that it feels so good it can be difficult to recognize it for the psycho-emotional abuse that it is. Today, we’re going to highlight 6 Signs of Love Bombing with clinical psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD

For more than thirty years, Dr. Sultanoff has been a professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He’s also served as a clinical supervisor and spent twelve years as clinical director of a psychology training network. In 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in therapeutic humor from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is something most people don’t understand about love bombing?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: The extreme narcissist is a “big game hunter.” He is stalking his prey, and the thrill is in the hunt and capture of the prey. In order to capture the prey, the narcissist will go to almost any length to achieve that goal. The result is self-congratulatory: “Look what major feat I accomplished!” In other words, “I made you fall for me.”

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What you are describing it sounds more like entrapment than love.

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: He is on a quest to “do” whatever it takes to achieve the goal: capturing a “love” connection or perhaps more accurately capturing the object of his desire. Nothing will stand in the way. Whatever it takes (behaviorally) he will do. He will shower the “love object” with whatever might be pleasing including gifts, flowers, romantic getaways, etcetera.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is an excellent analogy because it illustrates how little a narcissist’s behavior has to do with the person they are pursuing and everything to do with their self-image. What’s the pay off for the narcissist?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Once the goal is achieved, he will feel “full,” valued, worthy, etcetera until the moment of the accomplishment wears off.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: So, they obtain narcissistic supply through success in pursuit and conquest of someone they regard as “prey”. It gratifies their ego and fills them with a sense of pride in their ability to manipulate the person they targeted. What is the first major red flag that people should look out for?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One tell-tale sign is over the top extreme behavior that, of course, feels like being nurtured and loved.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: But in reality it’s neither of those things because the narcissist is using the capture and conquest of their “prey” to feed their ego. Dr. Sultanoff, you have been practicing for over thirty years. Please share something you’ve observed about narcissists in your clinical experience.

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Most narcissists are men, although women are not immune to the disorder.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Indeed, that’s consistent with the research. Can you please share some other signs you think might help people recognize when they are being love bombed?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Narcissists are frequently absolutely charming and they make a great appearance. For example, they are often coiffed meticulously. They are usually generous with money and material things, showering the object of their affection with an assortment of gifts mostly of monetary value but not necessarily. Depending on their style and expertise, they may offer more personal gifts such as poetry, writing songs, sunsets on the beach, looking at the stars, etcetera for their partner. They make a major effort to be in contact with their partner and may frequently text or email with lots of emojis or other endearing extras.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s often said that narcissists target people who have one or several blind spots. Can you talk a bit about this?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One sign that is often overlooked is the partner’s reaction to the love bomb. If you feel enamored, giddy, or enthralled especially to the point of discussing all the gifts with others then you may want to examine the relationship. It is easy for the partner to be “sucked into” the love bomb since it “feels” so good to be loved at such an extreme level.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s a very astute and helpful tip! Dr. Sultanoff, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share on this topic?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Bottom line, if he is too good to be true, he likely is too good to be true. Look for the signs of excessively loving behaviors, look for feeling immersed in his love, look for constant actions of his love and desire to be with you, and finally look beyond his loving actions and ask yourself, “What is the substance behind the actions. Is he who I can love if all these loving actions were not present?”

Dr. Sultanoff’s 6 Signs of Love Bombing

To summarize, Dr. Sultanoff highlighted six signs of love bombing and they are:

  1. Too good to be true
  2. Charm
  3. Flamboyance
  4. Generosity
  5. Excessive Attention
  6. Euphoria

Visit Dr. Sultanoff’s website humormatters.com to learn about therapeutic humor.


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The Narcissist’s Flying Monkeys

Traits and Characteristics of Flying Monkeys

FLYING MONKEYS ARE ENABLERS who act on behalf of narcissists. They are usually friends and relatives who serve as surrogates, emissaries, fixers and drones in the narcissist’s network. Moreover, they make it possible for narcissists to carry out their campaigns of abuse by proxy.

A person may rationalize playing the flying monkey role for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:

  • Necessity – They may feel beholden to the narcissist because they are a relative or friend. 
  • Acceptance – They may long for attention and validation from the narcissist.
  • Avarice – They may benefit from enabling the narcissist.
  • Schadenfreude – Some people genuinely enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on others.
  • Manipulation – They may be empathic people with poor boundaries who buy into the narcissist’s schemes and mischief-making.

Flying monkeys and the cycle of narcissistic abuse

Flying monkeys are usually active in every stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse:

  1. Idealization
  2. Devaluation
  3. Discard
  4. Hoover

In the idealization or love bombing phase, flying monkeys may be used to provide social proof for the narcissist. At this stage, it’s their job to convince the target that the narcissist’s false self is real.

Flying monkeys help the narcissist accomplish this by vouching for them and helping them appear to be believable, trustworthy and stable. Flying monkeys also provide false verification for the scapegoat stories/smear campaigns the narcissist has crafted to discredit their previous victims.

During the devaluation phase of narcissistic abuse, the behavior of flying monkeys is similar to canned laughter on a sit-com. In other words, the flying monkeys encourage and echo the abuser’s negative sentiments about the person the narcissist is denigrating.

They also cover for the narcissist while they are grooming a new source of attention and adulation i.e. narcissistic supply.

In the discard phase flying monkeys enable the narcissist to control the narrative and escape accountability. Once again, this is done by providing the narcissist with social proof of their scapegoat story/smear campaign which is now directed at their current target.

Flying monkeys provide a narcissist with an alibi for whatever narrative they invent about themselves or the people they target.

They enable the narcissist to use a gaslighting tactics like DARVO against the target. DARVO is an acronym for:

  • Deny the abuse took place.
  • Attack the individual confronting the abuse.
  • Reverse the roles of
  • Victim and
  • Offender

The final stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse is the hoover maneuver. In this stage the flying monkeys enable the narcissist to hook the target and reel them back into the relationship so the cycle of narcissistic abuse can begin again.

This may be done by carrying messages from the narcissist to the target. For example, flying monkeys often surface when the recipient of abuse has ended contact with the narcissist. The flying monkey may befriend the target to extract information about them for the narcissist.

Alternatively, malevolent flying monkeys may slander, harass, stalk and assassinate the character of the target to such an extent that the recipient of the abuse may feel that the only way to put an end to their torment is to resume contact with the narcissist and plead with them to make it stop.

Types of flying monkeys

Narcissists assign different kinds of flying monkey roles to people depending on the individual’s motives.

There are two main subgroups of flying monkeys: benevolent and malevolent.

Benevolent Flying Monkeys

Benevolent Flying Monkeys have four main characteristics.

  • The harm they inflict is largely unintentional.
  • They are susceptible to manipulation.
  • They have poor boundaries.
  • They are people pleasers.

As people pleasers, it is easy for narcissists and psychopaths to manipulate benevolent flying monkeys into doing their bidding. All they have to do is appeal to their empathy and/or fear.

The benevolent flying monkey turns a blind eye to the narcissist’s history of odious behavior. They justify this action with self-deception and put their trust in platitudes like everyone makes mistakeseveryone deserves a second chancethey’ll grow out of it someday, and love conquers all.

Benevolent flying monkeys are likely to be triangulated because have a desire to be seen as heroic. They are blind to the true nature of their role as flying monkey. Instead, they view themselves as the peacemaker, the rescuer or savior.

The Meddler is usually someone seeking the thrill of the rescuer role. They are usually reacting to the theatrics of a narcissist. To cast someone in the role of Meddler, a narcissist may go to them and claim that their target has abused them. Because Meddlers lack boundaries, narcissists can easily overwhelm them by pouring out a never-ending litany of woe peppered with threats of self-destruction.

Meddlers are often in awe of narcissists and find their endless drama titillating. However sometimes exhausted Meddlers interfere in an attempt to stop the narcissist’s whinging.

The Empath can also be triangulated by a narcissist. An unseasoned empath is easily be seduced by the narcissist’s manipulation tactics, especially pity plays and love bombing

Highly empathic people often have a blind spot for the scheming nature of a narcissist as they are unable to conceive that anyone would deliberately conjure up the mischief and mayhem that narcissists revel in.

Narcissists corrupt empathic people by mirroring their good-natured persona back at them. Thus, empathic people identify and bond with narcissist’s false persona. Seeing their reflection in the narcissist, the unseasoned empath extends trust but fails to verify the facts. In other words, they do not do their due diligence and dismiss the other person’s side of the story.

When a narcissist is mirroring an empathic person, their empathy can be weaponized. The Empath believes, “this person is similar to me, therefore I will treat them the way I would like to be treated, I will give them the kind of support I would like to have if I were in their shoes.”

To live a life free from manipulation and enabling toxic people, Dr. Paul Bloom’s proposes rational compassion as opposed to unbridled empathy.

Empathy is a disaster in this complicated and interesting world. It has several problems. It is biased. We feel more empathy toward people who look like us, who share our skin color or our ethnicity; who are attractive rather than ugly; who are close rather than far. It’s innumerate. We feel empathy for the one but not for the hundred. Thirdly it can be weaponized.

Paul Bloom, Yale University.

Dr. Bloom points out that empathy can be biased whereas compassion is just.

The Coward is recruited to do the narcissists bidding because they feel intimidated and afraid of the narcissist. The Coward may feel that they stand to lose some advantage by failing to keep the narcissist happy. Their self-interest readily overrides their conscience.

In many instances, the coward relies on the narcissist in some way i.e. they may be employed by the narcissist or they may wish to access privilege through their connection to the narcissist.

Malevolent flying monkeys

Malevolent flying monkeys share several common characteristics, as well.

  • The harm they inflict is intentional.
  • They take genuine pleasure in destroying other people.
  • They have are amoral.
  • They are highly anti-social.

Malevolent flying monkeys are divided into three common classes: the Scandalmonger (Sadist), the Narcissist, and the Psychopath.

The Scandalmonger is always up for the sadistic power trip of destroying another person. They are recruited into the narcissist’s triangulation efforts because they relish the thrill and brutality of scapegoating.

Scandalmongering is antisocial behavior and it is done without conscience. This type is callously treacherous. Often they make a pretense of sympathy and solidarity with the target in the aftermath of the devaluation or discard stage of narcissistic abuse.

Their aim is to weaponize the trust of the target. Anything the target confides in them will immediately be conveyed to the narcissist and used to inflict greater harm to the target.

If the scandalmonger believes that the narcissist has a high enough status, they don’t bother pretenses and go straight for the target’s jugular by gleefully participating in the narcissist’s smear campaign and assassinating the target’s character.

In both instances, scandalmongers are uninterested in the target’s point of view because their goal is to silence them. Scandalmongers don’t care about what is right or what is fair. They are happy to shoot first and ask questions later – if at all.

Scandalmongers experience a profound Schadenfreude at being able to participate in the destruction of another person.

The Narcissist often finds themselves in the role of flying monkey because they are part of a narcissistic collective or hierarchy. Thus, the flying monkey narcissist barters their loyalty in exchange similar favors from their brethren.

A narcissistic collective is elitist in nature and operates under the belief that its members are superior to others. Examples of how this plays out on the can be seen in tribalism, racial superiority, sexism, gangs, sororities, fraternities, cliques, etc.

Narcissists participate in drama triangles because they wish to be in the good graces of a narcissist overlord and/or they are buying insurance for the day they may need social proof from the narcissist collective when they wage a smear campaign of their own.

Furthermore, narcissists may be triangulated if the victim-survivor has special traits or status triggers a narcissistic injury. Narcissists delight in the destruction of people for no other reason than the fact that they have qualities or a position that the narcissist covets. Ganging up on such a target with another narcissist allows them to feel superior to the target. Thus, they are able to resolve the envy that triggered the narcissistic injury in the first place.

The Psychopath is recruited by the narcissist to play the role of enforcer. They know exactly what the narcissist is doing to the target and they know it’s wrong. They are enlisted to slander, harass, stalk, smear, bully and, often, physically assault the target on behalf of the narcissist.

They are the most dangerous of all the flying monkeys.

Common Flying Monkey Behaviors

  • Gossiping
  • Spying
  • Gaslighting
  • Manipulation
  • Harassment
  • Sabotage
  • Enabling
  • Intimidation
  • Victim-blaming

Have Your Say

Now, it’s your turn! What is your experience of flying monkeys? Were they benevolent or malevolent? Do they fit any of the descriptions of the flying monkeys in this post? Share your experience in the comment section below.

Bibliography

  • Karpman, Stephen B. A Game Free Life: the Definitive Book on the Drama Triangle and the Compassion Triangle by the Originator and Author. Amazon. Drama Triangle Productions, 2014.
  • Bloom, Paul. Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. Amazon. Vintage, December 6, 2016.
  • Vaknin, Samuel, Lidija Rangelovska. Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. Skopje: Narcissus Publications, 2015.
  • Kinsey, Michael C. The “No” Quadrant: A Tool to Help Determine When To Say “No” and Maintain Healthy Boundaries. Mindsplain.com, February 20, 2020.
  • (Image) Raimi, Sam. Oz the Great and Powerful. 2013. Walt Disney Pictures.
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