Friday, June 3, 2016

Life After No Contact: Love Bombing (and other reactions) by your Narcissistic Parent

You've reached the point where you're fed up with your toxic parent's narcissistic behaviors and cut them out of your life. It wasn't an easy decision, and you fretted for a long time as to whether writing them off completely was the best option for your future.  You didn't want to have to accept that they would never change.  You didn't want to give up hope that someday things might be better.  Blame it on a society that reveres parental love as pure, unconditional and self-sacrificing, in spite of what you experienced to the opposite, first hand. And so, one day, perhaps after an especially charged and abusive incident, you've finally reached a place of relative peace with yourself that says it's best for your own mental health to grieve the relationship you never had, and leave the awful one you did have in the past where it belongs. You didn't do it to punish them, or to try to get them to wake-up and change (even if a small part of you still futilely hopes for that outcome).  You did it because society's vision of your parent doesn't mesh with what you know to be true: being connected with them hurts you more than it helps you.

For many of us, what follows this declaration (whether voiced to our parents themselves or simply internally realized) is an outright narcissistic unhinging.

Timeline of Narcissistic Parent reactions to No Contact

You're most likely to experience first: an uptake in augmentative correspondence, usually in the form of emails, voice-mails, snail mail and text messages directly to you, fervently denying they've done anything wrong, and that really, the problem is with you.  This first act comes from the narcissist's desire to maintain the status quo. For many years, they've been able to bully you into submission, and so the first tactic in their narcissistic toolbox is to fall back on previously successful patterns.  When it fails, and you don't reestablish contact with them by either submitting to their claims or engaging in an argument, they try something else.

Next, typically, come the Flying Monkeys and smear campaigns. Having unsuccessfully engaged you into fighting with them (and coming up short on the narc supply they could once count on you for), the next tactic in their narcissistic toolbox is involving third parties. You'll likely next begin receiving correspondence from other relatives and mutual friends. Their attempts to get involved might range from the seemingly well-meaning ("I just want to ease the tension in our family"), making you feel guilty and as if you're coming up short on familial obligation, to the downright abusive ("How could you do this to your parent/my spouse/my sibling/our parent/my friend? What's wrong with you?!") exhibiting the side they've already taken without having even discussed it with you. If these attempts to regain contact with you fail, they'll likely move on to the next, and most emotionally confusing, tactic in their narc toolbox: Love Bombing.

Love Bombing 

If you're not familiar with the concept of Love-Bombing, here's a little historical context:

The term "Love Bombing" came about in the 1970's to explain how people were seductively recruited into cults that asked them to give up their entire lives (finances, relationships, residences, etc) for a seemingly higher purpose. In 1996, the concept was popularized by psychology professor Margaret Singer in her book Cults In Our Midst.

"As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members' flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing - or the offer of instant companionship - is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives."

I point out that the idea of Love-Bombing first came from cult recruiters to illustrate the deliberate, calculated nature of this intense emotional manipulation. In our context, narcissistic parents who have failed at engaging us through arguments, guilt-tripping, smear campaigns, etc, who are still intent on keeping you under their control, might, as a last resort, make it appear as though they have changed and truly love you. It's important to remember that Love-Bombing isn't actually from a place of love on their part for you, it is instead their last ditch effort to regain the supply from you that they've lost.

You might, for the first time in you life, begin to receive signs of remorse for their behaviors. You might actually receive apologetic letters, emails and voice-mails. Pay very close attention to the language used, as it is unlikely to come from true sincerity, and try your best not to get sucked in. Remember that your position is of someone who has been neglected, abused, and/or consistently put in second-place to their needs for most of, or all of, your life.  Receiving something like that from someone you thought so toxic you had to remove them from your life, is very jarring. It is natural for you to second-guess your decision, and to begin wondering if you'd pulled the No Contact trigger too early.  It is also extremely common for people in your position to engage in severe self-doubt and feel guilty for "labeling" their parent as toxic or narcissistic, despite the years of abuses that lead to your decision for No Contact.  When we have been starved, crumbs can look and taste like lobster.  But watch out.  Because Love-Bombing, through a guise of remorse, is deliberately designed to make you question your view of them so that they may regain their control and access to your life.

Even if they haven't acknowledged the importance of occasions special to you in many many years (i.e. birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc) it's not uncommon to suddenly begin receiving gifts, cards and correspondence for these occasions (or for no reason at all). Perhaps you can't remember the last time your parent told you they loved you, and maybe they never had.  But suddenly, you're receiving texts and cards which declare an undying love for you. Maybe, if you're a parent yourself, and they've shown little interest in your children up to the point of No Contact, suddenly, they're interested in becoming a doting grandparent. They're sending gifts to your children, and attempting to see them. Again, it is NATURAL for you to feel a lot of guilt and turmoil in the wake of these new behaviors. After all, the narcissist has designed these attempts precisely for the reason of making you question yourself and see them in a better light.  It is NOT about you.  It is about their own self-perception. It's very hard for a narcissist (impossible, even) to accept rejection.

Love-Bombing, at it's core, is an act of desperation. It is NOT a sincere out-pouring of love, nor the signs of someone truly changing their behaviors. Though it may, on the surface, appear that way.

But What If It Is Real?

"How do I know what I'm receiving is really Love-Bombing and not real sincere love and change?" you may be asking. And it is a valid question. People are capable of change.  Even abusers. So how do we know when these acts of seeming love are coming from the heart, or from a place of narcissistic desperation? The best advice I can offer is to take it slow and maintain boundaries.

As we've established, Love-Bombing comes from an internal need the narcissistic parent themself has, and nothing to do with you or your feelings.  It typically follows other more clearly abusive tactics to regain control over you as outlined above, or around a time when the narcissist has lost supply elsewhere.  Such as the loss of another relationship, a time of severe stress, financial trouble, etc. It also (herein is the key difference between Love-Bombing and sincere love and remorse) typically doesn't last for long periods of time. Because Love-Bombing is usually the last tactic in the narcissistic arsenal, if it doesn't work, they give up. Although some will have such intense feelings of rejection and failure, that they will return to the behaviors highlighted above out of spite and self-preservation.  Such as employing 3rd parties, guilt trips and abusive correspondence.

True love, remorse and change, comes from the deepest parts of the heart.  It recognizes that they've hurt you, deeply.  To the point that you're fed up with them. It understands that major turmoil in relationship of this magnitude demands time and consistency to regain trust. It respects your boundaries and waits, patiently, for your willingness to allow them back into your life.  It recognizes you, and your hurt feelings, as valid, deserved and justified. It doesn't blame you, or suggest that you've done anything to deserve the abuse. It accepts the consequences of their actions, but hopes that they'll have a chance to show you love again, if you're willing and on your own timeline.

Whether you are religious or not, the words of the Apostle Paul give us a great outline for what true love is supposed to look like:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8New International Version (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In the end, if you feel that the love you're suddenly receiving qualifies these indicators, then by all means, resume contact if and when you're ready. But if it doesn't, hold true to yourself and know, without guilt or apprehension, that your abuser has only upped their game as a means of being able to abuse you further in the future. And you are wise enough to see right through it for what it is.

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