For a con to work, it’s best for it to have already been accepted before the con-artist entered the room.
The concept of love-bombing was popularized about a decade ago and has been a mainstay in public and private discourse ever since. Although an ancient form of con-artistry, love-bombing has only recently become an indicator of psychological pathology because Western culture glorifies romance and its fairly tale version is often indistinguishable from the manifestations of the popular construct. Essentially, love-bombing is an exaggerated display of romantic interest, wherein the victim is showered with attention and affection in the forms of expensive (sometimes not even) gifts, excessive phone calls and texts, extravagant dates, persistent and magnified praise, and long-term commitments. And while all of this appears romantic at first blush, the victim is more often than not a complete stranger.
Many consider love-bombing to be tailored to individuals struggling with low self-esteem, and while narcissists hunt anyone whom they believe to be an easy target, the ones who often fall prey to their advances are those who only appear to exhibit chronically low self-worth (although I’ll say more about this later). Individuals with chronically low self-esteem don’t often believe in the possibility of being normal, let alone special. And since their negative self-referential beliefs clash with the bomber’s exaggerated displays of romance, they often retreat. Sometimes, after multiple attempts, they open up, somewhat, to the bomber, but it remains an uphill battle, as anyone who has ever tried to convince someone else of their worth surely knows.
On the other hand, individuals who only appear to be chronically self-loathing are, in reality, vulnerable narcissists. Dr. Craig Malkin maintains, “…they fear criticism so viscerally that they shy away from, and even seem panicked by, people and attention. Their outward timidity and wariness makes them easily mistaken for self-effacers at the far left of the spectrum. But what makes them different from echoists is that they don’t feel inferior. They believe they harbor unrecognized intelligence and hidden gifts; they see themselves as more understanding of, and more attuned to, the intricacies of the world around them. In self-report, they agree with such statements as I feel that I am temperamentally different from most people. To an observer, these people appear fragile and hypersensitive… There’s an angry insistence to introverted narcissists: they seethe with bitterness over the world’s “refusal” to recognize their special gifts.”
To be clear, these people are often victims. But, for the bomber’s con to work, it helps when the victim already believes that they’re special. They may know all of its signs and acknowledge love-bombing’s deceptive nature but, at the same time, distinguish between two forms, the one for the world and the version for them; the real one. And, in this way, persuade themselves that it only appears as a deception. It’s like when you’re sure that the universe is going to make you rich and you receive one of those e-mails imploring you to wire money to a relative you’ve never met, because they can’t seem to access their bank account and would die otherwise, for a handsome reward at some later point. You know it isn’t real, but you’re also sure that your moment in the sun is on its way. Maybe this is it. I mean, it’s usually a scam, but let’s see if it isn’t just this one time.
Vulnerable narcissism is undoubtedly an internal veil for chronically low self-esteem; one props themselves up by devaluing others. (In this respect, the distorted, negative self-image is hidden from oneself rather than from the world.) But, because they desperately need validation of their aggrandized self-image (preferably from someone they deem to be special too), the love-bomber becomes the perfect match. Delusion is key in the con game, both that which is espoused by the bomber and that which is believed by the victim.
Additionally, narcissists and con-artists feed on people with a pervasive distrust of people, institutions, and society-at-large. Rule-breaking is romantic when you think the rules and those designing them are unfair. That’s why the motif of the gangster flourished during the Great Depression, when most people didn’t trust the government to care for them. (Consider how the mafia exploited this by becoming pillars of their communities, especially during the holidays.) So, if you believe that the dating game has time and again fucked you over and/or that those warning you about predators are, in reality, jealous of you, you become ripe for the picking. Love-bombing is sexy when taking it slow rarely bears fruit.
Con-men increase their odds of success by playing the con game in the face of repeated failure, so, sometimes, their victims are simply naive, just believing in the possibility of the con’s veracity. But, more often than not, the con-artist, or in this case the love-bomber, latches onto the person who’s been waiting for salvation.