Love bombing is usually used in reference to romantic relationships, but it can and often does occur in any type of relationship with a pathologically narcissistic person. Parents can love-bomb, siblings can love-bomb, friends and anyone else. The behavior may look a little different than what it would if it were coming from a romantic partner, but that doesn't change what it is.
Love-bombing usually looks like continuous, intense affirmation of how perfect you are, and how perfect the relationship is or will be. It often happens very quickly. You may have only known this person a very short time, maybe even only a few days. Suddenly they're talking about how you must be soul mates and how the future is going to look with you. They're going out of their way for you and treating you as if you are the only person that matters in the world. Everything is so wonderful and perfect. Not only that, but it feels true. This person seems like they are the epitome of everything you've ever needed. If the narcissist is a family member, like a parent, it may feel like they're finally giving you the approval and validation that you've always needed. Nobody - nobody - is more amazing than a narcissist in the idealization phase of the cycle.
You may have been through this cycle before, with other people or even this same person, but because you want to believe in the fantasy they are selling you, you take them at their word even though you know inside that you shouldn't. That little voice telling you that it's too soon, or it's too fast or that this person has done this before just gets ignored. You get sucked in because you want to believe. All the places where you feel empty are suddenly filled and that is so hard to resist, especially because most people who become entangled in these situations are vulnerable in some way. They may be predisposed to react to love bombing because of past experience with trauma bonds. They may doubt their self-worth for some reason or have other powerful insecurities, and because of that, they are susceptible to the narcissistic person's manipulations.
Love-bombing usually catches people off-guard at first, whether it is because they've just met this person or because they have been in the devaluation part of the cycle with a narcissist for a while. It's often very intense, with people being essentially bowled over or swept off their feet, as the saying is. There may be constant attention, constant compliments, affirmations, validation, extreme future faking, gifts for no reason and a general focus on you. In this phase, the narcissist often hits you like a bird hitting a windshield. Just a sudden intense collision out of nowhere. People get swept up. They lose control. They crash.
This happens because when someone is vulnerable to this kind of attention, they let their guard down. They believe it must be the real deal because it feels so intense. The truth is, they are feeling the intensity of their own love and need being reflected back to them. The narcissist is simply a mirror for your own ability to love. Because the narcissist is empty, the amount of love they can absorb is endless. As you are unknowingly pouring your own love into this empty black hole, you realize the depth of your own ability to love. People believe they are being loved in return because the narcissist is simply mirroring them. The truth is, they are receiving nothing.
Whether this is a conscious plot of the narcissistic person is debatable in some cases, but it doesn't really matter. The reason that it doesn't matter is because it's toxic and abusive regardless. Whether they truly believe the things they are saying until it gets ruined by NOT being completely and utterly perfect, or whether it's all a scam from the jump, the end result is still the same. Narcissism is a spectrum and while their level of awareness can vary, the motivation for the behavior does not. Some narcissists - such as those on the very far end of the spectrum - are aware that they are purposely manipulating people at times and others are simply doing what they've always done with no self-awareness whatsoever. Both of these people are doing what they think they have to do to get their needs met, and neither care about the victim in this equation at all.
This is why it doesn't matter if it's a conscious manipulation or not. Sometimes people get hung up on that, but it really, truly isn't important. Self-awareness does not affect the behavior, because you cannot force people to feel things they don't feel. Narcissists genuinely don't care. At all. Pathologically narcissistic people generally have no true empathy and see other human beings as objects to use. Even if they are among those end-spectrum narcissists who are aware of their behavior, it doesn't matter because the reason the behavior is wrong means nothing to them. They therefore have no reason to stop. This is the only way they can relate to others and they will continue to do it until they can't anymore. Often, this means until they die.
People sometimes believe that if they can show the narcissist that their behavior is wrong or hurtful, they will stop. This implies the narcissist doesn't know that already, or that if they did know, they would care. There is no reason to think that. They devalue and discard for the same reason they idealize and love-bomb: because they are the only ones that matter.
Love bombing is very painful because it results in devaluation. People have their defenses down and are not prepared for the inevitable fall from grace into abuse that happens.
If you are in a situation where you've only known someone a short time - like less than 6 months - and they are already talking about a family, or marriage, or soul-mates, or how it'll be when you're both 60 rocking on the porch together, or how perfect you are or the relationship is, if they are bombarding you with love notes and texts and emails and calls and flattery... If you feel that the relationship or the person is perfect, if you feel that it's like somehow they've known you all your life, if you feel that it's the most intense relationship you've ever been in, or you've never loved somebody so much... It might be time to slow down, to take a step back and evaluate whether it's possible for all of that to be true. What do you know about this person and how have you verified it? What do they know about you? Is it even possible for them to know you yet, let alone love you? Do their actions match their words? Are they trying to dominate your time and become the focus of your entire life? Because this is not passion. It's possession.
If the love bomber is someone you are already entangled with, like a parent or a spouse, ask yourself what would make this time different from any other time this has happened? Has the person done anything to prove they will not devalue you again? Have they somehow become a different person? Have you? If neither of those things have happened, why should you believe anything will be different? It's unlikely that it will be. Remember: if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.