A new romance can come with a flurry of flowers, texts, and compliments. It's all part of the sparkle, excitement, and energy that accompanies fresh-faced encounters. But there can be a darker side to an excess of attention and OTT displays of affection. It's a phenomenon called love bombing and it's a red flag tactic used by narcissists. Because we are all about having a healthy relationship, nurturing healthy boundaries, and steering clear of psychological manipulation so we can thrive in the light of beautiful love, here's the lowdown and all you need to know about love bombers.
What is Love Bombing?
So what is so bad about love bombing? Isn't it awesome to get showered with lavish gifts, lauded with affection, and told how great you are by a potential soul mate? Isn't this what we are all looking for when it comes to love?
Love bombing is characterized as piling on attention, affection, and making grand gestures early in a relationship. These can be declarations of undying love, big gifts, adoration, excessive compliments, and everything that seems too good to be true.
We get it, love bombing can be intoxicating. In the short term, it makes us feel amazing. Someone seeing and celebrating our worth, that flow of dopamine and endorphins that we have what seems to be the relationship of our dreams, and a partner that seems smitten with us.
While it sounds idyllic, this behavior can be a huge red flag as it is a pattern that can be associated with underlying abuse and a potentially toxic relationship.
This can be
- a manipulation tactic (subconscious or otherwise) that leads to insecure attachment styles,
- codependent behavior,
- coercive control,
- and a feeling that you 'owe' someone something.
It can be used in the short term to satisfy the needs of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, or it can trap you in a long term relationship filled with emotional abuse or/and domestic violence.
Love bombing was first used as a recognizable tactic by cult leaders from the Unification Church of the United States. It's a common practice for a cult leader or cult members to grow their following by heaping attention and praise onto potential new recruits.
Psychology Today defined love bombing in the following way;
'Narcissists, in particular, are known for their skills at manipulation, as much as their penchant for self-love. They may use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partner, the better to gain your trust, affection — and, ultimately, adoration. Narcissists often learn through experience that once partners see through their facades, the relationship may self-destruct. Once they have convinced you of how good the two of you are together, a narcissist will try to shape your role in the relationship into a member of their "supporting cast." For this and other reasons, narcissists typically struggle to maintain equal, mutually satisfying relationships.'
Why is Love Bombing So Dangerous?
Psychologists believe that love bombers have low self-esteem and to satiate that need for constant reassurance they can be desperate to control the narrative about themselves and their love. They may need to seek attention, boost their ego, and put others in a place of being subconsciously attached or indebted to them.
It's a power shift and like any power shift, it puts someone on the back foot and can become a breeding ground for manipulative behavior. A common theme that accompanies love bombing is that once the new partner is hooked on all that positive attention, it can often be retracted and breadcrumbed out, leaving you in a state of confusion and desperation.
Love bombing is also one of the manipulation tactics often used in the early days of an abusive relationship or within abusive cycles.
Being love-bombed can
- break down your walls and boundaries,
- keep you hopeful that things will return to bliss when things go bad,
- build retrospective trauma bonding,
- and just straight up be so exhausting and confusing that you question your own behavior and actions.
There's another layer that makes love bombing so difficult to spot - romance. Our ideas of romance and true love have been shaped by outdated modes of chivalry and pop culture.
Remember all the rom coms where the grand gesture paid off and led to happy ever after?
Whether it was stalking behavior being normalized, not taking no for an answer, and just being completely swept off your feet by someone who idolizes and obsesses over you. This has all been normalized in our culture so that when we may not feel super comfortable with this behavior being presented to us, we push it aside because this is how real love looks right?
How Do You Deal With a Love Bomb?
So what do you do if you are being love-bombed? Well, first of all, you go gentle on yourself.
Love bombing is a manipulation technique and like all emotional manipulation, it is clever and it catches you off guard. Plus, we don't want to face every single sign of flattery or interest with suspicion as it makes us feel cynical as hell.
Knowing the red flags in advance can provide some insight that you could be heading into an unhealthy relationship. But for those already entangled with narcissistic abusers and love bombers, the most important thing is to remove yourself from the situation as safely as possible.
If you aren't sure if you are caught up in love bombing or just dealing with someone who loves a romantic gesture, then it may help to have a conversation about it.
You don't need to go throwing down language about narcissistic abuse from the get-go but you can express that things may be moving too fast for you and suggest putting boundaries in place or taking some time to breathe.
If this is met with resistance, anger, sulking, silent treatment, or guilt-tripping then it could be a further sign that this new relationship may not be all it's cracked up to be.
As it can be head-swimmingly surreal to deal with relationships like this, we definitely suggest finding someone outside of the situation to lend their support. Love bombing can also be synonymous with other manipulative tactics like gaslighting. Having friends and family, a therapist, or a psychologist who can provide resources and support can help you to feel validated in your experience which is all part of processing.
7 Love Bombing Signs (And How To Handle Them)
If this is all ringing uncomfortably true or if you just want to stack up on the warning signals so you know how to swerve becoming a love bomber target, these seven signs of love bombing may be useful to consider the next time someone starts shining their light a little too brightly on you.
Sign #1 Something Doesn't Sit Right
Our gut can be a great sign that something isn't as awesome as it seems. Learning to pay attention to our own inner voice and to trust our intuition can be invaluable. People who have been caught up in a love bombing narrative often speak of things feeling too good to be true in the beginning or feeling over the top and intense. While there's sure to be a ton of excitement and early feelings of fizzy fun, it's worth digging a little deeper to check in with feelings of confusion, instability, and uncertainty too.
Sign #2 Moving too Fast
If there's declarations of love after a week, sparkly jewelery, a cute puppy, promises of moving in together and grand future faking behavior, this is another sign that there could be a problem in paradise. People with solid boundaries will want to get to know you better before making massive future thinking plans. If you feel like it's moving too fast, you can always ask for things to slow down and this request should be respected.
Sign #3 Intrusive Attention
While spontaneity can be special and quick consistent text replies a breath of fresh air in today's ghosting culture, you may want to watch for attention that can feel intrusive or smothering. In a love bombers world, there is no space that should exist without them and they will make the effort to weave their attention into every aspect of your life. This could be showing up unplanned and unannounced, texting you constantly when out with friends or family members because they miss you. It can be flowers at work, gifts on your doorstep, and constantly showing up on your social media pages.
Sign #4 Plenty of Gift Giving
Big love bombing comes with the hallmark of being showered with fancy gifts. While a nice thoughtful present is always welcome from someone you have been courting, love bombers take this to the extreme. From plane tickets for trips away with them to flashy jewelry, expensive clothes, and even pets, this should certainly send alarm bells ringing on a third or fourth date.
Sign #5 Demanding More
Any pressure in new relationships is to be carefully observed and considered. If someone is demanding more of your time, energy, and resources than is comfortable or available then it could either be a manipulative tactic or just mean that you have different needs and desires right now. Everyone will have a variant in what they can give in a romantic relationship and sometimes that may just not be compatible. However, a manipulative person may try and make you feel guilty for wanting space and needed boundaries and this is definitely a bad sign.
Sign #6 Soulmate Talk
No matter what your individual viewpoint is on soulmates, a direct feed to that narcissistic supply is someone feeling like you cannot live and breathe without them or that you aren't whole without them by your side. To get to this point they may try and convince you that you are soulmates. Sentiments like 'being born for each other' and feelings of fate can be a part of the love-bombing partner narrative. While it sounds pretty it can come with an ulterior motive and should be approached with caution.
Sign #7 They Isolate You From Friends And Family
Look, we get it. Entering a new relationship is exciting and can be isolating, though in the best of ways. But when your new lover is clinging on to you to the point that you can't see your friends or family as much as you'd like to, then it's a problem. "This may be subtle at first", Amber Artis, certified matchmaker and CEO of Select Date Society explains. "They may disguise it as just really wanting to spend time with you alone so they can focus on getting to know you." If someone is trying to monopolize your time, then it's a major red flag.
Sign #8 They're Extremely Jealous
A little jealousy here and there is totally normal, but if they start getting jealous of everything in your life, then it's a problem. Artis warns, "If they seem to get irritated or angry when other people are around, that's a huge red flag." This could not only be other potential romantic threats, but also friends, family, work, hobbies, and anything else that takes your attention away from them.
Sign #9 They Suddenly Switch
One of the later signs that you have been a love bomb victim is when your partner starts to switch. After piling on the praise and giddiness, they may suddenly become withdrawn, moody, critical, or cold which can throw you into a spin. You may blame this change on yourself as you are led to believe you haven't given enough or carried your fair share of the relationship. You may find now that there's a change in yourself, that you suddenly feel needy, desperate, crave reassurance, and are on the edge of heartbreak. This is the goal of love-bombing as it leads to the narcissist being needed, desired, and depended upon.
The bottom line is that relationships need substance and authentic love can't flourish without true knowledge about the other person. Someone who is declaring love and marriage after 5 dates isn't really at the stage where they know you yet. As we mentioned, it's easy to get swept up in the romance and pretty promises, but when something feels like it's moving too fast, you have every right to slow it down, to have your requests met, and to leave any relationship that doesn't make you feel comfortable.
Do you have any experience with love bombing that you feel compelled to share? We are forever sending love to all those out there who have been caught up in unhealthy situations and we wish you all the self-love and speedy healing in the world.
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