Are You Being Love Bombed?

Are You Being Love Bombed?

Love bombing is overwhelming someone with gifts, attention, and affection. Learn why love bombing is actually a warning sign of unhealthy boundaries.

Love bombing is the act of overwhelming another person, usually a romantic partner, with attention, affection, and gifts (Hayes & Jeffries, 2016). It is easy to get swept up in this experience, whether you’re the love bomber or the recipient. After all, as humans, we can fall in love pretty hard, and we flock to romantic films because there is something compelling and pleasurable about seeing such intense displays of affection (Hayes & Jeffries, 2016). We might even feel like we are in a movie montage, awash in a blur of deepening love.

Don’t be confused, it is a beautiful thing to fall quickly and deeply in love, and to throw oneself into a relationship out of pure affection and joy. But love bombing is different—it is manipulative, calculated; it has the purpose, whether the love bomber is conscious of it or not, of getting the recipient of all that “love” hooked on it.

Once that pattern has been established—once the recipient has come to expect and perhaps even rely on the love bomber’s displays of affection—the stage is set for very different interactions. Love bombing prepares the recipient to be coerced into behaviors they would not otherwise allow or engage in (Reid, 2016). This could look like an abusive, controlling romantic partner asking his partner to cancel plans to go out with her friends: Doesn’t she want to have another awesome night out with him?

As we will see, love bombing is often part of a coercive pattern of behaviors. That’s not to say that all extravagant displays of affection and excitement are ingenuine and manipulative—far from it. Many of these displays of love are truly felt, or just the result of being overzealous. But we should all be aware of what it may mean when somebody overwhelms another person with an unsustainable amount of affection and attention.

“In the beginning they would do anything to see you. This was the lovebombing stage.”
― Tracy A. Malone

The Psychology of Love Bombing

Coercive or manipulative love bombing serves a particular function (Vaknin, 2020). First, it sends a very clear message: “I care about you so much. I can’t stop thinking about you. I just want to make you happy.” Second, it creates an image of the love bomber as deeply caring, generous, and full of good intentions. Third, it immerses the love bomber and the recipient in an alternative reality where their truly special, unique love unites them—and, just as importantly, separates them from others. Finally, it teaches the recipient of the love bombing to expect these powerful displays of love: They have been conditioned to await these gestures and to respond to them positively.

Signs of Love Bombing

One of the clearest signs of love bombing is that the behavior is disproportionate to the connection that is present. A good example comes from research on cults, where love bombing frequently occurs (Halperin, 1982). People who immerse themselves in cults often do so because the amount of love and acceptance they are experiencing is far more intense than anything they’ve experienced before. It can be so intoxicating that we find it hard to stop and think, “These people hardly know me; why are they treating me this way?” The goal is to eliminate boundaries between you and the group, which will make it hard to disengage later on (Halperin, 1982). Receiving such all-encompassing love builds a powerful connection; for people who have had few instances of healthy love in their lives, love bombing can be particularly powerful (Singer & Addis, 1992).

Love Bombing Cycle

There is something of a behavioral cycle that includes love bombing, so let’s clarify what that looks like. People who are likely to use or abuse others for the gratification of their own needs, such as people with many narcissistic traits (Strutzenberg et al., 2017), go through a cycle of manipulative behaviors. Love bombing is the first step in this cycle, and it has the goal of creating and maintaining an unhealthy emotional dependence through which the dependent person can be manipulated (Stranieri et al., 2021). This manipulation may look like trying to isolate the other person, such as by getting them to spend less time with their friends and family.

It could also look like gaslighting the person: For example, the abusive partner might start behaving in ways that are incongruent with their stated love for their partner, such as flirting publicly with other people, but then accuse their partner of “acting crazy” and “making stuff up” when they point out the flirtation. After all, hasn’t the love bomber shown again and again how much they love their partner? Who could question that?

The final step in the cycle is to disengage from the partner. If the love bomber has gotten what they wanted from their partner, they may abandon that person and move on to somebody else whom they can try to control. Or, if the relationship continues to meet their needs, they may return to their love bombing tactics to try to maintain the relationship longer.

In Sum

Thankfully, most of us will go through our adult dating lives without manipulating or being manipulated in this way; the expressions of love we receive and give will be genuine and heartfelt, and will come without strings attached. Stay optimistic, but just a little wary: If somebody’s displays of affection and investment seem far too intense to be genuine, they might have a different motive in mind.

References

● Halperin, D. A. (1982). Group processes in cult affiliation and recruitment. Group, 6(2), 13–24.

● Hayes, S., & Jeffries, S. (2016). Romantic terrorism? An auto-ethnographic analysis of gendered psychological and emotional tactics in domestic violence. Journal of Research in Gender Studies, 6(2), 38–61.

● Reid, J. A. (2016). Entrapment and enmeshment schemes used by sex traffickers. Sexual Abuse, 28(6), 491–511.

● Singer, M. T., & Addis, M. E. (1992). Cults, coercion, and contumely. The Mosaic of Contemporary Psychiatry in Perspective, 130–142.

● Stranieri, G., De Stefano, L., & Greco, A. G. (2021). Pathological narcissism. Psychiatria Danubina, 33(suppl 9), 35–40