Let’s say you just started dating someone new, and they seem almost too good to be true—they shower you endlessly with lavish gifts and personal attention. Unlike any of your relationships before, your new partner flatters and appreciates you, even when you don’t feel like you deserve it. As the relationship develops, your partner gets more demanding and red flags start popping up everywhere. The presents and adoration don’t stop, but neither does the obsessive behaviour. At this point, you have to ask yourself—am I being love bombed?
What is love bombing?
Love bombing is a manipulative emotional tactic that uses excessive affection and attention. The term was coined by cult leaders but is often used by narcissists pursuing romantic relationships with other people. Since the attention can feel refreshing and flattering, it’s hard to distinguish the difference between love bombing and true affection. The major telltale sign of love bombing is what happens after the tenderness subsides—narcissistic partners reveal their true colours eventually, which usually involves control, isolation, and passive-aggression.
Everyone can be affected by love bombing, and it comes in many different forms. Some examples include excessive gift-giving, endless compliments, clinginess, and lack of boundaries. Many psychologists urge people to trust their intuition, explaining that victims often feel something is amiss and these feelings should be taken seriously. If the intensity of the relationship or person seems one-sided, it’s probably love bombing.
History of love bombing
Many people assume 'love bombing' was coined by psychologists, but it originated in a religious cult in the 1970s. Members of the Unification Church of the United States, where leaders weaponised love for personal gain, describe love bombing as 'a happy problem.' The true intention of love bombing in cults is to trick the members into feeling safe and unified against outside societies. As described by psychology professor Margaret Singer in her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst:
Love-bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits...with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark.
Where are we now?
The meaning of 'love bombing' has evolved with time, as most words do. While the manipulation tactic is still in use by cults worldwide, it’s more commonly associated with abusive relationships in the social media age. For many manipulators and narcissists, love bombing helps keep their victims in a toxic relationship cycle. Thankfully, many psychologists have studied this form of emotional abuse enough to provide help to victims—most notably, the ability to identify the phases of love bombing, which are Idealisation, Devaluation, Discard, and Repeat.
Additionally, some psychologists suggest putting a positive spin on the technique and using it to better relationships instead of manipulating them. For example, psychologist Oliver James recommends that parents love bomb their troubled children to create a healthier relationship. Unsurprisingly, this positive twist has yet to be popularised.
Perhaps the most notable figure in love bombing history is Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church. Moon was the first to publicise the terminology in 1978; his church was a purveyor of love-bombing and always insisted it was a benign practice centred around inclusion, not exploitation.
Then there are the academics that criticise the dangerous tactic, like psychology professor Margaret Singer who spread awareness of the concept when she published her book Cults in Our Midst. In the book, Singer analyses the concept and warns potential victims of signs to look out for. Similarly, psychologist Dale Archer identifies the different stages of love-bombing and advises victims to 'Stop, Look, and Listen' to avoid love bombing and break contact with the abuser.
How do I know if I’m being love-bombed?
- They show up unannounced. Does your partner frequently ignore your personal boundaries, sometimes showing up unannounced to 'check in on you?' Sure, this might seem like a sweet gesture from time-to-time, but if it feels intentionally controlling, it probably is.
- You are overwhelmed by their affection. Everyone loves hearing compliments, but love-bombers will unload compliments on you in a way that makes you hesitate—they tell you you’re perfect even if you haven’t known each other for long or they ignore any discomfort you feel when receiving the compliments. Always remember that relationships are mutual and should never feel one-sided.
- Nothing ever seems like enough. Love-bombers feel entitled to all of your time and energy and can easily get upset when you make plans without them or don’t immediately respond to their messages. Soon, the love-bomber will isolate you from friends and family, and you might find yourself bailing on people just to satisfy your partner’s needs.