Ever heard the saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? This is exactly the case when it comes to love bombing, a term that the Cleveland Clinic refers to as “a form of psychological and emotional abuse [that] is often disguised as excessive flattery.”
In this article, you’ll learn more about what love bombing is, what it looks like within a relationship, and how to deal with it.
What is Love Bombing?
The term love bombing has gained prominence in recent years, especially within discussions and scientific literature about toxic relationships, emotional abuse, and manipulation tactics. While this maladaptive behavior can be found in relationships of all types (including between family members and friends), it most often pops up between intimate partners, particularly during the earliest stages of a relationship.
Love bombing happens when one partner overwhelms the other with excessive affection, attention, and praise—stuff that might look, sound, and feel a lot like love, but actually isn’t genuine love at all. Instead, psychologists agree that love bombing is a manipulation tactic meant to exert control over another person.
Signs of Love Bombing
Here are some signs that a person is attempting to “love bomb” their partner:
- They give a lot of flattery—often so extreme and persistent that it starts to smell inauthentic and forced
- They push for a rapid progression of the relationship and will bring up things like living together or making a long-term commitment very early on
- They attempt to isolate their partner from others and limit external influences (e.g., they’ll discourage their partner from spending time with family members, often by insisting they spend more time with them instead)
- They show intense attention via excessive texts, calls, and gifts
- They use their love and affection as a means of control and a way to make their partner feel obligated to fulfill their wishes—red flag phrases include “You owe me” or “After everything I’ve done for you?” (and they may sound as sweet as honey most of the time, but will often resort to threats or insults if they feel like their needs aren’t being met)
The Aftermath of Love Bombing
To the partner being “bombed,” certain elements (like all the flattery and attention) might at first feel good and seem pretty romantic. But love bombing comes with many potential downsides.
Unfortunately, love bombing is often a harbinger of emotional, psychological, and even physical or financial abuse, because if left unchecked, the partner can become increasingly possessive and controlling. Love bombing can also create “high highs” and “low lows” when it comes to the emotional tempo of the relationship, leaving the targeted partner feeling confused, anxious, drained, and unsettled.
Other potential consequences of love bombing include:
- Codependency: the person being “love bombed” might begin to feel “addicted” to the relationship and as a result will start ignoring their own needs and values in order to keep their partner happy
- Loss of self-identity: a person will start to rely heavily on their partner for validation and begin to lose their sense of self and ability to trust themselves
- Social isolation: this can strain a person’s relationships with loved ones and may raise the risk of mental health issues like depression
Why Do People Love Bomb?
At this point, you might be wondering why anyone would love bomb someone if it’s such a disingenuous and harmful way to interact and build a relationship. The answer, truthfully, is complex.
People who love bomb often struggle with underlying insecurities; prior research has found a positive correlation between love bombing and low self-esteem as well as anxious or avoidant attachment styles. Love bombing could be their attempt to “hook” their partner so that they can continually have a source of external validation or control.
Love bombers might also have certain mental health problems or even personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Alternatively, they may have a history of trauma or abusive relationships. In some cases, they simply learned this style of relating by observing their parents or caregivers in childhood.
It’s important to realize that just because someone is exhibiting love bombing behavior doesn’t necessarily mean they have a personality disorder, history of abuse, and so on. And it’s also important to realize that no matter what is driving their behavior, it is NOT the fault of the partner being love bombed!
So, Now What? How to Deal with Love Bombing
Recognizing that you’re being loved bombed by a new partner can be a painful realization. But since we know that love bombing can have serious harmful effects on your psychological well-being, it’s important to take the necessary action to take care of yourself.
If you think you’re being love bombed, here are some things to consider:
- Trust your gut feelings about the pace and intensity of the relationship—if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
- Set some healthy boundaries and communicate them clearly. This could include boundaries that intend to slow down the pace of the relationship (“I don’t feel comfortable talking about moving in together right now, and if you bring it up again I’m going to leave the room”) or protect your autonomy and the time you spend with other people (“If you call me repeatedly when I’m out with my friends, I’m going to silence my cell phone”).
- Seek support from trusted loved ones and/or a licensed therapist or mental health professional. This step is especially important for combating your partner’s attempts to isolate you.
- If necessary, end the relationship. While you have an important role in the health of your relationship, putting an end to love bombing is your partner’s responsibility, not yours. And if they’re unwilling or unable to change, or if the relationship has become abusive, it may be best to end the relationship to protect your emotional well-being.
Are you interested in individual or couples therapy? Contact Couples Thrive today to learn how we can help!