Being swept off your feet at the start of a relationship could only be a good thing, right? After all, elaborate romantic gestures are a sign of love. But what if they’re not an indication of love and instead a manipulative technique called “love bombing.”
Love bombing is a trend that’s taken social media by storm in recent months. This insurge of interest may be to do with how being initially showered with excessive affection, attention, and praise makes you feel special. However, love bombing promotes dependence and control in the long run.
Fortunately, understanding the psychology behind love bombing can help make sense of the confusing and conflicting emotions around being love bombed. Furthermore, knowing the steps to take and behaviors to look out for can help you avoid love bombing for good.
To answer any questions you may have about love bombing, this article covers:
Falling in love is one of the most wonderful experiences in life. Whether it happens through meeting on a dating app, a first sight meet-cute in the supermarket, or through a long-term friendship. Yet, falling in love can have it pit-falls – and serious ones at that. One of the reasons for this south turn in early relationships has been trending recently on social media apps like TikTok – where the hashtag #lovebombing has received over 274 million views. But what is love bombing? And what are typical examples of love bombing behaviors?
Love bombing is a form of manipulation in which someone showers another person with excessive affection, attention, and praise to control or exploit them. It’s often used as a tactic in romantic relationships but can also occur in other relationships, such as friendships and work dynamics.
According to a recent survey, 78% of people using dating apps have experienced love bombing. And, despite popular belief, the occurrence of love bombing is pretty equal across genders, with around 76% of women and 63% of men reportedly having experienced love bombing at some stage.
Love bombing can be emotionally overwhelming and can make the person on the receiving end feel dependent on their love bomber. This can lead to an unhealthy and unbalanced relationship.
The love bomber may constantly text, call, or insist on seeing you all the time. They may also make it difficult for you to spend time alone or with your friends and family.
The love bomber may shower you with gifts, compliments, and attention, to make you feel special and appreciated. However, by doing this, they create the idea that you “owe them,” which they will likely use to manipulate later on.
They might tell you they love you and don’t know what they’d do without you quickly to pressure you into committing to the relationship. By rapidly creating an emotional bond, the love bomber attempts to gain control and influence over you soon in the relationship.
They may use guilt-tripping behaviors like playing the victim, making you feel responsible for their emotions, using past events to manipulate, and giving you an ultimatum to control your feelings and actions. They may also use phrases such as, “I can’t live without you” and “You’re the only one who understands me.”
The love bomber may accuse you of cheating or being unfaithful. They could also monitor your social media use, frequently ask where you are and what you’re doing, and forbid you from seeing certain people or going to certain places.
They may try to isolate you from your family and friends. They might do this by telling you they no longer want you to see certain friends or family members. Alternatively, they may attempt to isolate you by talking negatively about others to change your perception of them.
Certain aspects of our psychological makeup can drive love-bombing behaviors. Understanding love bombing psychology, such as narcissism and attachment styles, can help in identifying and avoiding this behavior.
Evidence demonstrates there is a general rise in narcissism across populations, which may be partially responsible for the recent trend in the phenomenon of love bombing.
Researchers suggest that narcissistic tendencies are driven by the need to boost self-esteem. One way of doing so is through reassurance-seeking behaviors, like love bombing. Therefore, love bombing among narcissists may enhance feelings of self-worth and value.
Interestingly, certain narcissistic attributes can make narcissists particularly attractive to others. Narcissists are typically seen as exciting, likable during early interactions, and socially confident. While the impact of these attributes may fade during the relationship, their partner may be emotionally invested at this point, making it difficult to leave the relationship.
However, it’s important to be aware that narcissism often arises from an individual’s early experiences with their primary caregiver. An individual may become narcissistic after receiving too much criticism or adoration from their primary caregiver in their early life stages.
Furthermore, while love bombing is an unhealthy behavior, it’s often unconscious. This means that the love bomber may engage in love bombing behaviors without even being aware they’re doing so. Our early experiences of love shape our expectations of love moving forward. Therefore, if someone experiences possessive or clingy caregiving, they may offer this form of love and expect it back in a romantic relationship.
Love bombing is a psychological manipulation tactic, as the love bomber taps into our internal reward system (with gifts and affection) to gain a strong emotional bond and, ultimately, make their partner feel dependent on them.
If the love bomber’s partner does something that the love bomber doesn’t like, the love bomber may use tactics such as isolation and withdrawal of affection as forms of punishment. This love bombing manipulation makes their partner more likely to behave in more favorable ways in the future, as they know that if they don’t, they will upset the love bomber. In this way, love bombing is a way to maintain control and sway over a romantic partner.
Why do people love bomb? Well, there are multiple possible motives behind love bombing a romantic partner. Narcissistic tendencies are one primary motivator. Some of the other common drives to love bomb include:
The motivation behind love bombing may give us an indication of the love bomber’s attachment style.
It’s easy to see where love-bombing behaviors may originate when we consider an insecurely attached individual’s learned beliefs about themselves, others, and the world.
According to research, individuals with an insecure attachment style often approach adult life with an “if…then” mindset. This may lead to thoughts like:
These kinds of thoughts reflect the general difficulties around trust and fear of abandonment that people with insecure attachment styles commonly experience. Unfortunately, unrealistic relationship expectations such as these can lead to disappointment. Ultimately, this sense of disappointment can then negatively affect an insecurely attached person’s sense of self.
According to Professor of Psychology Edward Higgins’ 1987 Self-Discrepancy Theory, there are four forms of self: actual self, ideal self, should self, and undesired self. Generally, we try to avoid our undesired selves at all costs, preferring the ideal self above all others. This way of acting/being is particularly common among people with an insecure attachment style.
Someone with low self-esteem (such as someone with an insecure attachment style) may engage in reassurance-seeking behaviors to avoid feeling like the undesired self. This may take the form of:
Someone with an insecure attachment style may also struggle with fears of abandonment. Insecurely attached individuals may believe “I’m not good enough, so people always leave me” due to their negative early attachment experiences. This fear of abandonment may motivate someone with an insecure attachment to use love-bombing behaviors to “secure” a committed relationship sooner.
So, why is love bombing bad? The answer to this comes down to the psychological impact it has on the person being love bombed.
Love bombing can harm the target’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, which can cause feelings of shame and self-doubt. Love bombing can also leave targets overwhelmed and confused, not understanding how they became so dependent on their partner.
Essentially, love bombing is a form of emotional abuse. Love bombing abuse directly targets an individual’s psychological well-being and mental health. Evidence demonstrates that emotional abuse in relationships can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair, as well as anxiety, guilt, powerlessness, over-compliance, and frequent crying.
“Am I being love bombed?” is a common question people ask at the beginning of relationships, especially if things are moving quickly. It can be challenging to distinguish between genuine affection and manipulation, particularly in the early stages of a relationship.
Additionally, love bombing is often a subtle and gradual process, making it possible for this manipulation tactic to fall under your radar. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the signs of love bombing and understand how to protect yourself from love bombers in the future.
Love bombers often use phrases that appear empathetic and loving but contain an underlying sense of control and manipulation. Some key love bomb phrases to look out for are:
These phrases demonstrate intense devotion from the love bomber. However, in saying as much, they create a sense of dependency and the idea that you can’t leave them because they wouldn’t have anyone else to support them.
When something feels “off” or “too good to be true,” it usually is. In these situations, you should trust your instincts and take a step back. When you listen to your gut – in any situation, but especially when dating – it can guide you away from circumstances that set off your internal alarm bells.
Love bombers often express intense feelings quickly, potentially telling you they love you or couldn’t live without you right at the beginning of a relationship. A love bomber may also show intense emotions early on to distract you from red flags, using them to cover up other manipulative and controlling behaviors.
Being wary of someone displaying intense emotions before you properly get to know them can help you avoid emotional manipulation.
Love bombing can be difficult to spot when it’s just one aspect of a relationship. Pay attention to the overall dynamics and carefully look out for any suspicious or manipulative behaviors and phrases. By keeping an eye out for these actions, you can protect yourself from ending up on the receiving end of love bombing.
Boundaries are healthy in any relationship but are particularly crucial when dating. Maintaining healthy boundaries can help you avoid being love bombed as they communicate what behavior is and is not acceptable in the relationship. It also helps to protect your emotional and physical well-being as, by setting boundaries, we take responsibility for our own needs.
Furthermore, healthy boundaries allow you to maintain a sense of self-worth and be more assertive and confident in your interactions.
It takes time to get to know someone and form an emotional attachment, especially if you naturally find it hard to trust people because of your early attachment experiences.
Love happens at different stages for everyone, and it’s important not to be swayed by your partner’s early declarations of love or affection if you’re not ready to reciprocate or commit.
Unfortunately, it can be tricky to avoid feeling pressured, especially if you have an insecure attachment style, as this naturally draws us towards love and affection. In these instances, we can avoid love bombing by remembering our self-worth and taking the time to practice self-love.
Love bombing is a manipulative tactic that involves overwhelming someone with affection, attention, and praise to assert control over them. This “bomb” of rewarding behavior can be flattering initially but becomes overwhelming and even debilitating when affection turns to control.
Understanding the connection between love bombing and attachment theory can help make sense of the confusing and conflicting emotions a love-bombed person may feel. It also sheds light on how those with an insecure attachment style may instinctively use love-bombing behaviors to create a sense of security, stability, or control in a relationship.
Remember that relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and a balance of independence and intimacy. By being aware of the signs of love bombing and taking steps to avoid being love bombed, we can make informed decisions and protect ourselves from it.
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