Grand romantic gestures have become a staple in movies, books, TV and other forms of media, but things can tip the scale fast and become unrealistic or get out of hand. We were raised on John Cusack holding a boom box outside Skye’s window in Say Anything, Edward Bloom buying all the daffodils in five states for his love in Big Fish, and Heath Ledger sacrificing himself on the altar of dignity as he sings to profess his love in 10 Things I Hate About You. While these gestures seem incredibly romantic on screen, they may be a red flag for real relationships.
What is love bombing?
The phrase “love bombing” sounds oxymoronic, but it spells more trouble than you might think. Love bombing occurs when someone showers you with attention, love, and other grand gestures, promising the world, but turns cold and nonresponsive after you respond. The origins of the practice of love bombing are attributed to cult movements in the 1970s. Love bombing became a way to quickly indoctrinate new members, leading them to depend on their “bomber” and eventually feel obligated to remain with the group. Today, psychologists have noticed an increase in love bombing tactics in emotionally abusive relationships.
So how does it become abuse?
It sounds harmless enough—a spontaneous trip to a vacation destination, expensive jewelry or clothes, maybe even something simple like flowers every day. However, this technique of ingratiation has been used by notorious narcissists for years as a way to control and manipulate people. At first, the lavish gifts and attention make us feel valued, safe, and loved, so much so that we begin to crave that form of validation. Once you’ve given your love bomber trust, the true con begins. They’ll probably start with small behaviors meant to belittle, control, or devalue you, making it seem like you need them for comfort and affirmation. These small acts to diminish your self-esteem can add up over time and further enforce the idea that the bomb-ee needs the bomber in order to feel loved.
Pimps, gang leaders, and even famed cult leaders like Charles Manson and Jim Jones have weaponized love bombing in order to ingratiate their followers. While a tool in many narcissists’ tool belts, love bombing is often performed unconsciously. Love bombing feeds on the insecurity of the bomber and the bomb-ee alike. People use love bombing to bolster their ego and or make themselves seem like a “better catch.” The targets of love bombings are often in vulnerable social positions like divorce or unemployment, in need of confidence.
The desire to be loved and cared for is a universal human quality. Love bombing takes that desire and amplifies it, which is why it works so successfully. Unfortunately, like chocolate, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
How do I know if I’m being love bombed?
So what does love bombing look like? Love bombing is often easy to mistake for genuine connection, but the behavior of narcissists eventually exposes them for who they are. Here are some red flags that might prompt you to investigate further:
1) Spoiling with an agenda
One of the most obvious signs of a love bomber is lavish gift-giving. This can look like jewelry, expensive trips, clothes, shoes, and more. Love bombers also tend to “keep score” when it comes to gifts, constantly bringing up the things they’ve given to you and done for you.
2) Ignoring boundaries
Love bombers often need constant reassurance from their partner, resulting in constant texts, calls, messages, and in-person attention. Watch out for partners who ignore your schedule or keep you from friends and family under the guise of “needing to be with you all the time.” Bomb-ees often feel obligated to ignore boundary breaches because of a false sense of loyalty or obligation to their bomber.
3) Too intense, too quickly
Falling in love can be a fast process, but sometimes love bombers will accelerate this process in order to gain control. They may say things like “you’re my soulmate” or “you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” before you’ve known them long enough to make such claims. You may feel pressured into future plans like planning for kids or a wedding after dating for a short period of time.
What can I do if I find myself in a love-bombing relationship?
“If it’s too good to be true, the best reaction I can think of is to run like hell,” said experienced psychotherapist, Christian W. Mosemann of TPMG Behavioral Health in Newport News. Regrettably, most people don’t know they’re being love bombed until the relationship goes sour. Why question a good thing, right? The good news is that friends and family can be very helpful in identifying love bombing behaviors and helping people understand and exit toxic relationships.
If you notice the signs of love bombing in your relationship or with someone close to you, don’t let it go unaddressed. Love bombing is a form of emotional abuse and should not be tolerated. If you’re being love bombed or have concerns about a friend or family member, the dedicated mental health professionals with TPMG Behavioral Health can help guide you out of your predicament and give you the tools to avoid future narcissists you may encounter. Remember that you are never alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) is also an excellent resource for those in potentially abusive environments.
About Christian W. Mosemann, LCSW, MSW, BCD
Christian W. Mosemann, LCSW, MSW, BCD, is an experienced psychotherapist practicing at TPMG Behavioral Health in Newport News, VA. Mr. Mosemann’s primary professional interest is in couple’s relationships and he enjoys working with couples to help them work towards and, ultimately, maintain a positive, loving relationship. He believes there is nothing finer than coming home to an environment of mutual trust, respect, and genuine enjoyment in your partner’s company.