In the beginning, everything seems perfect. They text you all the time, shower you with gifts and compliments, and dote on you in a way no one has before. But everything progresses quickly. Their affection feels persistent and overwhelming. They keep tabs on everything you do and insist on spending every free moment together. Two weeks into the relationship, they tell you they love you and when you’re apart they say they miss you. Is it a genuine display of emotion — or are you experiencing love bombing?
In any kind of relationship, displays of love help you feel safe and secure. This is why love bombing is the perfect manipulation tactic used by narcissists, abusers and con artists. They attack you with praise and intense connection, until you let your guard down. And once you’re in a vulnerable position, the bad behaviour begins.
Over the last few years, the phrase “love bomber” has gained popularity in media and pop culture, from TikTokers sharing signs to look out for, to series like The Tindler Swindler catching our attention. Even celebrities like FKA Twigs have used the term to describe former abusive relationships.
As “love bombing” continues to gain traction in the modern dating world, the line between love bombing and a genuine display of affection becomes blurred. After all, the concept of love at first sight is still a very real thing.
So how can you tell the difference between love bombing and true love? Let’s investigate.
What is love bombing?
“Love bombing relates to a person providing excessive love and attention towards another person as a way of manipulating their emotions or feelings towards them,” says clinical psychologist and Headspace App’s mental health expert Mary Spillane.
Underneath the grand gestures and declarations of love, love bombers attempt to undermine victims’ confidence. They’ll buy you nice things and say all the right words, and then use that against you later on in the relationship.
“A person who love bombs often does not consider how it is making the other person feel,” says Spillane. “It is often associated with manipulation of another’s feelings, rather than an authentic experience of falling in love.”
Where does the term ‘love bombing’ come from?
The term “love bombing” was first coined by the Unification Church of United States (aka the Moonies) during the 1970s. Psychology professor Margaret Singer reported on the concept in her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst.
According to Singer, the Moonies used love bombing methods as a means of recruitment and control. Cult leaders would convince new recruits that they are loved, wanted and secure. Then, once trust and dependency were established, the abuse would begin.
This is when love bombing starts to get scary.
“When love bombing is used as a manipulation strategy, it violates others’ boundaries and needs, leading to people feeling excessive guilt or feeling unsafe in the relationship,” says Spillane.
“People with narcissism may resort to using this strategy, but anyone is capable of engaging in the behaviour.”
Basically, love bombing can be used as a way of establishing control over another person. The perpetrator can make you feel guilty or ungrateful, causing you to go against your initial instincts. They use intense declarations of love to excuse their abusive behaviour.
How is it different from falling in love?
Not all grand displays of love are love bombing. When it’s a genuine connection, you’ll likely feel more positive and receptive to the grand gestures, whereas love bombing is intense and makes you feel uncomfortable — which isn’t a sign of a healthy relationship.
Can it lead to real love?
“Love bombing is a manipulation of one’s feelings, so it is not a healthy way of developing a bond with another person,” says Spillane.
Some couples may enjoy expressing their feelings with grand gestures or lots of attention at the start of a relationship — which can be healthy, as long as it is communicated and both parties are comfortable, according to Spillane.
“If both people in the relationship are respectful of one another’s boundaries and communicate effectively, it is very possible to provide affection/love in healthy ways,” she says.
What are some signs that you’re being love bombed?
Love bombing can come in many forms, and some are more obvious than others. Because of this, it can be difficult to see the differences between genuine and fake affection. However, there are some tell-tale signs to look out for, according to Spillane.
The 5 signs of love bombing
– Excessive compliments.
– Making grand gestures or buying expensive gifts.
– Trying to progress a relationship very quickly.
– Frequent calls and texts throughout the day.
– Appearing needy.
Being aware of the red flags in a relationship, particularly a new one, is extremely important. If you feel unsure about the genuineness of your relationship, the first thing to do is communicate with your partner. If they dismiss you or avoid the conversation, then it might be time to pull the brakes on the relationship.
What are the best ways to avoid narcissists in relationships?
Every relationship is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to narcissists. However, try to pay attention to your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t just brush it off. Take your time, and don’t rush into the relationship if you don’t want to.
“Love bombing can fall on the continuum of emotional abuse,” says Spillane, “If someone is concerned they are being love bombed or manipulated by their partner, it’s important to speak to a loved one or a professional.”
Am I being love bombed?
Being aware of narcissistic love bombing can help you avoid the cycle of an abusive relationship. If you are questioning whether you are being love bombed, take precautions and seek support.
“Being in a relationship where manipulation has been a factor can be very distressing and traumatic,” says Spillane. “It’s important to speak to a professional if you have had this experience and are struggling to move forward with your life.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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