“I feel a really strong connection with you.”
“You’re exactly the person I’ve been looking for.”
“I think you’re my soulmate.”
“I love you.”
These are generally considered nice statements to hear, but what if they were said quickly and often within the first few dates with a new partner? Rather than signs of true connection, these doting lines may be an indication of love bombing.
Love Bombing: What Is It?
At its core, love bombing is a form of emotional abuse. It is a manipulative tactic used to promote a sense of dependency in one’s partner. It involves showering someone with an immense amount of affection, compliments, attention, and gifts to make them feel special and loved. This adoration often begins suddenly at the start of the relationship, misleading the target to believe that the partnership, and their new partner, is idyllic; that they’ve found a unique type of intense love.
Being flooded with such devotion and attentiveness can be incredibly validating and pleasurable, to the extent that the target begins to crave the positive feelings associated with these acts. The dependency created by the initial onslaught of affection paves the way for the love bomber’s true colors to shine through and the other shoe to drop. Love bombing is a type of conditioning, in which the ultimate goal is to gain power and control over one’s partner.
What are the warning signs?
- Excessive compliments and flattery
- Extreme declarations of love and affection early on, i.e. “You’re everything I’m looking for,” “We’re soulmates,” or “I just want to be with you all the time.”
- Constant contact through continuous texts and calls
- A desire to spend all their time with you despite your boundaries; separating you from friends and family
- Extravagant gift-giving or gestures
- Oversharing of personal details and desire to know everything about you right away
- Pressure to make you commit quickly
- Future-faking: making premature commitments to grandiose plans like moving in, getting married, taking trips, having children
- Using their love as an excuse for their behavior, i.e. “When I’m with you, I just can’t help myself,” or “Our love makes me do crazy things.”
- Intense neediness and jealousy if you do not respond right away or make plans with others
- Wanting to know your whereabouts at all times
- Lashing out when criticized
- Never taking responsibility for previous relationships, i.e. “My ex was psycho.”
What happens when the love bomb phase ends?: Idealization-Devaluation-Discarding
As the love bombing, or idealization, phase comes to an end, the love bomber’s behavior shifts, revealing a more controlling and flawed nature. They begin to devalue their partner through put downs, gaslighting, withdrawing affection and intimacy, ghosting for periods of time, and blaming the other for their behavior. However, by the time the relationship looks and feels different, the target has been put in a vulnerable position in which they may overlook these rejecting and insidious behaviors. Instead, they may wonder what they did wrong and try to regain their partner’s favor. Ultimately, during the devaluation phase, the target is left with feelings of disappointment and disillusionment. The final phase of the cycle occurs when either the love bomber decides their partner is not the “perfect soulmate” they once envisioned and discards them, or engages in such egregious behavior that the target of the love bombing ends the relationship. Sometimes, the love bomber will engage in “hoovering” after the relationship ends, a means to maintain control and potentially lure their target back in.
Why does it feel so good?
Humans, by nature, are social creatures. We crave connection and security as one of our basic needs. Affection and adoration trigger specific feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Just as when genuinely falling in love, when our pleasure centers are activated it can feel intoxicating and euphoric, addicting even. Hearing words of affirmation can be powerful as it improves our self-worth or helps disprove some of the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves. It is important to recognize that in some ways humans are physiologically programmed to respond favorably to love bombing behaviors, which is why it's vital to approach relationships with a healthy amount of skepticism and self-awareness.
The truth is that anyone can fall prey to love bombing. That said, certain individuals may be particularly vulnerable to this type of manipulation. First, those with low self-esteem who tend to rely on external validation to feel good about themselves may be specifically targeted.
Those who are lonely are more likely to be taken advantage of. Some research shows that widowers are susceptible as the drive for relief from their grief and their skin hunger—the longing to touch and be touched—makes them amenable to the flooding of affection. The same may be true for others who find themselves in the midst of a vulnerable period in their lives, whether they are reeling from a difficult breakup, experiencing the loneliness of a new city, or coping with any other painful transition. Being aware of who comes into your life during these fragile periods is key to protecting yourself from more hurt.
Who’s likely to love bomb?
Love bombing is viewed as a manipulative and intentional tactic to gain control over another. Therefore, it is most commonly employed by individuals high in narcissistic or other antisocial traits who lack empathy. Narcissists, while seemingly socially confident, have deep-seated insecurities. Engaging in love bombing works to enhance their self-worth and value.
That said, some who exhibit similar love bombing behaviors may not be intentionally aiming to control or harm the other. Those with insecure attachment may fear abandonment to the extent that they become emotionally reactive to their partner socializing with others or not being in continuous contact. They may use love bombing strategies as a means of seeking reassurance and hurriedly securing a committed relationship.
Knowing the warning signs of love bombing is vital to protecting yourself. If you notice love bombing behaviors in your relationship, take a step back to gain perspective. Get support from loved ones or a mental health professional. Others might have insight you’re unable to see. These supports can help you navigate towards healthier relationships based in mutual love and respect.