You’ve started a new relationship. Finally, all those swipes and dating apps have paid off!
This person you’ve met is incredible. I mean, really unbelievable. You’ve never been treated this way. They’re showering you with gifts and serenading you with compliments and praise. You’re the center of their world. In fact, they want to spend every waking moment with you.
All this attention is flattering and a bit overwhelming, but this is how true love should feel right? Could you have found “the one” or is this person just too good to be true?
Unfortunately, you may have been love bombed. It turns out, your Prince/Princess Charming may be another Tinder Swindler.
Love can be a beautiful thing, but getting love bombed can send you down an emotionally abusive and manipulative path. Read on to learn more about what love bombing is, the signs to watch out for and how to deactivate the “bomb” and safely get away.
What is love bombing?
Much like when one country bombs another country, a love bomb is an act of control. But in this case, it’s a person and not land.
“A love bomb is a manipulation technique used most often by narcissists, and even cult leaders, to gain power over someone,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “They bomb you with affection, excessive attention and gifts to ‘lure you in.’ The intention is to make their victim helpless, vulnerable and indebted to them.”
What starts out like a fairytale, or whirlwind romance, can quickly turn into a controlling, abusive nightmare. One moment you’ll feel like the most amazing person. The next you’ll feel like the worst person in the world. The problem is that this loving façade is only a mask.
People with narcissistic personality disorder are excessively self-involved and disregard other people’s feelings and needs. They aren’t capable of empathy, but they can fake sympathy — especially if it’s something they want.
“Those who engage in this behavior often do it unconsciously, though they may be aware how these behaviors affect others,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s all about getting the other person and inflating their own self-worth. Once they feel secure in the relationship, typically a narcissist will drop the mask and become very difficult, abusive and manipulative. A sort of bait and switch.”
Anyone can fall for this trick, but some people are particularly vulnerable to love bombing. Love bombers tend to prey on those who have low self-esteem, who are people pleasers and those who grew up in narcissistic households or had hurtful past experiences.
“Sometimes the person doing the love bombing and the person who is being love bombed may share similar experiences in the past where their emotional needs weren’t met, creating insecurities,” Dr. Fox said. For this reason, if you continually find yourself in unhealthy relationships, it is worth exploring these patterns with a licensed behavioral health specialist.
What’s the difference between genuine love and love bombing?
In the honeymoon phase of a new relationship, it may be hard to differentiate between a blossoming, healthy relationship and a love bomb. The one way to visualize the difference is a simmering fire versus a raging wildfire.
“True love is about mutual love and respect,” Dr. Fox said. “Love bombing is sudden and catches you off guard. Instead of six months planning a vacation together, you’re being whisked away the week you’ve met.”
In a healthy relationship, you’re allowed to have open discussions, slowly get to know one another, ask for more time or to slow things down and to confide in your partner without fear.
Signs of love bombing
Being showered with love can feel really good, especially if you’ve had a string of terrible dates. Seeing through this façade can be hard since all new relationships are exciting and you view this new person with rose-colored glasses. So how do you distinguish between a genuine expression of love and actions of a narcissist?
Dr. Fox shared some red flags to watch out for:
- “I want to spoil you.” They send you lavish gifts, take you on expensive trips and adorn you with jewelry in a short amount of time. Later they’ll remind you how much they’ve done for you and gifts they’ve given you.
- “I’ve never met someone more beautiful than you.” They give overwhelming compliments even before they know enough about you to warrant such a compliment. They feel almost unauthentic or fake.
- “I just want to be with you all the time.” They demand your attention and time, ignoring your time and schedule. They may isolate you from family and friends and may become angry or make you feel guilty when you make plans with others.
- “I just check in because I’m worried.” They need constant reassurance and text, call or message you 24/7 to “check in.” On the surface this constant contact may seem romantic, but they actually want to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times.
- “We’re soulmates.” They might use lines that remind you how good you are together. That in some way, this relationship was fated to happen.
- “When we’re married” or “When we have kids.” They will pressure you into rushing things and making big plans for the future when you’ve only known each other a short while.
- “When I’m with you, I just can’t help myself.” When you tell them to slow down, they clearly don’t respect your boundaries. They don’t care about your limits.
- “Our love makes me do crazy things.” They get “set off” easily and become defensive or abusive if criticized or challenged. They may become violent if they don’t get their way. They may use controlling tactics like gaslighting.
- “My ex was a psycho.” They refuse any blame or responsibility for the failing of any of their previous relationships.
- “So what if I texted this other girl? What about the trip I just took you on?” They use tit-for-tat to justify bad behavior.
If you recognize some of these love bombing examples and red flags, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this person make you feel comfortable, or are you nervous around them?
- Do you feel like the intensity of the relationship is too much?
- Does this person seem genuine in their intentions, or do they seem fake or artificial?
- How much do you really know about this person?
- Have other relationships in your life changed? Are you no longer in touch with friends and loved ones?
- Does this person respect your boundaries?
- Do you feel like you must walk on eggshells around them?
How to defuse (get out of) this toxic relationship
If you find yourself being love bombed, you may feel confused, conflicted and upset. It can be hard to get out of an abusive relationship, especially if you feel strongly attached to a love bomber or even defend their actions.
Here are some practical steps to take:
The first step in defusing this bomb of a relationship is to take a step back from the situation and seek support. Consider talking to trusted friends and family or a therapist about what’s going on. If they share concerns, don’t dismiss them. They may be able to offer you insight from a perspective outside of the relationship.
[Also read 10 Reasons It’s Time to Seek Help.”]
Once you have a chance to think the relationship through, discuss your concerns with the person you’re dating in a neutral location. Be prepared for the possibility that it may not go well. If they truly don’t respect your boundaries or care about your feelings, it’s time to go.
“It’s in your best interest to try to safely stop communicating with someone who you realize is trying to control or manipulate you,” Dr. Fox said. “You won’t be able to change or ‘fix’ them so don’t try.”
The next step is to learn to recognize and steer clear of narcissists in the future. The best way to do this is to be aware of your own vulnerabilities.
“If you grew up in an emotionally detached and/or abusive family or learned to feel loved by receiving gifts, you may be vulnerable to love bombers,” Dr. Fox said. “This is where a therapist can help you process your past experiences and identify a checklist of what healthy relationships should really look like.”
If you’re being love bombed or have concerns about a current relationship, don’t despair. A therapist can take an objective look at what’s going on and guide accordingly. To find a behavioral health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
If you’re experiencing abusive behavior, there are several resources available to you by phone and text. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788. You can also text “HOME” to 741741 and reach crisis counselors with the Crisis Text Line. For more mental health resources, see SAMHSA’s National Helpline Database.
Love bombing is a controlling and manipulative tactic most often used by narcissists and abusive people. They seek to quickly obtain affection and attention before tearing their victims down. They may appear charming and exciting in the beginning, but this usually fades away and is replaced with emotional abuse.
It’s important to recognize your own vulnerabilities in relationships and that love bombing isn’t a sign of affection. Don’t hesitate to speak with a trusted friend or family member or a behavioral health specialist.