At the start of a romantic relationship—in what many refer to as the “honeymoon phase,” grand gestures and ultra affectionate

At the start of a romantic relationship—in what many refer to as the “honeymoon phase,” grand gestures and ultra affectionate behavior are common and can be incredibly exciting. 

However, a love bomb, and the feelings you get when someone showers you with loving actions, declarations and behavior, differs greatly from the thrill of a healthy relationship. The problem is that it’s over-the-top, and in many cases it’s a classic manipulation technique, and a potential sign of an abusive relationship in the making. 

A love bomber will inundate you with positive reinforcement and proclamations of undying love beyond your wildest dreams as a way of winning your trust and affection for the larger purpose of fulfilling their own goals. The building up of your self esteem by a love-bombing partner, in other words, can in many ways be too good to be true. 

Although love bombing is a very common strategy used by narcissists and abusers, it can be very difficult to identify. When you enter into a relationship with someone who is promoting this toxic dynamic, everything may seem perfect at first. Even if part of you feels that perhaps the person’s behavior is too much too soon, it can be tempting to throw caution to the wind and subscribe wholeheartedly to the belief that it’s not too much, that you may have found your soul mate, and that you simply found someone who really appreciates and validates you. 

The problem is, you might find that over time, your relationship begins to transform into something you never would’ve signed up for had you known— an unhealthy relationship that can be downright scary. Although these themes are commonly explored in media today, like in Big Little Lies for instance, it’s best to learn the facts, rather than to depend on entertainment for this information.

What is a Love Bomber Exactly?

Of all the manipulation strategies out there, love bombing has to be among the cruelest. But what is love bombing exactly? 

Love bombing is defined as a manipulative tactic used by narcissistic and abusive individuals to win the affection and attention of a love interest. They do this to gain power over the person on the receiving end as a way of feeding their ego. 

While anyone might engage in love bombing—either consciously or not—it most commonly presents as a sign of narcissistic personality disorder and can be an unconscious behavior. Once a narcissist feels secure in their relationship and has moved past the beginning stages – as though they’ve won the loyalty of their partner – they typically switch their behavior drastically and become distant, demanding, manipulative, abusive (or all of the above).

The term ‘love bombing’ was first coined by cult leaders back in the 1970s. Members of the Unification Church of the United States (a famous cult AKA the Moonies) intentionally used love bombs with their new recruits as a way of encouraging their commitment. Other high profile cult leaders such Jim Jones employed similar tactics as a way of inspiring feelings of dedication. 

While cult leaders who knowingly lead people to their deaths are extreme examples, when any person is willing to manipulate you into doing something to satisfy their own needs, this should send up a giant red flag.

Why Receiving a Love Bomb is a Red Flag

Some people—particularly those observing love bombing from the outside—wonder what it is that’s so bad about someone making you feel appreciated. 

There are very clear distinctions, however, between love and affection in a healthy relationship versus the love bombing that characterizes abusive relationships. Love bombing differs in that it is perpetuated in order to make the receiver feel obligated to and dependent on the ‘giver.’ 

The obsessive kind of attention a love bomber levels at their partner is profoundly linked to controlling and abusive behavior, and is exactly what you’ll find in unhealthy relationships the world over. Another common characteristic of love bombing is that it’s notoriously one-sided: the intensity is never mutual. No matter how good it may feel, anyone who digs deep will find this to be true. 

The best way to see and respond to red flags of this nature is to tune in and listen to your gut, whether you receive them from a family member or a love interest. Admittedly this is not always straightforward, as love bombers tend to make you doubt your instincts. After all, it’s human nature to want to be loved. But this type of manipulative behavior and excessive attention is no fairy tale, and you should be cautious.

How to Spot Love Bombing: 8 Signs to Watch For

It can be very challenging to identify manipulation when you’re the one experiencing it. It’s important to note that although these patterns often rear their heads early on, love bombing and manipulation can occur at any stage in a relationship. Here are a few examples of love bombing and signs to watch for.

1. They inundate you with lavish gifts

While gift-giving and other grandiose gestures can be truly refreshing in the context of our modern era take on romance, love bombing can involve gestures that seem over-the-top, like sending grandiose gifts to your workplace, or buying plane tickets for a getaway but not giving you the option of saying no. This type of manipulation tactic may seem harmless at first, but the idea is to make you feel indebted to them, and to make you feel guilty if you don’t accept.

2. They flatter you non-stop

Deep down, we all love a good compliment, but constant flattery can be disorienting, especially to those who may have low self esteem. Someone who pledges their unconditional love or insists you’re soulmates after a very short period of time is probably not being genuine because they don’t know the real you yet. Additionally, someone who puts you on a pedestal can create undue pressure to live up to their unrealistic expectations.

3. They call and text constantly

love bombing signs
(Getty)

If your partner calls and texts non-stop while also keeping tabs on you via social media, there may be something off. While it’s true that constant communication can be normal and can even make you feel secure, especially in a new relationship, when it’s one-sided it can get overwhelming fast. You may not feel called to communicate anywhere near as much as your partner does, yet they make you feel you must respond each and every time.

4. They demand your energy and attention

Some love bombers may become angry if you aren’t fully focused on them when they demand it. They may mope around if you pay attention to family or friends or refuse to give you time alone or time to prepare for work or school. Wanting to be the centre of your world all the time is one of the classic signs of live love bombing, regardless of what other responsibilities and relationships you have in your life.

5. They move very fast

Love bombers love rushing things, and are likely to try to fast-track your relationship by planning for the future prematurely. For instance, they might bring up marriage when you met only recently. It’s extremely unlikely that you know one another well enough to commit to one another in the long term after mere days, weeks, or months. It’s important to delve into deeper couple questions before making life altering decisions with any partner.

6. They do not respect your boundaries

If you can find it within yourself to ask that they slow down, a narcissist typically switches gears quickly, and this type of love bomber will get upset and persist in attempting to manipulate you nonetheless. Fact: someone who truly respects you will respect what you say you need and give you time and space to this effect.

7. They’re beyond clingy

Even if you give a love bomber time and energy every single day, or multiple times a day, it is never enough to satisfy them. If you find yourself ignoring your trusted friends or family because the bomber seems to need you (one of the most classic signs of love bombing), your dynamic is toxic and over-reliant.

8. You don’t feel like yourself

A love bomber tends to keep their energy and charisma cranked to ten every second that you’re with them, making you feel you must do the same. Healthy relationships have natural highs and lows. You should never feel you can’t just relax or be yourself. Pay attention to your anxiety and never doubt your intuition, no matter how good something may look ‘on paper.’

Love Bombing Stages

Stage 1: Love bombing by the other person (AKA idealization)

Melissa and Nathan start dating and right away he begins sending her love letters, showering her with thoughtful gifts, and even shows up at her workplace on her lunch break with her favorite take-out. Melissa feels swept away; this is the relationship she has always wanted (relationship goals!). 

Although she finds his enthusiasm overwhelming at times, Melissa feels strangely hopeful that things may actually work out with this guy. The success of love bombing depends on a love bomber’s ability to embody an idealized version of themselves, while also promoting an idealized version of you—one that you end up feeling you need to live up to. 

Stage 2: Devaluation

The devaluation stage comes when the narcissist suddenly shifts their behavior and withdraws their affection and attention without warning. They know you will blame yourself for this sudden change and do all you can to win back their heart. 

At this point, it seems to Melissa that the Nathan she knew has simply disappeared. It can begin to shift subtly, or it can happen dramatically—all at once. As Nathan starts to devalue Melissa, everything that upsets him becomes her fault—he is an expert at shifting blame, right along with his behavior. He refuses to take responsibility, admit he’s changed, apologize for anything, or discuss things honestly as a way of reaching solutions. 

Melissa finds herself walking on eggshells because she doesn’t want to add to the mountain of mistakes she has apparently made and end up pushing Nathan further away from her. She becomes exhausted and anxious all the time. Nathan gaslights her, making her feel as though she is fabricating the issues in their relationship and in his behavior, and she starts to wonder if he is right and she is losing it.

Stage 3: Discarding

love bombing definition
(Dmitry Ageev / EyeEm / Getty)

Many feel discarding is the most painful stage of the cycle of abuse. Most narcissists will discard you dramatically when you’re at your most vulnerable (and broken). This is entirely in line with maintaining a sense of control and superiority. 

When Nathan suddenly discards Melissa, she finds out he was having an affair. It’s common at this stage to discover things like this which point to one’s entire relationship being based on lies. It’s also common for a narcissist to have someone else lined up before they discard you. They often have no capacity for loyalty or empathy. 

Discarding is typically not as simple as leaving you, though. It can involve threats of violence, or even a smear campaign against you as a way of continuing to control the narrative after they leave. Although cutting all ties is the best way to go, many people actually re-enter this cycle of abuse with narcissistic partners for many years (or longer!) until they find the strength to leave for good. Can you imagine Melissa responding positively to a new round of Nathan’s love bombing after he has already discarded her? It happens, and it’s a vicious cycle.

Life After Love Bombing: You Can Get Out

If you feel that you’re being love bombed, the best thing you can do is take a step back to try and gain perspective. Write down your concerns and discuss any red flags with a qualified therapist or with people you trust. 

Once you’ve had a chance to think it through, discuss your concerns with the person you’re dating—but be prepared for the possibility that they may become enraged. It may be best to have this conversation in a neutral location. 

Once you’ve discussed your concerns, one of two things will occur: either your relationship will improve, or (if you’re dealing with a true narcissist), it will deteriorate further. In the latter case, the best you can do is come to a decision about whether the relationship is worth it. The short answer: it’s not! 

And know this: once you let it go, much better things are on the horizon. You got this.