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You might not have heard of the term love bombing before, but you may have been the recipient of its markers, at some point, from a romantic partner: extreme amounts of doting affection, shows of public affection, over-the-top gifts and talk of getting serious very quickly. You may find yourself a smitten kitten, uttering the term “love at first sight.” You think it’s too good to be true.
And that’s because it sometimes is.
With love bombing, the clue is in the title. After the love, the bomb drops. The once-romcom-perfect partner becomes controlling and manipulative. Compliments are replaced with belittling insults that tear down your self-esteem. The goal is to keep you—both literally keep you like a possession as well as keep you “in line.”
How to Spot Love Bombing (Clue: Listen to Your Gut)
While this sort of affection can feel flattering to anyone, the difference with love bombing is that your gut may indicate something’s off. Abusers will be quick to declare that this relationship was destined and that they’ve found their soulmate, even as you wrestle with your doubts. They will assure you that this is it. You were meant to be together.
Soon, the abuser becomes possessive to the point of emotional manipulation. If a love bomber notices that their partner is turning his or her focus elsewhere, they’ll begin to call their partner selfish. The love bomber portrays themselves as the victim. Even the simplest of situations can make them snap, like a phone call from a family member in the middle of a date. Why would you turn your attention anywhere else when you have the love of your life in front of you? It may all feel a bit stifling, at best, scary at worst.
However, if after the relationship loses its “newness” and the partner’s possessive habits wain, the grand gestures taper off, the partner doesn’t use verbal insults to put their partner down—in other words, the partner begins to display a more appropriate level of gusto for a new relationship—it’s probably not love bombing. The key to spotting love bombing is that things feel intense all the timeto the point of uncomfortableness and, sometimes, fear. If you’re afraid of what will happen if you ask to slow down, or afraid what they might do if you end things, this isn’t a good sign.
But …. Why Me?
Love bombers are abusers and abusers target people who are vulnerable. Not “weak” or “blind” (as survivors tend to berate themselves as being), but rather open and caring—partners who are honest, kind and trusting. Partners who may have been hurt before and recognize that hurt in others and have a desire to fix it are often susceptible.
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Board-certified psychiatrist Dale Archer, M.D., told Psychology Today that love bombers can spot insecurities in people, and exploit them.
“… The love bomber is also insecure, so to boost their ego, the target must at least seem like a great “catch.” Maybe she’s the beautiful woman, who’s lonely because her beauty intimidates people, or he’s the guy with the great career whose wife left him for his best friend…”.
He continues, “On paper, these folks are attractive, but something makes them doubt their own value. Along comes the love bomber to shower them with affection and attention.”
Love bombing is particularly sinister because abusers thrive off of building up your self-esteem before gradually tearing it down. By getting you to trust them and open yourself up, they end up learning your weaknesses and using them as bait to make you stay. It’s common for survivors to easily get gaslighted and feel controlled, even without noticing.
What Effects Can Love Bombing Have on the Partner?
Emotional abuse, which love bombing falls under, can be just as damaging as other types of abuse. Survivors may begin to blame themselves once the manipulation and berating starts—what am I doing to cause this? (Answer: nothing.) How do I get it to go back to how it was? (Answer: You can’t; an abuser is broken.)
As with most types of abuse, there may be times when the abuser goes back to being kind—if only for a minute. That can be enough for some survivors to hold out hope of permanent change, prolonging the relationship and the abuse.
Trust Your Gut
Denial is one of the brain’s main defense mechanisms, which is why we’re often the last to know when we’re in denial. While love bombing takes different forms depending on the abuser, the best way to escape it is to take a step backwards when you feel like a relationship is going too fast. It’s normal to feel giddy at the start of new love, but it isn’t normal to feel like you’re dependent on your partner’s affection.
You may also want to consider journaling as a way to keep track of what’s transposing in your relationship and keep your memories straight down the road. Read “How to Survive Gaslighting” for more information on this.
Opening up to a trusted confidant or a trained domestic violence advocate near you can also help confirm whether your partner is demonstrating dangerous red flags. The Crisis Text Line and The National Domestic Violence Hotline are also good sources of support if you’re feeling unsure, or if you have a bad gut feeling and want to seek help.
Ultimately, it’s important to know what's real and what may be just a front for love bombing. Damage done by abusive partners may take a lot of work to undo, but understanding how this manipulation works can help you in your recovery.
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