Are you or someone you know in a new relationship that feels like it might be too good to be true? Perhaps they are lavish with gifts and affection, but something feels off, and you’re unsure of their motives.
It’s important to pay attention to this twinge of doubt because you could be dealing with a love bomber. While it may feel exciting initially, there are flags to watch for to recognize if you’re getting into (or already in) a potentially unhealthy relationship.
In this article, we’ll look at what love bombing is, the signs to look out for, and tips to avoid and overcome it.
What is Love Bombing? (Definition)
Love bombing is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation. It is used to gain trust, power, attention, or admiration for the purpose of controlling someone else for one’s self-benefit. From the outside, love bombing looks like excessive attention and flattery (usually at rapid speed) that could be perceived as loving, but the intentions behind it usually come from a place of deep insecurity and trying to maintain power over the relationship.
A survey1https://www.shaneco.com/theloupe/jewelry-education/love-relationships/love-bombing-survey/#:~:text=Even%20though%2070%25%20of%20respondents,unavailable%20or%20won’t%20commit. conducted in 2022 shows more than 70% of Americans say they’ve been love bombed.
What Are the Signs of Love Bombing? 18 Red Flags
Love bombing red flags are similar to the behaviors and attitudes of someone with narcissistic tendencies2https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/10/style/love-bombing.html in that someone’s intentions are generally selfish (for admiration, power, attention, control, etc.) and rarely for the real good of the other, even though they may appear generous on the surface.
Here are some red flags to help you identify a love bomber:
- They’re charming and go over the top to shower you with gifts or flattery.
- They remind you of everything they’ve done for you and may hold it over you.
- They’re overly attentive and affectionate to the point of seeming obsessive or clingy.
- They compliment you all the time (mostly publicly) but dig at you privately.
- They want to spend all their time with you and get jealous of your time with others.
- They “blow up your phone” when you don’t answer fast enough.
- They strive to make you dependent on them.
- They may resort to bribery or making you feel guilty for not doing something for them.
- They tell you how you should feel or think (gaslighting).
- They believe people are out to get them (including you, at times).
- They seek constant validation and dedication from you.
- They believe they are special and should be treated as such.
- They believe they are the only ones to be trusted and have all the answers.
- They act like they know what’s best for you and your life (patronizing).
- They act superior to you or take on a role of a rescuer to satisfy their importance.
- They appeal to your need to feel good about yourself or find purpose and meaning.
- They pressure you to commit to them.
- You find yourself explaining away their poor behavior because “they love you.”
If you notice any red flags in your relationship and are struggling to find the help you need, please note that all content found on this website is not to be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns in regards to your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
What Kinds of People Are Love Bombers?
Those most likely to take advantage and control people with love-bombing tactics include narcissists, sociopaths, stalkers, abusers, and cult leaders.
- Narcissists: Due to a high sense of self-importance, usually covering up a deep sense of insecurity, narcissists tend to manipulate those around them to appease their need for admiration, power, and attention.
- Sociopaths: Due to an antisocial behavioral disorder, usually stemming from childhood trauma, sociopaths tend to lack empathy and act out without regard for others, manipulating those around them with charm for personal gain.
- Stalkers: They likely have an idealistic perception of the person they’re stalking and may be more in love with the idea of the person and what they can do for them rather than the actual person.
- Abusers: Typically the result of past trauma, a person may become physically or emotionally abusive to regain a sense of importance or control over their lives.
- Cult leaders: They typically have an extreme ideology and are often led by charismatic, charming leaders that attract followers looking for a place to belong or make sense of their existence.
Who is Most Likely to Be a Victim of Love Bombing?
People most likely to be a victim of love bombing are those who are emotionally vulnerable. This includes:
- Those with low self-esteem
- Those recently divorced or broken up
- Vulnerable youth (including those in the foster system)
- Those with unprocessed trauma
- Those who are naive or gullible about others’ intentions
- Those with a deep desire to make others happy
- Those who struggle with codependency
- Those who don’t know how to set boundaries
For example, trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender was a young college student who found out she was pregnant. When she started dating someone who promised to take care of her and her daughter, he made her feel “safe” in her vulnerable state. However, she would later discover that the grand gestures and promises were all a ploy to exploit her, and she didn’t see it coming.
Let’s look at some other examples in various scenarios.
6 Examples of Love Bombing in Different Scenarios
Love Bombing Example in Marriage
Love bombing in a marriage usually occurs when one individual is trying to maintain control over the other in some way. For example, one person may display grand gestures and appear obsessed with their partner, offering generous praise and adoration. However behind closed doors, they may be enforcing strict rules on how their partner behaves, and gaslighting them into believing that this is what marriage looks like.
Unfortunately, love bombing and toxic affection in a marriage can result in domestic abuse, which may go unreported due to the manipulation and dependence someone might feel in the relationship.
Love Bombing Example in Friendship
Love bombing in a friendship usually occurs when one or both parties are insecure and rely on their “friend” to control their sense of self-worth. They’re typically filled with disingenuous flattery and manipulation to boost self-esteem.
They usually spend a lot of time together while leaving little time for other friendships or even being alone. If the person being love bombed seeks other friendships or activities, they are often made to feel guilty. These shaky “friendships” don’t typically last because the person being love bombed either learns to set boundaries, or the bomber moves on to someone else (or both).
Love Bombing Example in Dating
Love bombing in dating relationships creates a sense of false intimacy that might look like something amazing on the outside but is as stable as a house of cards. With the prevalence of online dating today, the opportunity to love bombs to satisfy one’s self-esteem or control others is far more accessible.
Unfortunately, what can happen is a love bomber can spread charm and flattery in mass, often targeting vulnerable groups, and see who takes the bait. Those who fall victim may find themselves doing things they might not usually do due to the false sense of intimacy and “love.”
“Love bombing, unlike real love, is a self-centered, anxious pursuit, with the singular goal of acquiring someone because it boosts the bomber’s ego.”–Craig Malkin, Clinical Psychologist and Author of Rethinking Narcissism
Warning: Love bombing is especially dangerous if you don’t know the signs to watch for that could lead to violence or abuse. In the case of trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender, she felt like she was in a real, meaningful relationship before realizing she was a victim of trafficking.
Love Bombing Example in the Workplace
While most people think of love bombing in the context of dating, it can also occur in the workplace—especially in situations where a narcissistic leader desires power or admiration from others.
For example, a young professional starts a new job and is put on a team with a boss that appears to take her under his wing. He sings her praises and lavishes her with compliments about how she’s doing; perhaps he even offers her rewards and gifts for her good work. She might even tell friends about her amazing new boss.
It may seem all fine, especially for an unsuspecting person who wants to know they’re doing a good job. Still, suddenly it turns awkward when promotions are offered as bribes or when what was supposed to be a professional relationship turns into the boss wanting to control her every move. Suddenly, this young professional feels in debt to her boss and is stuck in an unhealthy abuse of power3https://www.lawinsider.com/dictionary/abuse-of-power.
Love Bombing Example in Family
Love bombing in families is a tactic a manipulative, narcissistic guardian figure might use toward their child. While showering your child with love and affection is an important and much-needed practice for their health and development, it can become unhealthy when the parent or guardian’s intentions are for selfish or insidious reasons.
For example, a parent might give their child a lavish gift like a pony because they selfishly want their child to adore them for their generosity, not because the gift is in the best interest of the child. When the child is confused by the extravagance and does not display the level of gratitude their parent expects, they are made to feel guilty for being ungrateful.
Love bombing can also happen in dysfunctional families where codependency results in parents getting overly involved in every aspect of their child’s life in an attempt to control it for their own image or feelings of importance, not the best interest of the child.
Love Bombing Example in Cults
Love bombing is a tactic often used to recruit members to a cult. Narcissistic cult leaders4https://csuepress.columbusstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1356&context=theses_dissertations might play to others’ vulnerabilities and desire to belong or find meaning, ultimately brainwashing them into believing a fantasy or ideal that makes them feel important.
Unfortunately, people find themselves attracted to the cult leader’s seeming sense of confidence and power, especially when they are searching for certainty in their life. Their loyalty to the leader and his or her ideals leads them to do things that would normally be outside of their character.
One famous cult example is the story of the People’s Temple5https://www.britannica.com/topic/Peoples-Temple, where a charismatic, narcissistic leader named Jim Jones manipulated more than 900 people to drink poison. A real tragedy. Some of his tactics included performing fake healings and promising salvation if people obeyed him. You may be familiar with the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!” Sadly, this is the tragedy where that phrase came from.
Why is Love Bombing Dangerous?
To unsuspecting victims unaware of the warning signs, love bombing can often feel like genuine affection at first. For example, someone showers you with gifts, attention, and flattery and may seemingly be “obsessed” with you, even before really knowing you.
However, love bombing is a dangerous form of covert abuse that can confuse and lead victims into worse situations, including exploitation in various forms. What starts as affection turns into taking advantage of your vulnerabilities. To manipulate you, they may alter back and forth between showing affection and saying or doing cruel things, playing to your anxieties, insecurities, and low self-esteem.
Often, victims feel unsure about or don’t even realize how they got themselves into situations of exploitation or abuse because they assume the “love” they receive is genuine. However, the “love” victims assume they receive when love bombed is not real and is a tactic meant to serve the abuser.
As a result, victims might find themselves in one of the following situations and may or may not even be aware of it:
- An inappropriate work relationship with someone in power
- Servitude to someone else
- A demoralizing relationship they feel they can’t get out of
*Attention: Victims of trafficking don’t always realize they are being groomed through dating relationships and love bombing. In her TED talk, trafficking survivor Rebecca Bender explains the signs to look out for and what people don’t realize. If you believe you or someone you know might be or might become a victim of trafficking, please check out Rebecca’s resources and training.
How is Love Bombing Different than Narcissism?
Love bombing and narcissism are often correlated. However, not all narcissists are love bombers, but most love bombers have narcissistic tendencies. That said, it’s important to understand that love bombing is a tactic used to manipulate or control others, while narcissism is a personality disorder.
Are There Any Positives to Love Bombing?
On the surface, receiving affection and attention from someone is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s important to recognize when this attention is motivated by manipulation6https://dictionary.apa.org/manipulation and a need to control or use someone. It comes down to the intention behind the love and affection that determines whether or not it is considered love bombing.
Love bombing may feel like a positive at first, but over time it can lead to brainwashing and grooming victims7https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/02/nyregion/grooming-sexual-abuse.html into a mindset where they cannot recognize when they are being exploited.
7 Tips to Avoid or Stop Love Bombing
It can be hard to recognize when you’re being love bombed, and when you do notice the warning signs, you may not know how to avoid it or how to recover. Here are seven simple tips and strategies to help you regain your sense of self and form healthy relationships in the future.
#1 Learn what genuine love and affection look like
One of the best things you can do to avoid love bombing is to learn what genuine love and affection look like. If you haven’t had healthy relationships modeled to you growing up, you may wonder where to turn. Unfortunately, not all of our media references for healthy relationships are all that great, either. Fortunately, there are great resources to explore examples of genuine love.
To start with, we recommend checking out our article on the five languages of love, which includes:
- Quality time: People with this love language feel loved by spending time with others.
- Words of affirmation: People with this love language feel loved by giving and receiving encouraging and affirmative words.
- Physical touch: People with this love language feel loved by a warm embrace or an encouraging hand on the shoulder.
- Acts of service: People with this love language feel loved when they do things for others or when others do things for them (like chores or errands).
- Gifts: People with this love language feel loved by giving and receiving thoughtful gifts.
- Expressing interest: This is about getting genuinely curious and building a friendship.
- Being gentle in conflict: This is about avoiding criticism and defensiveness.
- Repairing negative interactions: This is about admitting when you’re wrong and saying sorry.
Check out the three-part podcast with Brené Brown on the Gottman’s new book, The Love Prescription: Seven Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy.
You could also start by looking back on history. According to ancient Greek philosophy8https://iep.utm.edu/love/, there are different kinds of love, including Agape and Philia.
Agape9https://www.researchgate.net/publication/359648768_The_Philosophy_and_Social_Science_of_Agape_Love: This type of love unselfishly wills the best for others. Examples of Agape love include:
- Sharing support for the good of others unconditionally
- Serving others sacrificially
- Striving to make others’ lives better
Philia8https://iep.utm.edu/love/: This type of love is a type of affection and care for friends, family, and community. Examples of Philia love include:
- Acts of kindness for the sake of others
- Showing forgiveness and not holding grudges
- Acting in others’ best interest (caring, not gossiping, etc.)
Another example of love is taken from ancient biblical texts10https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2013&version=NIV and often read at weddings:
“Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. […]”— 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
#2 Pay attention to the warning signs
In this article, we outline 18 red flags to determine if you or someone you know is being love bombed. Review the list and ask yourself these questions about your relationship:
- Do I feel safe to be myself?
- Do I feel free to make my own decisions?
- Does the “affection” I’m receiving feel over the top or insincere?
- Do I find myself making excuses for their behavior?
- Do I feel dependent on them and unable to get out of the relationship, even if I want to?
- Do they hold things over my head unless I give them what they want?
If you notice your answers to these questions align with the warning signs of love bombing, it might be time to pay attention and talk to a counselor or therapist about what you’re experiencing. You can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list of therapists.
#3 Find your voice and learn how to say no
In manipulative relationships, someone who is being love-bombed may not feel free to voice their opinion. An inability to speak up might stem from a lack of self-awareness or self-esteem, leading to another unhealthy relationship in the future.
To gain your sense of self, start by saying no to simple things you might normally feel obligated to say yes to.
- For example, let’s say your friend recommends a movie, but it’s not one that you want to watch. Normally you’d just agree to watch it to avoid any awkwardness. Instead, try saying no, and ask if they’d be willing to watch something else.
- Another example might be your sibling asking you to care for her cat while they’re out of town, even though she knows you’re allergic. Say you can’t and perhaps recommend them a nearby cat hotel.
Saying no might feel awkward at first, but as you progress and practice, soon you will be able to articulate your feelings and boundaries better.
#4 Set healthy boundaries
Speaking of saying no, another great practice to avoid love bombing is to set healthy boundaries. These can include emotional, time, and privacy boundaries.
- Setting emotional boundaries might look like choosing to only share painful vulnerabilities with those you trust, like a therapist or close friend, instead of with strangers on the internet.
- Setting time boundaries might look like blocking your phone from calls for a portion of the day focus or limiting yourself to ending your workday at 5:00 p.m. so you can do other activities you enjoy.
- Setting privacy boundaries might look like deciding not to share certain details of your life with others. It also might look like gently letting someone know you are not in a mental place to listen to them share excessive personal details about their life.
#5 Refrain from reacting to pressure to respond
In love-bombing situations, an expression of flattery or affection may feel so grand that you feel obligated to give in to someone’s request for a commitment or favor. Love bombers often use this form of manipulative pressure to get you to do something for them.
If someone’s expression of love is genuine, it should not be conditional. If you feel guilted by the gesture to give someone validation in response in some way, it is likely not an expression of love at all. Therefore, if you do not want to do something, someone who truly loves you will not hold their gesture of affection over you.
Here are some examples of a healthy relationship response vs. a healthy relationship response:
- Unhealthy relationship: Your new boyfriend takes you on an expensive shopping spree. You feel excited about your new gifts. Later he asks you to come over to watch a movie. You say you can’t because you have a big day tomorrow. He responds defensively, maybe he even says, “Do you not love me? What about everything I’ve done for you?” Your confusion about his gesture leaves you feeling pressured to give in.
- Healthy relationship: Your new boyfriend gives you a bouquet of flowers. You feel special that he remembered your favorites. Later he asks you if you want to come over to watch a movie, but you have a big day tomorrow, so you say you can’t. He asks if there’s anything he can do to help make your day better tomorrow. You say you just need to get some sleep. He completely understands, gives you a kiss goodnight, and wishes you luck for your big day.
#6 Don’t let someone dictate how you feel
Love bombers, like narcissists, tend to believe that their way is the best way and that they always know what’s best for you. They might do this because they are uncomfortable with your emotions and lack empathy. With this mindset, they tend to tell you how you should feel and what you should do in certain situations.
To do this, they gaslight and confuse you into thinking a certain way. They might say something like, “What?! No, you don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not how it happened. I never said that.” They might even insult you for being stupid for having certain feelings or ideas.
In our article on gaslighting, Vanessa Van Edwards outlines five steps to combat gaslighting:
- Detach: Take a step back to help you see the situation more clearly.
- Speak with confidence: Your feelings are valid; therefore, speak up from your diaphragm with conviction.
- Become a detective: Keep a diary to track things that happen and how you feel so that you can refer to it later when you might feel confused.
- Trust your buddy: Choose a friend, family member, or therapist you trust to talk about your feelings.
- Heal from gaslighting with positive affirmations: “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” or “I am not too [fill in the blank].”
What does it look like to influence people positively? Check out this helpful resource!
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#7 Get to know yourself and how you feel
One of the best things you can do to avoid and overcome love bombing is to get to know yourself. By gaining self-awareness about your feelings, who you are, what you like and don’t like, and potential past trauma that you may not be dealing with, you can learn to love yourself and receive genuine love in the future.
To do this, we recommend these tips to build self-awareness:
- Practicing mindfulness: Take 10-15 minutes a day for deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
- Deep journaling: Use shadow work prompts to guide your mind to process different areas of your life and start to notice patterns and themes that emerge from the stories and feelings you express.
- Talking to trusted individuals: If you’ve been love bombed, it might be hard to know who to trust. (Hint: It might be a friend who saw the red flags in the relationship early on, but you chose to ignore them.) If you don’t know who to turn to, your best next step might be to talk to a professional counselor or therapist and discover what true, trusting relationships can look like in your life.
Love Bombing Takeaways
In summary, take note of these tips to identify and avoid love bombing now and in future relationships:
- Learn what genuine love and affection look like.
- Pay attention to the warning signs.
- Find your voice and learn how to say no.
- Set healthy boundaries with your emotions, time, and privacy.
- Refrain from reacting to pressure to respond to someone’s needs or demands.
- Don’t let someone dictate how you should think or feel.
- Get to know yourself and how you feel by building self-awareness.
Do you want to improve your relationships? Check out our article 30 Days to Better Relationships.
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