Perhaps you’ve recently met someone, and everything seems perfect — they’re showering you with compliments, gifts and attention that you’ve never quite experienced before. But then, suddenly, it appears like this person has done a 180 in the way they treat you, and your relationship has completely changed. Love bombing is one of the cruelest and manipulative tactics that can present itself in the dating world, and it may not always be so easy to spot.
We tapped a few psychologists to help you get a clearer understanding of what love bombing is, the signs to look out for, and what to do if you sense you’re involved with a love bomber, so read on to learn more.
What is love bombing?
The term “love bombing” has been around since the 1970s and has traditionally been described as a practice by religious cults to gain recruits. And the modern meaning behind it doesn’t veer too, of course. “Love bombing typically occurs where an individual is overly interested in another person romantically — much sooner than would be appropriate — and is exemplified by excessive behaviors, gestures and praise,” explains Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los-Angeles based psychologist whose specialties include relationships and self-esteem.
In some cases, love bombing demonstrations are based on a genuine, intense interest in another person, adds Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, speaker and author of Date Smart. “Some people are naturally very enthusiastic and giving when love-struck; love bombing that comes from this authentic space of emotional and physical generosity lacks a manipulative quality.” That being said, she points out that while some instances of love bombing may not be deceitful, it can still be unhealthy if the displays of affection feel overwhelming or unsafe to the recipient. Not only that, but even well-intentioned love bombing can contribute to an initial spike in infatuation that quickly fades, leaving the person on the receiving end feeling let down.
What are some signs of love bombing?
So, how do you know if your partner is love bombing you or genuinely interested and trying to show it? Here, Dr. Thomas shares some telltale signs you might be involved with a love bomber:
- Too much too soon: A love bomber tends to get overly interested and have feelings for the other person that are much too strong for the amount of time they’ve been involved. For example, the love bomber might be showering you with phrases like, “I can’t wait to be with you forever,” “We’ll be married in a year from now,” or “You’re my soulmate.” Be cautious if it feels as though things are intense way too fast and the person is trying to pressure you into commitment or professing their undying love early on.
- Excessive compliments: We all enjoy being complimented, but a love bomber will take flattery to an extreme and constantly pepper you with phrases such as, “You’re absolutely perfect,” “You put everyone else to shame,” or “I only want to spend time with you because you’re so incredible.” While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these phrases on their own, it’s important to look at them within their broader context of behavior.
- Lavish, extravagant gifts: Love bombing often involves over-the-top gifts and gestures — like expensive jewelry or overseas trips — that seem out of proportion to the situation and amount of time you’ve known each other. It may appear generous and even harmless, but the point is to manipulate you into thinking you owe them something.
- Lacks and disregards boundaries: Another sign you may be involved with a love bomber is if the individual displays a complete lack of boundaries — they claim they want to always be with you and frequently pop up unannounced to your home or office. The love bomber might also disregard any boundaries you set in place, such as calling or text late into the night and expecting an immediate answer despite saying you can’t speak after 9 pm.
- Isolates you from others: One more typical behavior of a love bomber is to isolate you from friends and family to gain even more control. You might find they’re upset or lay a guilt trip on if you make plans with anyone else. This is especially dangerous because you’re not getting any outside objectivity from other people and come to rely solely on the love bomber.
The psychology behind love bombing
To get a full picture of love bombing, it’s also important to look at the mental state of the individuals who engage in this type of behavior. Narcissism aside, Dr. Thomas says that love bombers struggle with very low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. She adds that those who engage in love bombing often do so unconsciously, though they may know what effect these types of actions can have on someone. “These individuals are frequently battling serious feelings of low self-worth and there’s a pattern of behavior taking place where they believe they need to receive reciprocated love and affection to get boosted up,” she says.
Why is it so dangerous?
Love bombing can be extremely dangerous because of the ulterior motives involved. “Rather than showing loving affection from a heartfelt place, the love bomber has a personal end-game in mind — in essence, narcissistic love bombers don’t really see or care about the objects of their affections; they only care about capturing and having a sense of control over the individual,” explains Dr. Manly. Innocent people are often naturally taken in by the love bomber’s displays of adoration. After all, it’s human nature to want love and affection and the love bomber uses this natural desire to gain entry into an often-unsuspecting person’s life. “Once the individual is won over, the narcissistic love bomber often begins to quickly slide into toxic behaviors that become increasingly abusive over time,” she adds.
Dr. Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, further highlights that love bombing can be especially precarious for people who feed on extrinsic validation because there’s this rush of dopamine every time the love bomber surprises us or showers us with adoration. “We may even get addicted to the social attention of the oohs + ahhs from friends,” she says and goes on to point out that oftentimes those involved with love bombers can get a false sense of security because people who come on very strong and sudden can be equally fickle when feeling cool.
Lastly, love bombing frequently becomes a vicious cycle that’s hard to break, which can seriously negatively impact your mental health. “Once the love bomber has won the targeted person’s heart, they feel validated and start to lose interest,” explains Dr. Thomas. And when the love bomber starts to withdraw, as praiseworthy as they once were to their partner, they may start hurling insults and gaslighting. Unfortunately, because the targeted person became so enthralled by the love bomber, they often leave the door open for them to come back whenever they need that validation and ego boost.
How to deal with a love bomber
If you suspect you’re involved with a love bomber, don’t blame yourself, says Dr. Manly, further adding that narcissistic love bombers are specialists in this arena, so don’t judge yourself for falling for it. “Instead, reach out to a trusted friend, mentor or psychotherapist to gain support — journaling about the experiences can also help you gain clarity, perspective and inner freedom,” she notes. Dr. Carmichael seconds the journaling idea, especially because dealing with a love bomber can leave you emotionally disoriented. “You might consider jotting down your conversations to have a clearer picture about what’s going on, for example, one day the love bomber might be naming your imaginary children, and two days later, they start ignoring your calls without much explanation other than they’re very disappointed in you — having this all chronicled can be very grounding.”
Our therapists also recommend setting boundaries. “Be watchful and vigilant — if the person is devaluing you, making threats of abandonment, or suddenly walks away because you set normal, healthy boundaries, then let them,” advises Dr. Carmichael. Once you have safely gotten out of the relationship, Dr. Thomas adds it’s important to cease all communication with the love bomber, so you don’t risk falling under their influence once again — this, too, is where a strong support system comes into place, whether that includes friends, family or a trusted therapist to help you navigate it.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.