By Rachel Anyika
Love bombing is the hyper-pursuit and showering of affection on a target person to effectively gain control of that person. It is a term that was first used to describe the manipulative tactics that notorious cults used to create devoted followers. These seemingly normal people once converted would give up their lives, possessions and even commit mass murder just to please the cult leader.
"As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members' flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing—or the offer of instant companionship— is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives." - Cults In Our Midst, Margaret Singer, 1996
However, the use of love bombing is increasingly being used in romantic relationships. Love bombers are typically male, as men most often take on the pursuit role in the early stages of a relationship, therefore they are less likely to raise suspicion with an eager pursuit.
"This concept is known as love bombing due to the bombardment of actions that may appear very similar to “love” but that are extremely overwhelming and deliberately perpetrated. So much so that the bombing can effectively sweep people off their feet and cause high levels of infatuation, as the target is unaware that it is a manipulative means to gain attention.
The approach does not give the person being bombed time to think straight or to assess whether the bomber is genuine or not as the relationship moves through the stages at full speed." - Love Bombing; A Seductive & Manipulative Technique, Alex Myles, Elephant Journal.com
What Motivates The Love Bomber
At the core of a typical love bomber is hidden crippling low self-esteem. Some form of childhood trauma, emotional neglect or emotional abuse from previous partners has caused them to develop no internal sense of worth or self-esteem. If developed in childhood, most likely the only way they got attention from their caregivers was by acting out in some way or trying to please the caregivers every need. The only way they know how to feel good is through external sources and validation. They feed off the effect they can have on other people and in effect are a psychic energy drain (some like to call them emotional vampires!). The love bomber is often narcissistic and in extreme cases exhibit psychopathy.
Other types do not believe that a partner would choose them and choose to stay with them on their own regard. Deep down they feel that the only way they can get a partner to stay with them is by manipulating and controlling them. This type of love bomber will often be more unconscious of their own behavior and dealing with feelings of shame.
How It Works
Idealization - The love bomber will be in very regular contact almost immediately from meeting. They will text or call often, want to see you as much as they possibly can, buy you gifts, invite you to meet friends all within a short period of time. They may have very similar interests to you or be intensely interested in what you like and your favorite things. They are extremely good at flattery and will make the target feel that there is no doubt in the affections being shown to them. The love bomber will always tell you what you want to hear.
"There is little secret or surprise in the contention that we like people who agree with us, who say nice things about us, who seem to possess such positive attributes as warmth, understanding and compassion, and who would 'go out of their way' to do things for us" - The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, Dennis Tourish, 2013
Love bombers will seek out a target that has lower self-confidence or received less attention in childhood. This target will be more susceptible to the laser-like attention of the love bomber as it is something that they have not experienced before and of which can give an addictive like quality.
Devalue & Discard - There are a couple of factors that can trigger the devalue stage. The love bomber will see that the target is now infatuated or in love with them and receive the desired ego boost and validation. However, they do not want to get pulled into the seriousness of a real relationship with the target. After all, they have not been showing their true self to the target, the likely hood of rejection and loss of validation is too big. This love bomber will disappear quickly, seemingly drop of the surface of the earth and not explain why they are leaving. Leaving the target hurt, confused, angry and with a loss that will take much longer to recover from as they have been unable to get closure.
Another factor, is that the target did something which wounded the love bombers fragile ego, or made them fear that they were not in control.
The key to understanding how love bombing differs from romantic courtship is to look at what happens next, after two people are officially a “couple.” If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not love bombing. That much attention might get annoying after a while, but it’s not unhealthy in and of itself. On the other hand, if there’s an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands, that’s a red flag.This is classic psychological conditioning at play here. Just as the love bombing is the positive reinforcement (you do what I want, and I’ll shower you with love), the devaluation is the negative consequence (you did something wrong, so I’m punishing you). - The Danger Of Manipulative Love-Bombing In A Relationship, Dale Archer, Psychology Today
Here there is a prolonged devaluation stage. The love bomber will now belittle, demean, stonewall and use other types of emotional abuse to make the target feel completely off balance (in extreme cases even physical abuse). The target will desperately try winning the love bombers approval again, as the previous ideal behavior was such a stark contrast. The dramatic change in behavior will almost cause the target to go into survival mode, in particular if they have an anxious attachment style they will be unable to stop caring until they have received some kind of positive validation back from the love bomber. The target has in effect become much easier to control and this is what this type of love bomber wants. To keep the target off-balance, insecure and willing to do pretty much anything to please them. This love bomber will then restart the cycle and shower the target with affection again. They want to keep the target interested, as this is someone they can use to prop up their fragile ego on a long term basis.
How Not To Become A Target
Go slowly - If you feel like you are in a whirlwind romance and are rushing forward then you are taking things too quickly. If it is a genuine love interest then they will be prepared to slow down and be patient. If slowing down causes them to act out and loose interest then this is an indication that you where being love bombed. Going slowly in the early days of a relationship will ensure that strong foundations are being built for the relationship. Take your time to focus on who the other person really is rather than just focusing on how someone can make you feel.
Take notice of a partners history - Find out what their childhood was like and how they learned about relationships. If they had a difficult childhood, find out if they have done any work on themself to heal issues. Always ask them about what they learnt from their previous relationships.
Look at your own patterns - If you find that you become the target of love bombers often they could be recreating a scenario that you experienced in childhood. It could be that you had narcissistic parent/s. Work on techniques to increase your self-esteem like mindfulness and therapy.
Be open with how you are feeling - If you think you are currently dealing with a love bomber discuss how you are feeling with them. Use 'I' statements to encourage honest conversation 'I'm feeling confused', 'I'm feeling controlled'. Ask them if they are aware of what they are doing and see if they are willing to discuss it with you and try to come to some resolution. If they are in denial or avoid the issue, this is a love bomber who is very unlikely to ever change their behavior.
Remember that love bombing is a form of emotional abuse that could be a lead up to serious emotional or psychical abuse. Do not be afraid to completely cut all contact from this person if you need to.
Margaret Singer, Cults In Our Midst: The Hidden Menace In Our Every Day Lives - First released September 1996
Alex Myles, Love Bombing; A Seductive & Manipulative Technique, Elephant Journal.com - https://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/01/love-bombing-a-seductive-manipulative-technique/
Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective - First released 2013
Dale Archer, The Danger Of Manipulative Love-Bombing In A Relationship, Psychology Today - https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-danger-manipulative-love-bombing-in-relationship