What is love-bombing? Here's what you need to know about this manipulative tactic
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who rained compliments on you all day, every day? Did they text you all hours of the day (and night) and ask what you were doing every time you were away from them? While some people might think these are sweet gestures being done by a partner who is “head over heels” in love with you, these acts can actually be prime examples of a narcissist love-bombing, a psychological tactic all about manipulation.
But how do you exactly know the difference between when a S.O. is trying to manipulate you or just proclaiming their undying love for you in an overbearing (but non-toxic) way? We connected with two relationship experts to find out why love-bombing is bad, why narcissists do this, and how to heal after you’ve been in a relationship with a person who love-bombed you.
What is love-bombing?
“Love-bombing usually refers to inundating a partner with (grand) gestures or expressions that are framed as loving, but ultimately, are used to gain control or manipulate a partner,” says Toronto-based sexologist Dr. Jess.
According to Dr. Jess, some of the more apparent ways a S.O. might choose to love-bomb you include manipulating you into doing something they want after they buy you a big purchase; sending you intense love text messages and then disappearing without explanation for days; surprising you randomly at work or when you’re with your friends to pressure you into spending more time with them or isolating you from others; and showering you with compliments, but then berating you when you don’t go along with their desires.
“Oftentimes, the supposed expressions of love come early in the relationship and may not align with the level of commitment. For example, perhaps they bring you a generous gift on the first date,” explains Dr. Jess. Experiencing any of these kinds of things early in the relationship may indicate that your partner is a narcissist and they’re trying to control you. If you believe this is the case, it might be best to slow down, take a step back, and examine what’s happening before you pursue the relationship any further.
Why do narcissists use this tactic? What benefits do they gain from love-bombing their S.O.s?
While manipulative behavior comes in many forms, according to Dr. Jess, it’s often used as a tool to gain power and control. “They may believe that showering you with adoration, gifts and/or attention will allow them to dictate how you behave or with whom you socialize. They may believe that spending time with you and planning fun and exciting outings will help them to control your schedule. They may use generous gifts to manipulate you into feeling beholden,” she explains.
Most narcissists want their S.O.s to believe that the only source of love they can receive is from them and them alone. This is why they’ll isolate their partners from their loved ones, belittle their achievements, or tell them they are the only person who makes them feel loved. “This type of abuse serves their goal of ‘winning’ or gaining control,” says Dr. Jess.
This is dangerous because the love-bomber only truly cares about their own needs and will do everything in their power to feel in control of the relationship, even if it’s at the expense of their S.O. “It’s natural to feel good when you’re adored and loved, but if this love and adoration is contingent upon doing as they say, adjusting your boundaries to meet theirs or falling in line with their specific expectations (e.g. socially, sexually, practically, financially), it may not be founded upon mutual affection,” says Dr. Jess.
What are some easy ways to spot love-bombing is happening in your relationship?
Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint when someone is being love-bombed in the beginning of the relationship. Naturally, most people want to feel cared for and deeply connected with their partner right when they get together. But not all “love” is equal. When a person says “I love you” early in the relationship or they repeatedly tell you something like, “You’re not like anyone else I’ve ever dated,” you may want to reevaluate why they’re being extremely forward with their feelings so early on.
So how exactly can you tell when your partner is love-bombing you? One of the best ways to figure this out is to look for the signs of a narcissistic abusive relationship. Are they isolating you? Are they encouraging you or forcing you to not see loved ones or to miss out on social activities? Are they moving too fast in the relationship? “They may be highly extravagant and make remarks about how good they are to you or may make assumptions and proclamations about the relationship that don’t consider your voice or desires,” says Dr. Jess. “For example, they might talk about where you two will go on your honeymoon even though you’ve never talked about getting married. They may try to co-opt your time or be critical of time spent on hobbies or other sources of social support.”
Once the “honeymoon” phase is over, it might be easier for you to detect if your partner is truly love-bombing you. However, you may also be too invested in the relationship and be holding out hope that things might change. If this is the case, try to remember that love isn’t supposed to be manipulative in any form or fashion. And according to Dr. Jess, “If they punish you by withdrawing expressions of love when they don’t get what they want, this could be a sign that they’re being manipulative.”
What should someone do when they know when they’re being love-bombed by their S.O.?
According to licensed psychologist, Dr. Kim Chronister, “The first thing to do when you know you’re being love-bombed is to try figuring out if this is positive (meaning they’re so into you they’re going overboard) or negative (this is a tactic to win control over you).”
If your feelings have deepened for this person, your next best move might be to confront and clearly communicate what you have been noticing them doing, and also attempt to set healthy boundaries. “If they handle the feedback well, that is a good sign, but you want to see that they can control their impulses consistently. If you notice they become angry or passive-aggressive after you give them this feedback—run for the hills,” Dr. Chronister explains. “These types of individuals can become worse over time and go from love-bombing to emotionally abusive.”
How does love-bombing affect the psyche of someone who has been the victim of it?
Let’s be honest: Who wouldn’t feel extremely loved by a person who constantly tells you you’re amazing and you’re everything they dreamed of? According to Dr. Chronister, it’s completely natural to get high off someone who is always admiring you, especially if this is the first time a person has made you feel like that. This is especially true “if you’re one to rely heavily on others’ opinions and treatment of you,” she explains. However, she adds, “We want to be filled up inside first before entering a relationship which makes us less vulnerable to being swayed or manipulated by other people.” And while that is easier said than done, it’s important to remember that depending on someone else to make you happy and feel fulfilled won’t serve you. Just like Michelle Obama said: “No one can make me happy.”
One of the ways you can tell that you’re being love-bombed is if you notice you’re feeling too attached to your partner, confused, fearful, and depressed. “This is because the love-bomber becomes progressively more emotionally abusive in order to supply his/her/their own ego, needs, and wants within the relationship,” explains Dr. Chronister. One minute you’re madly in love with them and then the next, you’re constantly feeling like you have to walk on eggshells. “At worst, the victim of this process can become hypervigilant, lonely, and full of self-doubt,” she adds.
How can you heal after being a part of a love-bombing relationship?
Dr. Chronister says that the first thing anyone should do is go to therapy, if it fits within their budget. “If you don’t have insurance, then call around to therapists and ask them to give you a ‘sliding scale’ fee, which is a cheaper rate,” says Dr. Chronister.
While getting professional help is of the utmost importance, it’s also imperative to reconnect with the life you once had. “Begin to regain your autonomy back by connecting with others, getting into as many activities as possible, and finding meaning and purpose in something that you love to do,” says Dr. Chronister. “This way you’re doing the work to heal while regaining your independence.”