Everything You Need to Know About Love Bombing and Why It’s So Dangerous
This tactic used by narcissists is a dangerous form of emotional abuse.
You wake up every day to a good morning text from your new love interest, who also surprises you by sending flowers to your office—which has *never* happened to you before. By the third date, they’re making jokes about marriage in a charismatic way that has you falling into the fantasy. You feel like you’re living inside a Taylor Swift song, circa “Love Story”/“Enchanted” era. Hate to break it to ya babe, but there’s a good chance you’re in the throes of a love-bombing attack
“The love bomber may seem like the perfect match, but in reality, they are creating a false environment to look like they are the right person for you,” says Tinder’s Resident Relationship Expert Devyn Simone. But you don’t know this yet, because this seemingly perfect match is still hiding their dark, twisted “Dear John” era in the vault. So you let yourself fall. Meanwhile, here’s what’s really going down.
Beware the Toxic Good Guy
“Love bombing is characterized by excessive attention, admiration, and affection with the goal to make the recipient feel dependent and obligated to that person,” explains licensed therapist Sasha Jackson, LCSW. The chilling tactic is often used by narcissists, abusers, and even cult leaders.
What makes love bombing so confusing (and difficult to untangle oneself from) is that at first, it actually feels really good thanks to all the dopamine and endorphin boosts you get from the bomber’s lavish gifts and attention. “You feel special, needed, loved, valuable, and worthy, which are all the components that contribute to and increase a person’s self-esteem,” Jackson says.
But maybe a month or so later, once the relationship is official, the good morning messages turn into angry late-night texts from this person who swept you off your feet, convinced that you’re out cheating on them when you’re really home asleep with your cat. You realize that each present, from fancy flowers to lingerie, isn’t free at all. Your undivided attention, loyalty, and often access to your body is expected in return.
“Daters guilty of love bombing feel the need to fill an emotional void with the love of another person, but once they have that person and feel secure in the relationship, their true feelings can come to the surface, and the instability unravels from there,” Simone says. “You may feel like you owe a love bomber the same amount of adoration and loyalty in return for all of the extra gifts and attention you have received, but true acts of love do not need reciprocation and are inspired from within.”
They still call you cute names but also nasty ones, perhaps even slurs. You notice that the love bombing is part of an abusive cycle. They disparage you and display a sociopathic nastiness, often followed by a blatant and desperate attempt to reconcile. You still get flowers delivered, and your coworkers or roommates still get jealous. But the dark secret is that those flowers are only a reminder of abuse—which you know will happen again. They’re blood roses.
So yeah, love bombing is the stuff of nightmares, which is why we tapped a bunch of experts to help you navigate a potential love bomber situation. From a closer look at what love bombing is to the red flags you’ve gotta be aware of, here’s everything you need to know.
What is love bombing?
Love bombing is a manipulative dating tactic used by narcissistic and abusive individuals. “Love bombers seek to quickly obtain the affection and attention of someone they are romantically pursuing by presenting an idealized image of themselves,” says Lori Nixon Bethea, PhD, owner of Intentional Hearts Counseling Services. The overall goal? To enhance their ego by gaining power over those being pursued.
Anyone is capable of love bombing, but it’s most often a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, says psychotherapist Ami Kaplan, LCSW.
It can also be a symptom of borderline personality disorder, says somatic psychotherapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D, a certified sex therapist. BPD is known for causing people to “split,” to swing from one degree to another, or go from hating someone to idolizing them in a matter of minutes to days. In this cycle, the love bombing can come after a period of being treated like hell. This is often done in a desperate attempt to fix things, as many people, especially those with BPD, have a feeling of abandonment that can be unbearably painful for them.
“Love bombing is largely an unconscious behavior,” Kaplan explains. “It’s about really getting the other person. Then when they feel like they really got the person and they feel secure in the relationship, the narcissist typically switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative.” She adds that the same person who was just super idealizing of their partner will switch to devaluing them.
While experts note it can be associated with personality disorders, love bombing wasn’t first coined by psychologists. It’s a behavior that actually started among famous cult leaders. Members of the Unification Church of the United States (a notorious cult better known as the Moonies) love bombed new recruits to encourage them to join their fellowship. Other narcissistic cult leaders like Jim Jones and David Koresh used a similar method of excessive positive reinforcement in order to manufacture feelings of intense unity and loyalty. “It demonstrates a lack of boundaries,” Dr. Richmond says.
What are some signs you are being love bombed?
Dating a love bomber isn’t going to look the same in every situation, but a few telltale signs of a love-bombing partner are extravagant gifts, obsessive flattery, constant complimentary texting, and always expecting a prompt reply.
Dr. Richmond adds that if someone changes their mind about giant decisions overnight—for instance, going from saying they never want kids to offering to start trying right away the second they think you’re leaving them—you should go ahead and leave them.
If you’re looking for more specifics, here’s what a love bomber might say, says Jackson:
“I want to spoil you.” (Aka if your partner buys you excessive gifts in a short amount of time.)
“I just want to be with you all the time.” If you feel guilty for wanting boundaries or space, not a good sign.
“I like to check on you because I get worried.” If they check in every once in a while, cute. Constantly checking in on your whereabouts, checking on social media pages, or asking for passwords? Love bombing.
“We are meant for each other.” Be cautious if things feel really intense really fast or they mention you being their soul mate or twin flame early on.
“It’s you and me forever, right?”
And here’s how a love bomber might act, per Bethea:
The love bomber will demand your attention and time and may isolate you from your family and friends (for example, they may become angry and make you feel guilty for making plans with others).
The love bomber will excessively compliment you and shower you with affection.
The love bomber will persuade you toward making a commitment to them very early on in the courtship.
What are some signs that you are the love bomber?
Sorry if this seems a little off-putting, but in a world of love bombers, sometimes, you’re the problem. As the experts note, it’s often an unconscious behavior, so you might not even know that you’re doing it. Sending flowers, writing love poems, and allowing yourself to fall head over heels in NRE (new relationship energy) are certainly not always abusive behaviors, even if they are tactics love bombers utilize. So how can you tell if your grand romantic gestures are the stuff of rom-coms or the start of a Jeffery Dahmer documentary?
According to Dr. Richmond, it all comes down to codependence. First, she stresses that despite what you think you know, codependence isn’t always a bad thing. “We’ve been spoon-fed this idea that codependence is always unhealthy, but every relationship has to have a healthy degree of codependency. Otherwise, you’d be in your lane, and they’d be in their lane, and that’s barely a relationship at all.”
However, because love bombing is all about tearing away boundaries, if a romantic desire to share time together turns into feelings of manipulation and fear rather than affection, you should check in with yourself, your friends, and your therapist or chosen family—whoever you get support from. “When you’d do anything to get that person back, you’re looking at unhealthy codependency,” Dr. Richmond says.
Suppose you feel like you couldn’t live without someone and would do anything from showing up unannounced and unwanted at their door to sending inappropriate gifts that, in your gut, you know is weird. In that case, you may be the love bomber and should consider working with a therapist to develop a healthier attachment style. It doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, but it does mean that you deserve to enjoy love from a healthier place.
Why is love bombing so dangerous?
Whether you’re the perpetrator or the victim, love bombing can be incredibly detrimental to your mental health because it’s a form of emotional abuse, and Jackson says it has everything to do with the law of reciprocity: “If someone gives you something, you feel that you owe them something equal or greater in return. So if your partner is giving you excessive love and attention, you feel like you have to give this behavior, dedication, or ‘loyalty’ in return despite the red flags you experience.”
It also may become a cycle of abuse, says Bethea. “Once the targeted person becomes hooked on the love bomber, the love bomber has not only gained control over their partner’s mind and heart, but they also have their ego boosted. At this phase, they no longer have any use for their partner and begin the process of withdrawing from the relationship.
“Once the love bomber begins to withdraw, they may begin emotionally abusing their partner. They may hurl insults, make disparaging remarks, gaslight, and cause their partner to feel invalidated and devalued. The love bomber is aware that they have control over their partner and may eventually walk away from the relationship, with an understanding that they can return at any time to continue the cycle of abuse.”
What to do if you’re being love bombed
Point-blank, love bombing is a form of psychological manipulation. Still, it’s normal to feel a strong attachment to a love bomber or even to defend their actions. When narcissists target their desire to control someone, they look for deep-seated insecurities and find ways to exploit them. For instance, you may feel like this person truly gets you or sees you for who you really are. It might feel like this relationship—however controlling it is—has also provided you with the kind of validation that you’ve always wanted.
If you realize the person you’re with is love bombing (or doing any sort of manipulative behavior), you should do what you can to safely remove yourself from an abusive situation and seek out support systems outside of the relationship. Get a forthright POV from people that you trust. “First and foremost, I would ask the person to be really vulnerable, transparent, and honest. Because most of the time when people are being love bombed, they feel embarrassed. I think it often will take an objective perspective from a friend, family, chosen family, [or] therapist, to say ‘Hey, this really does look like a cycle of violence here,’” Dr. Richmond says, also stressing that there’s not need to blame yourself for what happened.
If it’s still early days and you think this behavior could just be hard-core crushing rather than love bombing, it’s still worth having a conversation and expressing how the attention is making you feel. Something as simple as “Hey, this seems to be moving pretty fast and I need to set some boundaries” is a good place to start.
It’s in your best interest to try to safely stop communicating with someone who you realize is acting to control or manipulate you (or others in your life). It’s almost certainly not within your capability to change a love bomber’s behavior, and it’s not your job to do so anyway (leave that to the professionals who *aren’t* emotionally invested). The best course of action is simple—dump them, unfollow them, and find the support you need to back you up.
Kaplan suggests turning to someone outside the relationship to fully acknowledge the fact that you’re dealing with a manipulative person. Seek out a close friend or family member who can keep your confidence, or search for a therapist or narcissism support group—there are many that specialize in dealing with love bombing (even if they don’t use the term).
“You want to get some support from other people who have been in relationships with narcissists,” Kaplan says. “The question is how to start setting boundaries so you’re not getting abused. Just take small, slow steps based on your circumstances.”