Have you ever started dating someone, and it’s felt like your relationship has gone from meeting up for coffee to planning to move in overnight? If you’re in a relationship where it feels like things have left you feeling overwhelmed (in a good or bad way) with their intensity, it could be a sign of love bombing
Passionate. Exciting. Fast-moving. It’s like they can’t get enough of you, with the constant compliments, loud exclamations of love and devotion, grand gestures and (expensive) gifts. They want to spend every minute with you. We’ve all been in one of those relationships, haven’t we? Who doesn’t love to feel loved?
But what happens when those gestures of love and affection come at a price? What if those overwhelming shows of affection aren’t actually a way of showing how much they care about you, but a way of gaining control?
What is love bombing?
According to the experts, love bombing can be a sign of a toxic or abusive relationship. If you’ve ever felt that your partner’s pace is overwhelming, their attention relentless, and have been unsure if it has made you feel unbelievably happy, unpleasantly uncomfortable, or a mixture of the two, then you may have been love-bombed.
“Love bombing is a term used in psychology and sociology to describe a type of behaviour in which a person demonstrates an excessive amount of love and affection for another person.” Counselling Directory member and counsellor Ian Stockbringe explains. “The goal of love bombing is to make the recipient feel loved and important. It can be used as a technique to control or manipulate someone or to win their affection. Love bombing can be manipulative and emotionally abusive, as the recipient may depend on the bomber’s constant attention and affection.”
For many of us, the more affection we recieve, the better we feel. But that’s the problem - the more we feel pulled into the onslaught of affection and attention, the harder it can be to recognise other warning signs in your relationship. At its core, love bombing is emotional manipulation, used to boost the love bombers ego by gaining a sense of power and control over another person.
Why do people love bomb?
While this tactic is most frequently used by narcissists, abusers, and con artists, not everyone is aware when they use this tactic. For some, growing up in a family or culture where overt expressions of love and affection were normal, can make them more likely to shower others with attention and words of love without considering this may make others feel uncomfortable.
For others, a lack of connection or feelings of insecurity may push them to move too fast, in an effort to form long-lasting attachments. Some may unconsciously take on negative behaviours (love bombing) due to past relationships. Yet for others, it is a way to manipulate, influence, or take advantage in order to gain what they want.
“Narcissistic abuse is shown in many different ways by someone who has narcissistic personality disorder. Anyone can be a victim. From the moment someone meets a narcissist, especially in a romantic form, the abuse starts – this is the ‘love bombing’ stage’, where the narcissist grooms their victim into making them believe they have met their soulmate by portraying themselves as everything the victim has ever wanted, using techniques such as mirroring and future faking.”
And once you begin to fall for their charm? Emma explains that this is when they start pushing boundaries to see how easily they can manipulate, control, and get away with things.
“Over time, the mask slips. The person the victim fell in love with was a ghost. A trauma bond has been formed. The victim has become so dependent on the narcissist to give them love and affection which they see little and little of as time goes by. But, they can’t imagine their life without them.”
Over time, love bombing can have a devastating effect. It can leave you feeling unable to cope without the other person, wracked with self-doubt, and with nowhere to turn. But how can we spot the signs before it gets to this stage? And what can you do if you’re experiencing love bombing right now?
Am I being love bombed? Warning signs of love bombing
Knowing what is and isn’t love bombing is an important starting point. What could seem to be the honeymoon stage of a relationship could actually be hiding warning signs of love bombing (though gestures during this phase tend to be more thoughtful and personal, rather than aiming to overwhelm or impress).
Here are some of the warning signs to keep an eye out for. Someone might show a few or many of these behaviours. It’s important to keep in mind the intensity, how they are making you feel, and their reactions if you try to push back or raise concerns. If in doubt, trust your instincts.
Over-the-top gifts or gestures. They bombard you with extravagant gifts that are expensive and attention-grabbing. These gifts may not be thoughtful (eg. not tailored to your specific likes, interests or hobbies) but may still seem generous, or create a sense of debt to the gifter.
Constant compliments. They constantly compliment you in an overwhelming way, eg. “You’re the most beautiful person I have ever met.” or “I can’t imagine my life without you.” They may also push for you to express similar sentiments.
They demand attention. Every gift or grand gesture needs to be recognised and rewarded. They may insist on spending most or all of your free time together, making you feel guilty if you express a need for space. If you don’t respond to their messages quickly, they may bombard you with more, or withhold affection.
Things are done publicly. Whether physical or digital, they like to be seen to be sharing public displays of affection. This could take the form of gushing posts on social media talking about you and how they feel, insisting on holding hands or kissing in public, or being seen to give gifts in front of others.
Things feel intense and unbalanced. Perhaps they say I love you after just a few dates, or want to introduce you to their friends or family early on. If you find plans for moving in together, marriage, or having kids comes up before you’ve had the chance to really get to know each other, this can be a red flag.
They want commitment too soon. They may push for commitment or the next steps before you feel ready. This could mean wanting to move in together quickly, rushing to announce your relationship to family or friends, insisting on meeting parents, or even getting engaged quickly.
You feel the need to react with care. You worry that if you don’t show the right level of appreciation, they will become cold, distant, or use ‘silent treatment’ to get you to apologise or make things up to them. You feel the need to respond to messages instantly, or like you can’t miss a call without being bombarded with questions, more messages, or feeling guilt-tripped. You feel like you are walking on eggshells if you don’t have the ‘right reaction’ that they want.
How long does love bombing usually last?
Love bombing is typically a phase within a relationship. It may last for weeks, months, years, or even longer. It’s important to know that over time, the benefits the love bomber receives from this behaviour (the ‘emotional high’) start to lessen, which can mean that they begin to change their behaviour. This can lead to a withdrawal of affection (physical and emotional), and the use of other emotionally abusive or manipulative tactics, such as criticising or undermining you, making you feel guilty, shaming you, gaslighting, setting unrealistic expectations, or invalidating your experiences or feelings.
Is love bombing a relationship red flag?
Relationship experts consider love bombing to be unhealthy. For many, it’s a red flag, as it can make it hard to maintain personal boundaries, and pushes one person to feel dependent or indebted to the other. Over time, you may begin to excuse other worrying signs of manipulative, controlling, or abusive behaviour, as you feel dependent on the person who has been love bombing you. You may even feel unable to ask for help, as you may worry others won’t believe what is happening, or that you should have seen the signs sooner.
What do I do if I'm being love bombed?
If you think you are being love bombed, do what you can to safely remove yourself from the situation. Love bombing is a type of manipulation that encourages you to create strong feelings for the love bomber. Whether intentionally or not, they are looking for control and power. Separating yourself can be the safest option.
If you haven’t been in a relationship for long, and think that your partner may be going over the top rather than love bombing you, sitting down to have an open, honest conversation can be a positive first step. Setting boundaries, ensuring you are communicating healthily and openly, and making sure you both stick to these boundaries can be a great way of laying the foundations for a healthy relationship. If you find the same patterns of behaviour sneaking back in, or feel that your partner is deliberately trying to manipulate the situation to get around or ignore your boundaries, this can be a huge red flag.
Speaking with someone outside of your relationship can be a great way of recognising, acknowledging, and discussing your worries and concerns. Whether this is with a friend, family member, or professional therapist, this can help you to see behaviours in new lights, and validate how you are feeling.
Working with a qualified counsellor or therapist can be a positive step to help tackle any feelings of worry, guilt, self-blame, self-hatred, or loss you may feel following an experience with love bombing. Over time, love-bombing can negatively impact your self-esteem and self-confidence, leaving you doubting yourself or even feeling ashamed. Speaking with a professional can help you to work through these feelings, rebuild your confidence in yourself, and work towards having healthier, happier relationships.
To find out more about narcissistic abuse, emotional abuse, and how to find help with relationship problems, visit Counselling-Directory.org.uk, or use the search bar below to find a qualified therapist near you.