With love bombing becoming more topical in popular culture, it is vital that we educate young people on what love bombing is and the common warning signs. But first of all, what is love bombing?
What is Love Bombing?
“Love bombing” describes manipulative behaviour often seen in romantic relationships, friendships, or cult dynamics. It refers to excessive displays of affection, attention, and admiration early on in a relationship to flatter the other person and create a strong emotional bond.
However, research has shown that love bombing is also used by narcissistic individuals to “bomb” their significant other with constant communication via texts, emails, phone calls, and social media sites. This constant attention allows the narcissist to secure their place as the most important person in their significant other’s life. They then manipulate their significant other by ignoring them for long periods of time, making that person desperate for love and attention.
In fact, love bombing has become so pervasive in the United Kingdom that the Crown Prosecution Service now recognizes it as a form of domestic abuse.
Love Bombing Origins
Love bombing is mostly associated with romantic relationships, however there are early signs in religious settings and in cults.
One of the first recorded instances of love bombing was in the 1970’s where the founder and leader of the Unification Church of the United States, Sun Myung Moon used the term “love bomb” when talking about his church members (known as Moonies). “What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.”
Likewise, in her 1996 book Cults in Our Midst, Psychology professor Margaret Singer wrote: “As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members…. 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.”
Throughout history we have seen examples of notorious cult leaders such as Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and David Koresh weaponize love bombing, using it to con followers into follow their orders which has included committing mass suicide and even murder.
The Phases of Love Bombing
In his article “The Danger of Manipulative Love-Bombing in a Relationship” psychologist Dale Archer identifies the phases of love bombing as follows: Intense Idealization, Devaluations, Discard (IDD).
Phase 1: Intense Idealization
In phase one the individual love bombs their target in an attempt to influence the other person with over-the-top displays of attention and affection. This can take the form of multiple text messages, messages on social media platforms or phone calls but will always result in making the person of interest feel special and loved. The love bomber will not only shower their person of interest with romantic gestures, but will also start to make commitments very early on such as talking of moving in together or planning their future together.
Phase 2: Devaluation
Phase two is where we see the manipulation begin. It is very possible to shower a romantic interest with love and attention; however, some people will use love bombing as a deliberate and manipulative tactic that is deployed in order to gain the upper hand over a new partner and increase his or her dependence on the bomber.
In manipulative love bombing we see a dramatic shift in the form of attention. It will usually morph from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry. This is an example of psychological conditioning in which the love bombing is positive reinforcement and the devaluation is the negative consequence.
Phase 3: Discard (and repeat)
Often the final phase in this cycle is discard. This is where the love bomber abandons the person of interest often without any reason, this can also be known as “ghosting”. Usually the discard is part of the love bombers’ manipulation to gain more control over the situation and their love interest. After a period of silence they will come back and resume the first phase of the cycle by showering their target with love and affection. This is where the dangerous cycle repeats.
5 Love Bombing Warning Signs for Young People
It is important young people understand some of the warning signs that come with love bombing.
Early declarations of love and commitment
Love bombers are “all in” extremely quickly. They will buy extravagant gifts, showering their person with love and affection and they will also try to move the relationship along too quickly. If someone is making declarations of love very quickly or talking about making big life commitments very early into the relationship that may be a cause for concern.
Attempts to be in constant contact
Part of the love bombing cycle involves being in constant contact with their person. If someone is bombarding you with nonstop texts, messages or phone calls and is extremely upset when you do not answer straight away this could be a red flag.
Displays emotional neediness and reactivity
If the person becomes upset because their partner has made other plans or can’t hang out with them then that is a warning sign. Love bombers are controlling and part of their manipulation involves cutting their person off from their friends and family.
Makes unreasonable demands
Love bombers are manipulative and like to make unreasonable demands such as asking their partner to not go to a certain social event, or to cancel plans with their family. This is part of their manipulation to control their partner. This can also take the form of ignoring boundaries that the other person tries to set up and not listening to their partners wants or needs.
Never apologises for their actions
A love bomber is adamant that they are never at fault for their actions. They blame everything on their partner and will never apologize. Or if they do apologize it will be disguised as an insult, “I’m sorry that you took it the wrong way,” or “I didn’t mean to upset you, you are just too sensitive.” This is especially noticeable when the love bomber has returned after discording or ghosting their partner, but does not apologize for their actions.
Hopefully these tips will help you educate young people on the signs of love bombing and give them the knowledge to recognise love bombing and other manipulative behaviours.