Picture your perfect relationship. It might include extravagant gifts, swoon-worthy gestures and a partner who always wants to spend time with you. Sounds romantic, right?
That’s what I thought when I met my former partner a few months before my 19th birthday. At first, our relationship seemed to be enviable. He always wanted to hang out with me, would pay for our dates even when I tried to pay and genuinely appeared to be kind and attentive. He seemed like everything I would want in a partner.
But that all quickly changed. Things began to go sour within the first few months of dating when I felt overwhelmed with how fast our relationship was going. What was supposed to be a two-hour movie date turned into an all-day affair because my boyfriend wanted me to spend all my time with him. He constantly made me FaceTime him even when I wanted to spend time with other people. He started telling me he loved me and that I “saved his life.” I began lying about my work schedule so I wouldn’t have to see him, and I felt isolated and alone. I ended the relationship when he began acting like he had control over my body.
It took me almost two years to learn that what had happened in the beginning was called “love bombing.” In love bombing, behind the dreamy facade of a perfect relationship is a pattern of narcissism and manipulation. Here’s everything you need to know to avoid being love bombed.
What is love bombing?
According to psychologist Claire Strutzenberg, love bombing is a manipulative tactic where a person (usually a narcissist) will shower a new partner with elaborate displays of affection and romance. Their goal is to rope their partner deeper into an unhealthy relationship to gain control over them.
“If you feel like you are being swept up in a whirlwind romance and someone is coming on really strong and moving things along very quickly to the point you feel ‘this seems too good to be true,’ you may be being love bombed,” says Trina Leckie, relationship expert and host of the popular podcast breakup BOOST.
Love bombing sounds like it comes from the modern age of online dating, but it is actually nothing new. The term originated in the 1970s and was used to describe a practice by religious organizations and cults to recruit new members by showing affection. It was used by notorious leaders such as Jim Jones and Charles Manson to manipulate followers into committing specific acts.
Love bombing and the honeymoon phase of a relationship are much different. “The first distinction is there tends to be the honeymoon phase early on in a relationship, and that’s all well and fine. You’re really excited, but for someone who is using it in a manipulative way, there is this kind of a hot and cold aspect to it,” says Kat Kova, sex and relationship therapist and founder of Kat Kova Therapy. “You might not be able to recognize it at first because it might just feel like the beginning stage of a relationship where people are really infatuated with one another. The problem is when you start to notice that they turn cold or you realize that something is a little bit off or that there’s some kind of manipulation going on.”
The red flags of love bombing
Love bombers tend to want to win over their partner’s trust and affection quickly for adoration or for an ulterior motive, which can often feel good at first.
“For some people, I think that’s an easy one to kind of fall into because maybe we haven’t felt that way and think that’s special,” says Kova. “It’s that sort of sense of feeling really special, almost as if you’re put on this super high standard.”
According to Kova, some common signs of love bombing include:
- Excessive compliments
- Being showered with lavish gifts and gestures
- The relationship is moving quickly and intensely
- Switching from very affectionate to very cold
Leckie says some examples in a relationship might involve saying phrases such as, “you’re my soulmate” too early or “all we need is each other,” which could potentially isolate someone from their friends and family. Love bombing might also look like grand romantic gestures such as gifting someone a few dozen roses instead of one dozen or getting engaged quickly.
“Overall, a feeling of too much, too soon,” says Leckie.
Recovering from love bombing
If you have just been love bombed, Leckie suggests taking time for yourself to rebuild confidence and personal boundaries. “It still hurts, of course, and takes time to heal. It causes a lot of damage to one’s self-esteem, anxiety etc., but I always suggest that people consider the source. It has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the personality of the love bomber. Do not blame yourself. It is not your fault,” she says.
Kova recommends recovering by working on self-love, doing things you are good at and having a growth mindset. “I would say that there’s a reason you’ve gone through an experience, and it’s changed you in some ways and made you more cautious. Try to tune into that feeling, but let yourself know is that feeling controlling you or are you using that feeling to help guide you in making healthy decisions and don’t ever allow yourself to be devalued,” she says.
Overall, it is about trusting yourself. “Trust your gut, follow your intuition, and think with your head versus just with your heart. Be with someone where things naturally evolve, where you feel more at ease and safe,” Leckie says. “Most importantly, don’t allow this person who didn’t have good intentions toward you rob you of future love with someone else.”
Trina Leckie, breakup and relationship coach. Her podcast breakup BOOST is available on Apple, Spotify and other streaming platforms.
Kat Kova, sex and relationship therapist at Kat Kova Therapy.