Eyes open, you might be the subject of ‘love bombing’

Illustration by Twlyamae
Words by Jonti Ridley

Hindsight is always 20/20.

Dealing with a narcissist can be frustrating on the best of days but, when you’re dating one, things step up a notch. If there’s such a thing as a narcissist magnet, consider me a big, shiny example. I’ve been friends with some, lived with a few and dated more than I’d care to admit.  

Which is how I learned about ‘love bombing’, the practice of showering someone with attention and affection in order to influence or manipulate them.

The term was originally used by psychologists when describing the process of brainwashing of cult members. It’s often administered by narcissistic personality types (hence my experience with the process), though it can be executed by just about anyone. 

In everyday relationships, it takes the following form. You need regular texts? You got it. Daily phone calls? How about two. Feeling insecure? They’ll shower you in compliments. They’ll make you feel like the centre of the universe, using your own insecurities to build a sense of safety. Then, they’ll exploit you. 

Coming out of a long-term relationship that ends with a broken heart can therefore make a person particularly susceptible to love bombing, as deep insecurities blossom. But love bombing can happen to anyone. And when you’re in the eye of the storm, it can be particularly difficult to know that it’s happening. 

So from one survivor to (possibly) another, here’s a few insights that will help you spot a ‘love bomber’.

Disagreement while dating is inevitable 

As two grown, adult humans from different backgrounds and experiences, you’re not going to agree on everything. (Or maybe you will, and this is just the Sagittarius in me coming out.) But while there is such thing as healthy conflict, love bombers go beyond this. They are quick to lash out during conflict and will do so with a personal attack, going beyond the subject matter at hand. They will ensure you’re made to feel that sole responsibility for the issue not only falls on you, but only exists because of you. 

It’s a nice feeling when your partner is accepted into your friend group, it’s not so nice when they take over 

Love bombers tend to show their best side to the public, which means those around you are likely to think they’re a shining example of a partner-to-be. You may even find they love bomb your friends, complimenting them, messaging one-on-one, making plans without you. Even the most loyal of friends can fall under their spell, making it hard for you to discuss your concerns with third parties. When you don’t have other people to hear you out, or legitimise your concerns, you’re quickly isolated from any lifelines. It also makes it easier for the love bomber to keep tabs on you.

When they give you compliments, it actually has nothing to do with you 

Love bombers might position you as a token or trophy, with compliments like, “You’re the best-looking out of your friends” or, “You’re the hottest girl I’ve ever dated.” These are both phrases that a) pit you against other people, and b) crown your partner as the winner of possessing you.

Self-deprecation can also feature here. These compliments place you on a pedestal, with the result that you feel guilty for behaving or looking any other way. “You’re too hot for me when you look like that”, “I can’t do any better than you”, “Everyone in there was staring at you”.  All that glitters is not gold, and a compliment that makes you feel worse isn’t a compliment. 

Love is not something that should ever be weaponised 

As a serial monogamist, there’s nothing I love more than falling in love; I’ve had some practice. But if a person’s reason for loving someone is to stroke their own ego or enforce control, I’m swiping left.

Falling in love is a process and logically, it’s probably not happening in the first few weeks. So if you find yourself confronted with another person’s declaration of love so soon, be wary. Everyone’s timeline is different, of course, but if something feels off then it probably is. 

Love also doesn’t only exist in extremes. If a person is madly in love with you one minute, they wouldn’t threaten to harm themselves because of you the next. If their love for you (or vice versa) is being weaponised, this is a love bomb.

To summarise

Love bombing is essentially a method of control. If a person is giving you absolutely everything you’ve dreamt of, how could you ever criticise their behaviour? How could ever want to leave? 

The trouble with love bombing is that, by the time these flags begin to appear, you’ve already been positioned to excuse or even defend the perpetrator. Put bluntly, it’s a form of emotional abuse. If you recognise any of the above in your own (or another’s) relationship, it’s a signal you may have been love-bombed and it’s time to distance yourself. 

My first piece of advice, if you think the relationship is moving too fast, or you’re not emotionally prepared for what the other person is pressing, talk to them. Communication is a wonderful thing, and when used between two logical people, it’s the quickest way to avoid sticky situations.

If the other person blows up on you, consider this a sign of a clearly dodged bullet and avoid getting any more involved. It’s easy to make excuses for another person but sometimes, it’s best not to. Particularly if that person isn’t respecting your autonomy, opinion or feelings.  

Secondly, remember that your worth is not contingent on falling in love and living happily ever after. A lot of people fall subject to love bombing because they try to make a relationship work, so they can achieve an over-romanticised screenplay of happiness. The idea that you must fall in love and “find your other half” to be considered a successful person is bullshit. Of course it’s nice, but you have a lot more to offer than being someone’s significant other. 

If you suspect that you, or someone you know, might be experiencing love bombing, support is available here

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