What is love bombing?
Love bombing is a phrase that describes an intense period of attention and adoration early in a relationship, often characterised by declarations of love, rapid courtship, large gifts and other grand gestures.
“It is typically a time of idealisation and seduction, where you are put on a pedestal,” says says Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology and author. “But while it may sound like a dream the intent is actually to confuse and blind you, to put you in a position where you can be controlled.”
It’s a typical pattern seen in relationships with narcissists, but love bombing is a tactic used in many kinds of dysfunctional and abusive relationships. And while it’s most common in romantic pairings, it can be seen in relationships with family members, coworkers, and friends, says psychologist Darylevuanie Johnson, PhD. Note that people who love bomb are not always totally cognisant of what they are doing and why. Their behaviour is not excusable, but remember that they are also battling their own demons.
Because it’s so intense and all-consuming, love bombing is exhausting and the “bomber” can only sustain it for about six to 12 weeks, Durvasula says. After that initial period, the gifts, compliments, and trips will dry up quickly.
The two types of love bombing
Durvasula says there are two main types of love bombing: “grandiose” and “quiet.”
Grandiose love bombers use big gestures like expensive gifts, elaborate holidays, fast and intense declarations of love, and deep emotional conversations to draw you in quickly and keep you off balance.
Quiet love bombers are less common, though just as insidious and damaging. “It’s where you become sucked entirely into the other person’s emotional world and you may feel an intense need to rescue or take care of them,” says Durvasula.
You talk constantly and they want to know every single thing about you. They may tell you that no one has understood them like you do or you may feel like no one has ever gotten you as well as they do. Quiet love bombers often have heart-breaking sob stories and share too much, too quickly.
Who is most at risk for being love bombed?
Why is it that some people can see right through the love-bombing ruse while others fall for it hook, line and 24-karat-gold sinker?
Anyone can fall for this trick, but some people are particularly vulnerable to love bombing. They include empaths, “people pleasers,” those who grew up in a narcissistic household, were abused previously, or are younger or new to relationships, Durvasula says.
People with these characteristics may be more likely to accept an unequal relationship, adds Johnson.
In love bombing, it may initially seem like the love bomber is doing all the giving. But the balance ultimately shifts, with you giving far more than you get. “In a healthy relationship there is a balance between each person’s needs,” says Johnson. “You shouldn’t be doing all the giving or all the receiving.”
Another risk factor is our cultural brainwashing of what a real, loving relationship should look like, Durvasula explains. “Too many people have bought into the Hollywood fairytale style of romance and think that this is the ideal,” she says.
The truth, however, is that much of what passes for “romance” in romantic comedies is unrealistic, overbearing, abusive and sometimes even illegal. A lot of what is called “true love” in pop culture is really love bombing, adds Durvasula.
“It triggers a childlike fantasy that turns off wisdom, not just in yourself but in those around you,” she says. “It’s not uncommon for people who are being love-bombed to be told by their friends and family that they are so lucky someone loves them that much and they shouldn’t question it.”