‘Love Bombing’ Is the Scary Control Tactic Narcissists Don’t Want You to Know About
Are you bombarded by love?
Getty Images / InStyle
Over-the-top ads of affection, flowers, and declarations of love within weeks. Romantic gestures like this seem straight out of a movie - but they can also be a sign of something much more sinister.
Singer-songwriter FKA Twigs recently filed a civil lawsuit against former partner Shia La Beouf, in which she stated that the actor exposed her to physical abuse, emotional manipulation and verbal threats over the course of their relationship. Twigs' report of the abuse includes details of how La Beouf showered her with affection and attention shortly after their meeting, jumping over the fence of her London home, leaving love letters and sending her up to twenty bouquets a day. She now identifies his behavior as "love bombing," a tactic often used by abusers to manipulate their targets.
But what exactly is love bombing? And how do you know if you are a victim of it in terms of practice?
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What is love bombing?
In a world that tells us love stories should start with exaggerated obsessions and devotions, it can be difficult to identify love bombs. According to psychotherapist and relationship counselor Denise Dunne, it is initially characterized by intense worship and a feeling that a new relationship is too good to be true.
"Love bombs describe the behavior of flooding someone with flattering and grandiose messages, usually at the beginning of a relationship," she says. "It can be recognized by the feeling of being torn off your feet or, alternatively, being a bit suffocated."
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Love bombers tend to use a flurry of affection to later exert control over their partner. The target becomes addicted to the adoring behavior the love bomber initially displays - when those attentions are withdrawn, they haunt the high they experienced at the beginning of the relationship. Love bombs are the most common among narcissists and go hand in hand with other toxic relationship traits such as gas light and emotional abuse.
"While it is intoxicating at first, the period of intense seduction is inevitably followed by a very sudden disparagement," explains Dunne. "Admiration is abruptly withdrawn, rendering the feeling admired worthless and confused, or being forced to pursue admiration by obsequious means."
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How can you tell if you are experiencing love bombs?
Not every overly loving person is necessarily a manipulator, and not every new romance should be viewed with suspicion. Tatyannah King, a certified sex educator, believes there are some key signs that could suggest that a new interest is fueling love bombing.
"It's difficult to pinpoint love bombs when they first happen because new relationships usually go through what is known as the honeymoon phase, when couples experience a romantic onslaught of euphoric feelings toward one another," she says. "However, you may find that despite a relationship with the intent to take things slow, you are forced to do just the opposite because a love bomb partner is demanding your undivided time and attention. You will text, call, and message about social media and will likely get upset when you start setting boundaries with them. "
Dunne suggests that love bombing could come to light once a partner's tactics change and they move into the emotional abuse stage of the process.
"Sometimes people really fall in love at first sight," she says. "But you should be ready to bail if you experience frequent and sudden changes in the dynamics from good to bad, recurring accusations of being wrong, being atypically submissive, or being dejected."
How to deal with love bombs
Love bombs are a form of manipulation. If you suspect that your partner's behavior is in line with this tactic, the relationship is likely to become extremely unhealthy.
"Strictly communicate that you don't want to rush into the relationship and let your partner know that showering gifts and expressions of love all the time makes you feel uncomfortable," says King. “If they care about you and they really mean no harm, they will change their actions for the better. However, if they get angry or double down on their excessive and controlling behavior, you should consider leaving the relationship as soon as possible possible."
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Offenders often try to isolate their victims from friends and family. King recommends that you ensure that you are in touch with your support system. If your partner's behavior escalates, Dunne suggests breaking contact completely.
"This type of psychological manipulation is deeply problematic and is unlikely to evolve into anything healthier," she says. "My advice is to get out of the relationship by breaking all emotional ties and communication. Someone with narcissistic traits will often try to lure you back, even if it's just an argument."
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Breaking yourself out of a relationship that is about love bombs can be difficult. The practice is specially structured to make you feel dependent on your partner, which means that attachments are difficult to identify and break. "Because of the difficulty of getting out of the relationship's reward dynamic, I would also recommend psychotherapy if the experience hurts you in any way," says King.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that real relationships take time to develop - and if a new love feels too good to be true, this could be a warning sign.
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