The honeymoon phase of a relationship is often filled with some of its most memorable moments. Your partner showers you with attention, sweet texts, and thoughtful dates. What’s not to love? Enjoy the ride, but make sure it doesn’t get too excessive. Then you can cross into the “love bombing” territory.
Love bombing is when your partner bombards you with attention. “It’s when an individual idealizes their partner and barrages them in intense ‘all good’ love and affection,” says Jessica January Behr, PsyD, director at Behr Psychology in New York. This type of behavior is often linked to narcissism, a clinical disorder in which someone has an excessive and inflated interest in themselves or their appearance.
That’s because of the cycle of idealization and devaluation that is at the core of narcissistic behavior, she explains. “This is a learned pattern of behavior, where the narcissist’s self-worth is so low that they overcompensate with love bombing so they can receive the reciprocated love and affection they need to maintain their self-worth.”
A narcissistic person love bombs so that the other partner can develop emotional, physical, or financial dependence on them. “People who engage in love-bombing are often doing so unconsciously, though they may be aware of the effect their behavior has on others,” Behr says. “Someone who love bombs likely experienced a form of this narcissistic abuse in their own childhood, where a parent idealized and devalued them.”
If this behavior sounds familiar to your relationship, there are some signs you can look out for. Here’s everything you need to know about love bombing and how it can affect relationships.
First, what the hell is love bombing?
To put it simply, you can think of love bombing as clingy behavior taken to the next level. “Love bombing is a tactic of flooding a new partner with an overabundance of attention, compliments, and often false promises,” says Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of upcoming book Date Smart. That might look something like saying they’ll cover your expenses to join them in a trip abroad even though you still don’t know each other well, or bombarding you with so many texts or calls that you feel overwhelmed.
The tactic is usually used to trick people into thinking they’re the one, says Manly. But the extra attention is given for selfish reasons. “Although the person thinks the love-bombing is real and a sign of devotion and love, the love-bomber engages in ‘loving’ behaviors for personal gratification and self-inflation,” explains Manly.
To the person experiencing it, love bombing can initially feel like a good thing because it feels like your partner is putting you on a pedestal, says Behr. But the pattern of behavior is unhealthy and unsustainable. And eventually, it becomes overwhelming to the person on the receiving end of the bombing.
Why is it a red flag?
Love bombing doesn’t create healthy dynamics between partners. Though it’s natural to show the person you are dating extra attention in the initial stages of a relationship, the attention a love bomber devotes is often false and inflated on both conscious and unconscious levels, explains Manly. “This type of behavior is a red flag because of the manipulative, self-absorbed nature of the underlying dynamics.”
But how do you know if your partner is love bombing you, or if they’re just trying to show you they’re into you. Well, there are a few signs you can look out for.
Too much too soon: Behr says she once had a client whose partner offered her a key to his home after dating for three weeks. But after a few weeks, they would argue, and he would demand his key back. This is a clear example of too much too soon, she explains. Love bombing can look like your partner constantly offering you lavish gifts, whether it’s trips or jewelry, and then demanding it back to devalue and punish you. In addition to gifts, a love-bombing partner can also flood you with romantic statements or mantras, like ‘I love you,” or “We are twin flames,” too soon, Manly adds, before taking it back.
Inconsistent emotional feedback: If your partner is inconsistent in their affection, that may be a sign that something’s up. “If your partner sometimes showers you with affection, and other times leaves you high and dry, you might be experiencing love bombing. The larger the discrepancy between behaviors, the more likely you are dealing with pathological narcissism,” says Behr.
An excessive level of compliments: Compliments are a healthy part of any relationship, but your gut will know when something’s becoming overwhelming or sounds too good to be true. “Although it’s normal to compliment a new partner as a relationship unfolds, the love bomber focuses on offering lavish compliments, often before he knows enough about the other person to warrant the complimentary statements,” Manly says.
Love-bombing doesn’t always mean you’re dealing with a narcissist, though. “Love-bombing can occur outside of a narcissistic relationship, particularly if a person is needy, lonely, or happens to be naturally very generous and attentive,” says Manly. Behr says most people have features that can be considered narcissistic, even if one isn’t a true narcissist. “We all have some narcissistic features in our personality constellations, so it is possible that the love bombing you are receiving is coming from features of narcissism rather than true pathological narcissism,” Behr explains.
What should I do if someone love bombs me?
Love bombing can be dangerous because it can set you up for disappointment, says Behr. “The idealization can bring someone’s self-esteem, hope, and reciprocated affection to great heights only to be trampled by the eventual devaluation.” When someone love bombs you, it’s easy to begin to grow romantic feelings for that partner.
But when their love and affection is removed and yours stays the same, the unrequited love or feelings can result in heartbreak or feelings of betrayal, Behr explains, adding that for some it can even cause panic, desperation, depression, fear, and anxiety in the victim of love bombing. “Often the partner being love bombed will act out in desperation to return to the pedestal they were once on,” she says. “This is a cycle that can devolve with each go around, leaving the victim of love bombing more and more depleted, and more dependent on the love bomber for self-esteem and a sense of stability.”
If you suspect you’re being love bombed, Manly recommends you take a step back to gain an objective perspective. “Journal about your concerns and any red flags that arise. Talk with trusted friends or a psychotherapist about your experiences.” Then when you feel you’ve had a chance to evaluate the relationship, talk to the person you’re dating about your concerns. “A narcissistic love bomber may ‘explode’ or ‘self-destruct’ when confronted with respectful honesty, so you’ll learn a great deal from the nature of the person’s responses,” says Manly.
Once you’ve attempted to take to your partner about your concerns, it could result in an improvement in the relationship, depending on your partner’s level of insight, says Behr. “However, if you are dealing with a true narcissist, it is unlikely that any amount of communication will change this dynamic.” So, the best you can do is stay aware of the fluctuations between idealization and devaluation and decide for yourself if the downs are worth sticking around for the ups,” Behr says.
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