Are You Experiencing Love Bombing?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When you hear the term “love bomb,” it might not sound all that bad. If love is so great, getting bombed with it must be great, too, right? But love bombing is manipulative, destructive, and sometimes even abusive. 

It may start out feeling like you found everything you have always wanted. You may think you have found your soulmate, and the new relationship often moves rapidly, becoming deep and committed within a few weeks. There’s no red flags and everything seems great until, suddenly, everything changes. 

Here is everything you need to know if you think you might be the victim of love bombing.

What is love bombing?

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The term “love bomb” was originally coined back in the 1970s by a religious cult called the Unification Church of the United States. Founder Sun Myung Moon used the phrase to describe a manipulative mind control tactic commonly used to bring in new constituents. Later, cult leaders like Charles Manson and David Koresh employed such “love bombs”  to gain control of people so successfully that they induced large numbers of people to commit murder and suicide. People with narcissistic personality disorder are also well known for using this narcissistic abuse tactic in relationship formation, and sometimes the action of love bombing can stem from a deeper childhood trauma in an individuals life.

In relationships, love bombing makes the intended target feel happy, cared about, and assured at the beginning of the relationship. It instills a sense of belonging and genuine affection. But later, this sense of belonging evolves into fear, intimidation, and violence. 

Relationship stages with a love bomber

A relationship with a love bomber may go through three distinct stages.

First is the idealization stage. In this stage, spending time together constantly, the love bomber grooms their target, bombarding them with attention, extravagent gifts, calls, and texts, and promises of undying devotion. This level of love interest can feel out of proportion to the length of time of the relationship. While this behavior may be jarring, it also feels good to be the object of constant validation and devotion. The relationship progresses so quickly that the victim doesn’t have time to wonder about the warning signs.

This type of attention is only a mask. The love bomber is truly not seeking genuine love but simply looking for someone to possess, control, and manipulate. Excessive attention is nothing more than a strategy to draw the victim into the web of the love bomber. As soon as the perpetrator knows the other person feels special and has developed real feelings, they will likely drop their mask and move onto the next stage, devaluation.

If the victim disagrees with the love bomber or does something the love bomber doesn’t like, the perpetrator becomes furious. They respond by degrading and belittling the target of their affection, often threatening that they will leave and the victim will never meet anyone else like them, making the victim feel obligated to stay. Love bombers may resort to sulking, yelling, or even physical abuse, but often will not feel embarrassed about their actions. 

This devaluation aims to isolate the victim from sources of support, such as friends or family, and make them entirely dependent on the love bomber. The victim is often so devastated by the perceived loss of affection that they may be willing to do anything to regain it, giving up other healthy relationships, work goals, hobbies, and financial stability to make the perpetrator happy again. The victim keeps hoping that they will once again find the person who won their heart at the beginning of the relationship. The love bomber may return to making grand gestures of affection, but a return to the idealization stage is usually followed, again, by the devaluation stage.

After a few rounds of idealization and devaluation comes the final stage, discard. In some cases, the victim ends the relationship. In others, the love bomber grows bored with the relationship and seeks out someone new to shower with attention. In either case, the victim is likely to be shocked and bereft, wondering how something so wonderful could have turned out so wrong.

The love bomber, for their part, may never really feel that the discard stage is the end. They may resurface if they seek attention, showering the victim with love to begin the cycle again. In some cases, the perpetrator is successful, and the process repeats.

Signs that you're experiencing love bombing

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It’s not uncommon for someone to seem excessively intense and eager at the beginning of a relationship. However, this doesn’t always mean that the person is a love bomber.

So how do you tell the difference between a love bomber and a person who simply likes to give you lots of attention? Should you be concerned? What are the signs of love bombing?

Here are some examples of love bombing to look out for that might signal you are dealing with a love bomber.

They move the relationship too quickly

They may say “I love you” on the first date and surprise you with plane tickets for a weekend getaway on the second. They make it clear that they consider you the person they are meant to be with and may keep in constant contact with you via text or email. While you may enjoy all this attention, the reality is that it’s impossible to love someone that you’ve just met. Though nice to hear, all these declarations of true love are ultimately meaningless. They are just part of a manipulative tactic.

They talk about your future together in great detail

This is more than just a vague mention of the kind of marriage they want someday. The love bomber discusses a future with you in specific terms, right down to where you’ll go on your honeymoon and your children's names. You may think the relationship feels sweet and romantic, potentially even unlike past relationships in that way. In reality, it’s a danger sign. No matter how much rationalization you may be engaging in, you can’t turn a red flag white, nor should you.

They know exactly what you want to hear

A love bomber is eerily tuned in to your deepest insecurities. They quickly understand your weak points, and their goal is to make you feel dependent on them as the only person who truly “gets” you, using insecurities like low self esteem against you.

They won't stop giving expensive guests and making excessive gestures

They go above and beyond with gestures, for example, sending a bouquet every hour of the workday or a rose for every day they’ve known you. Did you casually mention that you need new lawn furniture? They may have the nicest lawn furniture delivered to your door the same day.

They compliment you too much

Everyone enjoys getting compliments, but at a certain point, they begin to feel fake. If you are receiving compliments every hour of the day, chances are they are not authentic. The love bomber simply uses them to draw you further into their web.

They expect you to communicate with them 24/7

Some people like to text a lot, but if your new partner texts you every moment of the day without giving you a break, you may be a victim of love bombing. On the surface, this may seem romantic. But the reality is much more sinister. The love bomber wants to know exactly where you are and what you’re doing at all times.

How to react to being love-bombed

If you think you might be the victim of a love bombing, there are some practical steps to take.

Slow things down

Real love takes time to build. Don’t be afraid to take future relationships slowly. A healthy partner who truly cares about you will understand. Taking it slow can be a great foundation for a healthy relationship.

Have an honest conversation

Tell your partner that you are uncomfortable with the excessive attention and demands on your time. While this may be a difficult conversation, a partner who is worth keeping will hear your concerns and respect them without making you feel guilty. If the other person disregards your feelings, you should consider this a major red flag that this person is not for you.

Break things off, if necessary

If you’re in a relationship with someone who truly does not respect your boundaries or care about your feelings, it may be time to end the relationship to minimize the damage.

Listen to your instincts

If you feel that things seem atypical, off, or too much, they probably are. While not always a bad sign, these feelings can act as a warning. Pay closer attention to any patterns that may be forming, and consider talking things over with a close friend..

Seek professional help

Ending a relationship with a love bomber can be difficult. They know your weak points and will use them to their advantage, drawing you in once again with extravagant promises and compliments. In some cases, you may be weakened by their behaviors during the devaluing stage, making it even harder to break things off.

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Help is available for emotional abuse

If you find yourself a victim of love bombing and feel anxious or depressed due to the emotional abuse you experienced during the devaluation stage, talking to a licenced therapist can help. Online counseling can help you recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship. 

Being love-bombed can leave you feeling confused, and rightly so. A therapist can take an objective look at what’s going on and provide you with valid information so that you can make informed decisions. Furthermore, if attracting this type of person seems to be a pattern in your life, you can explore this further with a professional. Ultimately, if breaking off the relationship is on the table, one study suggests that some adults feel they lack the skills necessary to end a relationship. If this sounds like you, a licensed counselor can provide the guidance you need to move forward.

One of the benefits of online counseling is that you can participate from anywhere. If you are hesitant to talk to someone face-to-face, talking to a BetterHelp therapist online can alleviate some of the pressure, making it easier for you to get the help you need. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective, too. One study indicated that online therapy results in “significant and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety scores” after 12 weeks that were sustained at month six. If you’re in a relationship with a love bomber who has made you depressed or anxious by bringing you down in the devaluation stage of the relationship, talk to an online therapist to get started.

Counselor reviews

“Jeffrey Owen has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He is clearly skilled in his guidance, enabling me to understand the complexities of narcissism and the impact of such lifelong abuse; that I had not fully understood. Reading on the subject matter is useful, but having counseling to explore in a different way is empowering for a survivor like myself. So, thank you, Jeff.”

“Rick has been such a blessing in my life. Rick worked first with me in couples counseling and after realizing I needed to separate from my husband, he remained my counselor individually. He has helped me work through many of my codependency and heartbreak issues. He has always been honest with me; every time I leave a session with him, I genuinely feel heard and understood. I highly recommend him if you struggle in a toxic relationship with a partner or yourself.”

Takeaway

Love bombing may seem too good to be true because it is usually nothing more than a ploy to earn the affection and trust of the intended victim. As good as the idealization phase might have made you feel, the damage done during the devaluation phase can be challenging to overcome. If you’re dealing with symptoms of anxiety or depression or have any other concerns about your mental health as a result of a love bomber, reach out to a therapist today.

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