While some enter new relationships with caution, others jump in quickly. A fast-moving relationship can be exhilarating and passionate, but in some cases it can be a sign of something more sinister—like love bombing, a common tactic used by narcissists and in other toxic relationships.
What is love bombing?
"Love bombing is a form of emotional manipulation used to gain power over a person by showering them with what appears to be tons of affection and attention," Spirit, Ph.D., LPC, licensed counselor and host of OWN's Love Goals, tells mbg. Anyone can love bomb, but the most common offenders suffer from unhealthy attachment issues or narcissistic traits.
Love bombing might look like someone constantly complimenting you or wanting to be around you, dramatic professions of love and devotion, or bombarding you with grand gestures or expensive gifts. It can be hard to spot because it looks and feels similar to what many people want in relationships: to feel loved and adored.
Why love bombing is a red flag.
Love bombing is considered unhealthy by many relationship experts because it makes it harder for the other person to maintain their personal boundaries. According to psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli, L.P., the goal of love bombing is to make the recipient feel indebted to or dependent on the love-bomber.
Love bombing can sometimes be mistaken for the honeymoon stage of a relationship, but the two have some distinct differences. "In the honeymoon phase, love is shown by a desire to focus on what the other person likes or is interested in," Spinelli tells mbg. "Gestures tend to be thoughtful and not with an intent to impress." Love-bombers, on the other hand, will shower their partner with attention and expect recognition from them and others.
"Love bombing is also about control, creating dependency and idealization," Spinelli adds. "The honeymoon phase is about exhilarated burgeoning feelings of a new relationship."
Signs of love bombing.
If a partner is exhibiting some of these behaviors, it doesn't necessarily mean you're being love bombed—these are just a few common signs. "Trust your intuition first and foremost when it comes to love bombing," Spirit says. "If something feels wrong, then it probably is."
They give you constant compliments.
While compliments can be flattering and thoughtful, love-bombers tend to give overwhelming compliments, like "I've never met anyone more beautiful than you," or "My life is complete now that you're in it." Not only will they constantly compliment, but Spirit says they may also bait you to return these extreme professions of attachment.
They bombard you with gifts.
Because love-bombers want to be acknowledged for their generosity and attention, they'll often bombard their partner with extravagant gifts. This can feel like an ideal situation at first but eventually will transition to control, criticism, confusing behavior, or even withdrawal if they feel they're not receiving enough appreciation for their gestures, Spinelli says.
Importantly, the gifts are less about making the recipient happy and more about making them feel obligated to stay connected to the giver.
The relationship feels intense and unbalanced.
Feeling comfortable with someone quickly can be a good sign, but saying "I love you," making plans to meet the parents, move in together, or get married early on can be signs your partner is trying too hard to get close before fully knowing you.
"Love bombing goes hard and fast," Spinelli says. "Things will move faster than they should, which is a huge red flag." This is especially indicative of love bombing if the feelings are not mutual.
They expect a lot of attention.
The main goal of love-bombers is to create envy for others and garner attention and affection for themselves. When giving gifts, compliments, and unwarranted validation of the relationship, they expect to be recognized, rewarded, or worshipped.
Eventually, the gifts, attention, and compliments will be replaced with gaslighting and criticism, Spinelli says.
Other common signs:
- They shower you with over-the-top gestures.
- They say exactly what you want to hear.
- They use terms like "soulmate" a lot.
- They push for commitment early in the relationship.
- They get upset with boundaries.
- They're very needy.
- There's lots of PDA, physically and digitally.
- You feel like you have to tread lightly.
What to do if you think you're being love bombed.
If you suspect you're being love bombed, it's important to set clear and healthy boundaries. According to Spinelli, refusing gifts, setting limitations on time spent together, and responding to overwhelming texts at your own pace are all good places to start.
"You can also communicate firmly you do not want to rush into things and walk away from the relationship if your requests are not respected," she adds.
Confiding in a support system can also be critical. Friends, family members, support groups, and licensed therapists can help you understand what type of person you're dealing with and how to appropriately respond, Spirit says. "If you think you're being love bombed, focus on getting support for yourself, not the other person."
The bottom line.
Love bombing is when a person showers a new partner with intense displays of affection early on in a relationship. It's a manipulative tactic used in relationships to rope someone deeper into a relationship, which often turns unhealthy soon after. If you notice your partner love bombing you or trying to make the relationship move way too quickly, it's important to set boundaries and pay attention to how your partner responds to your request for space.
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For anonymous and confidential help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) and speak with a trained advocate for free as many times as you need. They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also speak to them through a live private chat on their website.
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.