Dating Red Flags: Am I Being Love Bombed?

Love bombing is a term used to describe what is usually a manipulative tactic employed in relationships, particularly in the early stages. It is a form of psychological manipulation, whereby a person showers their partner with attention, affection, and compliments in an attempt to win them over quickly and intensely. Read on to learn what love bombing is, the signs, and how to protect yourself from this toxic behavior.

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on May 13, 2024

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When you first start dating someone, it’s natural to want to shower them with affection and attention. However, if your partner is over the top with their declarations of love, gifts, and compliments, you may be experiencing a phenomenon called love bombing.

Love bombing is a red flag that a person may have ulterior motives and is seeking to control or manipulate you in a relationship. If you’re questioning whether you’re a victim of love bombing, keep reading to learn what love bombing is, the signs, and how to protect yourself from this toxic behavior.

What Is Love Bombing?

Love bombing is a term used to describe what is usually a manipulative tactic employed in relationships, particularly in the early stages. It is a form of psychological manipulation, whereby a person showers their partner with attention, affection, and compliments in an attempt to win them over quickly and intensely. Essentially, love bombing involves overwhelming a person with love and affection, creating an intense and emotional connection.

Definition of Love Bombing

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic that narcissists and abusive people use to gain control over their romantic partners. It’s a process of showering the partner with intense affection and attention in the early stages of a relationship. Once the victim becomes dependent, the love bomber withdraws the affection, setting the stage for an emotionally manipulative and abusive relationship.

Love bombing is not just confined to romantic relationships, as it can occur in other types of relationships as well, including friendships, family relationships, and work relationships. In all cases, love bombing is a form of manipulation designed to exploit someone’s emotions for the manipulator’s gain.

An example of love bombing in a familial relationship is when parents manipulate their child to act or behave in a certain way or risk withdrawal of love and affection, being insulted, etc.

How Love Bombing Works

Love bombing creates an illusion of an intense and perfect relationship following four stages:

1. Idealization

This is the initial stage involving extravagant displays of affection, expensive gifts, and immoderate gestures — each with the aim of making the victim dependent and obligated.

2. Devaluing

Once the victim is enmeshed in the love relationship, the narcissist withdraws the affection. Gaslighting and blame games take center stage, making the victim feel disillusioned.

3. Discarding

No longer unable to get what they need from their victim, the narcissist may remove themselves from the relationship. Or, the “bomber” may also do a nasty thing to prompt the victim to leave.

4. Hovering

The narcissist tries to suck the victim back by swearing they’ve changed, claiming they can never get a perfect replacement, and crying for help. If the victim falls for the trap, the cycle begins all over again.

Characteristics of Love Bombing

Love bombing may happen unconsciously. Childhood experiences may result in the presence of narcissistic behaviors in individuals; such individuals are unaware of their manipulative tendencies. They believe their actions are in the best interest of their partners. Whether conscious or subconscious, it’s manipulative and selfish. A love bomber uses manipulative tactics such as withdrawal and isolation to force the partner to act in a way that pleases the bomber. The other person lives in constant fear of wronging the bomber. Love bombing is also alarmingly fast-paced, causing the relationship to progress rapidly and intensely. The narcissist lover says “I love you” after only a few dates and follows this up with excessive displays of love. 

The Psychology Behind Love Bombing

Love bombing is driven by psychological and emotional needs, and often the love bomber is unaware of their own actions and motivations.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a leading cause of love bombing. Data indicates that a narcissistic personality disorder can be diagnosed in about 1% to 4% of the adult population. People suffering from this condition are unaware of their manipulative behavior and believe that their actions are a genuine expression of their feelings

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can also result in narcissistic tendencies in individuals. BPD is a mental illness that affects an individual’s ability to control emotions, among other factors. Excessive signs of affection are not always an indication of a mental illness, but if you have concerns, consult with a mental health professional.

The Dangers of Love Bombing

While love bombing may initially feel exhilarating and exciting, it’s important to recognize that it can have serious negative consequences.

While explaining the dangers of love bombing, Tami Zak, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Grow Therapy says, “Love bombing is manipulative — that is the danger. Love and attention is used to have power and control over a partner rather than caring for and being vulnerable with a partner. It is not reciprocal or heartfelt — it is a tool used to get their needs met with no regard for the needs of their partner. This leaves the partner unsteady, feeling used, and unsure how to proceed without being completely depleted by the relationship.“ 

Signs of Love Bombing

At first, love bombing may seem like a fairytale come true, but it is important to recognize the signs of love bombing and understand that it can be a form of manipulation. The presence of excessive compliments and flattery may be a sign of love bombing. While compliments are always appreciated, be wary if your partner is constantly showering you with excessive compliments and flattery. Over-the-top gestures are another sign of love bombing. Is your partner constantly buying you expensive gifts or planning extravagant dates? While it may seem romantic at first, take a step back and ask yourself if these grand gestures are genuine or if they’re being done to manipulate your emotions. They may be trying to control the relationship and make you feel obligated to reciprocate their intense feelings.

Discernment is important; while extravagant gestures may be a sign of manipulative behavior, it may also simply be an expression of care. Lean on the opinions of trusted individuals, and seek to understand the underlying motives of the giver.

Examples of Love Bombing

Love bombing can take many different forms, but some common examples include:

Love Bombing vs. Healthy Relationships 

About 41% of women and 26% of men experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in an abusive relationship. The good news is that you can avoid becoming a victim of an abusive relationship if you learn how to tell a healthy relationship from an abusive one.

Differences Between Love Bombing and Healthy Relationships

It’s important to learn the subtle differences between love bombing and healthy relationships to help you make more informed decisions when falling in love. Healthy relationships anchor on mutual respect, trust, and empathy. Both partners feel safe and supported in expressing their needs, boundaries, and desires. Contrastingly, love bombing is a manipulative tactic used by individuals who are looking to control and dominate their partners. A love bombing relationship progresses too quickly, bypassing important steps in a new relationship. A healthy relationship goes through a love building process to establish trust, communication, and respect.

Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

Certain characteristics of a healthy relationship can help you see and identify the fine line between love bombing and true love.

The first characteristic of a healthy relationship is trust. Both partners must trust each other completely to have a successful and lasting relationship. Respect is also a characteristic of a healthy relationship. Both partners respect each other’s boundaries, opinions, and feelings. They understand that they are both unique individuals with their own perspectives and values. Communication is two-way in a healthy relationship. Both partners express themselves openly and honestly without fear of judgment or rejection. Finally, in healthy relationships, there is no dominant or submissive partner. Both people treat each other with respect and consideration.

How to Deal with Love Bombing

Love bombing may seem charming and flattering, especially if you’re in a new relationship. Unfortunately, it is often manipulative and unhealthy in the long run. Below are options you can take if you believe you’re being love bombed.

Trust Your Instincts: If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t — don’t ignore your gut feelings. Look out for any controlling or manipulative behavior, such as excessive jealousy, monitoring, or pressure to make quick commitments. 

Take a Step Back: Slow down the pace of the relationship. This will give you some time to evaluate the situation objectively.  

Seek Help: Though you can seek help from close family members, you should also consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who is experienced in dealing with love bombing

How to Protect Yourself from Love Bombing

Love bombing is a dangerous behavior that can cause severe emotional trauma. Here are a few tips to protect yourself from love bombing: 

Don’t Believe Everything: When someone is love bombing you, they will say anything to make you feel special and wanted. Don’t take everything they say at face value. Always keep a healthy level of skepticism and look for consistency in their actions.

Set Boundaries: Be clear about what you want and need in a new relationship. Also, make sure that the other person respects your boundaries. Be sure to enforce and maintain these boundaries if the other person crosses them.

Observe Behavior: Pay attention to your partner’s behavior. Do they act differently around others than they do with you? While no one is perfect, prolonged inconsistency and inappropriate behavioral patterns may be a sign of manipulative tendencies.  

Where to Get Help for Love Bombing

Without proper mental health intervention or social service for the victims, all forms of abuse can escalate. Over 75% of people who report domestic violence as a result of abusive relationships continue to suffer if no action is taken. It’s important to seek help before things get out of control. A trained therapist can help you recognize the signs of love bombing, and provide support and guidance as you work to extricate yourself from the relationship.

At Grow Therapy, you will find a therapist who specializes in your areas of need — experienced in helping navigate trauma, narcissism, or emotional abuse. 

Additionally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good place to get help. They provide free, confidential support 24/7 and can offer resources to help you get out of the relationship safely.

How to Heal from Love Bombing

Being love bombed can be an overwhelming and traumatic experience that can leave lasting effects on your mental health. Healing from the emotional and psychological damage that comes with love bombing requires patience, time, and a commitment to self-care. The healing process starts with recognizing the love bombing behavior. Once you recognize that you’re being love bombed, proceed to seek professional help. A therapist will help you recover from a broken relationship. It’s also important to practice self-care during and after therapy.

Final Thoughts

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between love bombing and healthy relationships, it’s essential to educate yourself on the warning signs of love bombing and be cautious when entering into a new relationship. By being aware of the dangers of love bombing, you can protect yourself and your emotional well-being. 

If you suspect that you are being love bombed, it is important to take action. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support as you navigate this difficult experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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