Have you ever been so completely swept off your feet that it leaves you wondering…is this real?
I recently had a woman write in that she was in a brand new relationship and the guy was so perfect (like fly her off to Paris three weeks after they met perfect) that she kept thinking…could this be real? Could it last?
This week I’m tackling love bombing, which is a specific form of conditioning or manipulation perpetrated by gifts, attention, and affection.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship that feels like too much, too soon and you’re not sure how to tell if it’s real love or manipulation…this episode is for you.
Love bombing does not gender discriminate. Either role (victim or manipulator) in this dynamic could be male or female. When you’re getting loved bombed, the manipulator is adoring you, lavishing you with attention and pouring all of this “love” and praise on you. Unfortunately, if it’s really love bombing, there is always eventually a pivot to the next phase, in which the opposite starts to happen, and that can be devastatingly painful.
Someone who uses this tool of manipulation is an expert at finding people who are vulnerable to it. So what makes one vulnerable? The through-line of those who fall victim to love bombing is insecurity.
Now a lot of times, that insecurity isn’t right on the surface…for example, it could be the very successful male or female CEO who hasn’t gotten into a marriage or a relationship because he or she had a terrible childhood and has unresolved emotional wounds, but then finds themselves getting entangled with someone like this.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you’re likely no stranger to love bombing…especially when they are trying to woo you or get you to stay in the relationship or do something they want.
So what does love bombing look like? There’s all this aggrandizing. I’m not just talking about holding you on a pedestal or giving you flowers and trips, it’s also a lot of talk about your future together as a couple.
You’ll hear things very early on (too early!) like…
“We’re perfect together.”
“Nobody gets me like you.”
“We’re meant to be.”
“I can’t wait for you to meet my family.”
In this week’s episode, I give you more real-life examples of the kinds of things love bombers say, so be sure to watch it here or listen to it here.
So why does this work? Well, we’re human beings. We all have a natural need to feel good about who we are. There’s also a particular need or desire to be seen in a particular way by other people and to have them confirm or validate how we want to be seen…especially by someone we’re in a love relationship with.
You might be vulnerable to love bombing if you haven’t done a lot of work on your own self-esteem or self-worth. Even if you’re very successful or accomplished, it is possible that down deep, there’s a part of you that doesn’t feel worthy and so this kind of validation and praise works almost like a drug. The insidious part of love bombing is that the manipulator hooks into that part of you and feeds it, so to speak. Dopamine is getting released in your brain and all of these feel-good hormones are flooding your system…and you desperately want to believe it’s all true. That the love hormones are the real thing.
The truth is that you don’t really know someone in three weeks (or even in three months) to know that you’re “meant to be” forever. Love bombing can be so seductive and so painful when it moves out of the beginning phase.
If this is resonating with you, I want to give you some of the warning signs and red flags and then some steps to take to make sure this doesn’t happen to you (again).
Love bombing is actually just one phase of a cycle of abuse. Generally, there are predictable stages to this cycle. They are:
- Love bombing – grooming you and creating the narrative.
- Devaluing – This is the pivot in the relationship. It usually happens when you’re not on board with what the manipulator wants or if you try to pump the breaks on the acceleration of the relationship. They get furious and begin to devalue you. They might criticize you, accuse you of being ungrateful, or insult you.
- Discarding – the threat of their leaving or breaking up with you is always there. They may threaten to break up with you or actually do so.
In the beginning: Charismatic. Convincing. Charming. Flattering
In the middle: Dismissive. Petulant. Demanding. Critical
In the end: Withdrawing. Cruel. Threatening
Remember: this is a cycle. You might meet these three different personalities and then they circle back to that amazing, perfect person you fell for in the first place to keep you in their thrall.
The Warning Signs
- Too Much, Too Soon. The pace of the relationship is really accelerated. There are early declarations of love and commitment. There are actions taken very early on to cement your future together (like inviting you to a wedding that’s more than a year away). Especially in this beginning stage, the love bomber starts to create a narrative about what your shared future will be like before you even really get to know one another. They are typically assured, confident and charming while lavishing you with praise and attention, and so sometimes, their reality can start to trump your reality…especially if you have the disease to please.
- They Are Boundary Bullies (in a super manipulative way). During the love-bombing phase, they aren’t typically super confronting, so thinking of them as a “bully” might not seem to fit. But a Boundary Bully is someone who disregards your preferences, wants and needs. In the case of a love bomber, it doesn’t matter what you say. For example, they suggest a special dinner on Friday night. You tell them you have plans with your friends. They make the reservation anyway. They act like they never heard you.
- Pushback Inspires Punishment. If you’re in a new relationship and you’re wondering…could this be too good to be true? All you need to do to find out if this is real love or a love bomber is to assert yourself in a healthy way. Make a simple request about something. State that you would prefer to do something else than what they have planned. Communicate a simple preference. If their reaction is to withdraw love, give you the cold shoulder, cut off their affection or attention…it’s a red flag. If any of this has resonated with you, I am going to ask you to do this experiment and assert yourself on even a small level and see what happens.
What can you do if you ARE being love-bombed?
Once you are aware of it, your strongest defense against people who use love bombing as a tool for manipulation is to go no contact. This means everything. Blocking on your phone, social media, email, etc. Zero contact. As difficult as this can be, it is very well-documented that this is a cycle of abuse that will just keep on going if you let them back into your life in any way.
Don’t let yourself be vulnerable. I want you to think about what you would do if this were a child in your life…you would do anything to protect them from a sadistic person who is causing them pain…right? I want you to care for yourself and your heart in this exact same way.
Bottom line: if it seems to good to be true…it might be. If someone is pushing a timeline so fast…wanting you to meet their family and everyone they know, to move in, or make a big financial purchase together… be aware. It’s ok to pump the breaks! If they flip out…you probably just dodged a bullet. End it and go no contact.
I’ve included all of this for you in this week’s cheat sheet, so be sure to download it here now.
This is not to say that real love isn’t out there. It absolutely is. If someone is bestowing all this adoration and beautiful things on you they aren’t necessarily love bombing you. The real test is how they react when you assert yourself, your preferences, desires and your wants early and often. If they respond in a healthy way and respect your boundaries, then that’s amazing.
I hope this added value to your life and if you have others in your life who you think this might help because perhaps they might be in a relationship like this, please share it on all your social media platforms.
Let’s share the mental health love because the healthier we are, the less the love bombers win, right? By you sharing this out there in the world, they will have less power and there’ll be fewer victims, and I know you’re all about that!
I hope you have an amazing week and as always, take care of you.
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.