You're back on the dating scene and seeing someone new. They're seemingly everything you've been looking for, immediately saying all the right things, surprising you with gifts, sharing their deepest secrets and emotions with you, are eager to commit, etc. You think to yourself, "Wow, I've never had someone open up so quickly and trust me with these feelings or treat me so well!"
You may think it's going great ... until you realize it isn't.
A term you may have heard in the relationship realm in recent years is "love bombing," an unfortunately common manipulation tactic used in order to quickly gain control over another person in a relationship by bombarding them with lavish gifts, intense emotional expressions of connection and vulnerability, grand gestures and more.
According to Georgianna Poulos, LMSW, Psychotherapist at Mindful Counseling GR, love bombing is designed to get the victim as ensnared as possible, as quickly as possible, and is a form of emotional and psychological abuse.
Poulos shared some common ways that love bombing presents itself in a relationship include someone who's unusually good at expressing an intensity of caring early in the relationship, making you feel like the most important thing in the world and special beyond measure; someone who wants to spend all their time with you and might present as "sad," "angry" or "disappointed" if you spend time with others; and someone who early on showers you with big, expensive or frequent gifts.
Love bombing could also be seen when "Someone is overly flattering, making you feel like that person has never loved anyone more," Poulos said. "[This could also be] someone who may pressure you to commit to the relationship by making future plans—talking about the future often, even discussing moving in together or getting married as soon as possible."
There are some questions you can ask yourself if you think you may be a victim of love bombing. Poulos suggests asking yourself:
- Do you feel comfortable around this person, or do they often make you nervous?
- Can you state particular characteristics about them that you love?
- Are they willing to have you spend time alone, even if they'd like to be with you?
- Are they glad you have other friends?
- Do they have interests besides you?
- How do they handle being confronted or criticized?
"If you think you're being love bombed, start by telling a trusted friend or family member—someone who can help you be objective when the love bomber may continue to make you question your reality," Poulos said. "If it feels safe, speak to your romantic partner in a safe and neutral environment and set firm boundaries, such as taking things more slowly, asking for space or making requests around fewer gifts."
Poulos notes to pay attention to whether your boundaries are being respected, and if not, start making plans to safely exit the relationship, again enlisting a trusted friend or family member for support.
But what if you suspect love bombing is happening to a friend or family member, and not yourself?
"Remember that a love bomber preys on their victims' insecurities and vulnerabilities, so approach your friend with kindness and tact," Poulos suggested. "Share specific examples of things you've observed, and be open with your friend about how they feel in their relationship, and about your observations. Like other abuse and control tactics, love bombing aims to isolate victims and make it so the abuser is the only person they have, so be sure to communicate support for your friend."
To try and avoid love bombing from the get go, Poulos says it's all about being curious about you.
"Ask yourself how you've shown up in past relationships, what your known insecurities and vulnerabilities are, and whether you find external validation very important," Poulos said. "If you're a people pleaser, or experience a lot of guilt in your relationships, practice setting boundaries."
If you find yourself in a love bombing situation and are struggling, Poulos emphasizes remembering that it's human to want to connect and be loved, and to have compassion for yourself.
"The blame of love bombing is solely on the perpetrator of this behavior and it's not your fault someone did this to you," she said. "If you feel confused and conflicted after a love bombing experience, know that it's normal and is one of the hallmarks of being love bombed."
Say to yourself:
- "I can trust myself," or "I can learn to trust myself."
- "Their behavior is not my fault."
- "I learned from this."
- "I deserve love, I deserve safe love."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.