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You go on a date that leaves you hoping the other person will call for a second one. When you wake up the next morning, you see not one message, not two, but a full-text chain. They can’t wait to see you again — is tonight too soon? At the most exclusive restaurant in town, their treat? You start to wonder if it’s all too good to be true. What is love bombing, and could this be it?
The term “love-bombing” sees extensive use on social media, nearly as much as “gaslighting,” which made NPR’s list of overused words for 2023. Many people use such phrases without having a clear understanding of what they mean.
This term is grounded in psychology, and experiencing it can have a profound effect on your mental health. What is love bombing? Let’s take a closer look at what it is — and isn’t — and how to manage it when it occurs.
What Is Love-Bombing? Definition and Telltale Examples
Love-bombing occurs at the beginning of a new romantic relationship. It’s a form of psychological and emotional abuse, although the person doing it may or may not be conscious of their manipulative intent.
Everyone likes to feel special. Love-bombing preys upon your need to feel appreciated, adored and loved. It’s particularly insidious if you believe in fairy tale relationships. Even the best partnerships take work, and they’re based on mutual respect and trust built over time, not a whirlwind courtship.
What Does Love-Bombing Look Like in Action?
Examples of love-bombing include:
- Excess flattery: “I’ve never known anyone as X (deep, beautiful, intelligent, magical) as you.” “It’s like you walked into my life and instantly completed me.” “You are absolutely perfect in every way.”
- Overcommunicating their feelings for you: You wake up to 27 texts after the first date, they call you every day, several times a day and start discussing things like marriage, kids and forever from day one.
- Showering you with unneeded and unwanted gifts: You never wanted a Gucci purse — it goes against your vegan ideals — but there’s a new leather one on your bed just the same.
What Love-Bombing Isn’t
While you should keep your guard up, you shouldn’t misinterpret every innocent compliment as potential love-bombing. There’s one easy trick you can use to clue you in on whether their words and actions are sincere: do they respect your boundaries?
For example, your date goes well, and they text you the next day to see if you’re free. Pay attention when you tell them you have work you can’t avoid. Someone who is love-bombing you might urge you to play hooky — stand firm and see how they react. Do they blow it off like no big deal, or do they become petulant? Do they send two dozen roses to the office the next day in a grandiose display and then interrupt your flow with endless phone calls?
What Are the Stages of Love-Bombing?
Love-bombing takes three distinct phases, which are:
- The idealization phase: During this phase, you can do no wrong. The love-bomber puts you on a pedestal, doing all they can to sweep you off your feet.
- The devaluation phase: Then, they change. They become more demanding, insisting you spend all your time with them or perhaps make drastic lifestyle changes to please them. Refusing brings on rage or manipulative tactics such as gaslighting.
- The discard phase: Once you confront a love-bomber about their behavior, they may leave the relationship or become more abusive to force you into compliance.
What Causes Love-Bombing?
Love-bombing results from an insecure attachment style. Your attachment style forms in infancy, as baby humans have no choice but to rely on their caregivers. People who grew up in neglectful, abusive or toxic homes with frequent boundary violations often develop an insecure attachment style marked by a lack of trust and fear of intimacy.
This insecure style haunts their relationships unless they seek help and do the work to correct it. Many of these people desperately want someone on whom they can rely. However, their distrustful attitude results in abusive behaviors. Love-bombers are like toddlers, desperately seeking a “mommy,” any mommy with apron strings they can cling to and just as prone to tantrums when they don’t get their way.
Personality Types Who Frequently Engage in Love-Bombing
Several personality types engage in love-bombing more than others. This behavior doesn’t necessarily mean they have a full-blown disorder but can offer clues.
1. Those With Narcissistic Traits
Folks with narcissistic traits elevate their needs and importance above everyone else’s. These folks may love-bomb you, in the beginning, seeing you as a “prize” they have to “catch.” Once they get you, they may engage in behaviors like breadcrumbing — buying you a big, shiny engagement ring but refusing to set a wedding date.
Narcissistic love-bombing can turn dangerous if they have abusive tendencies. For example, they may use coercive control to dictate who you talk to, how you dress and even whether or not you work. Many victims of domestic violence find their abuser controls the household money, for example, preventing them from a comfortable escape.
2. Those With Borderline Traits
People with borderline traits often grew up in chaotic, abusive environments. They desperately want a relationship with someone they can trust but never learned the correct behaviors to build one. As a result, they may alternately love-bomb and devalue you as they engage in splitting — seeing you as either all good or all bad.
Borderline love-bombing can turn dangerous against you or your prospective partner. These folks are prone to self-harm and are the most likely to threaten suicide to manipulate you into remaining in the relationship. However, they occasionally turn their destructive tendencies against others — think Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”
Is Love-Bombing Intentional? Is Love-Bombing Always Bad?
Love-bombing isn’t always intentional. Some people never learned proper courting behavior — what they got comes from television and movies. Someone standing outside your bedroom window with an old-school boom box might not be love-bombing you but adorably imitating John Cusack in “Say Anything.”
However, you owe it to yourself to establish firm boundaries from the get-go. It’s a must to protect your mental health.
How Love-Bombing Can Affect Your Mental Health
Remaining in a relationship after love-bombing turns to toxicity can wreak havoc on your mind. Even if you have a secure attachment style, you could find your faith in other people slipping. You might grow mistrustful and secretive, ironically becoming more like the abuser.
Recognizing love-bombing for what it is and exiting stage left at the earliest sign can save you from an abusive relationship. People have lost everything, even their lives, by dating or marrying the wrong person. Yes, you want love — but not at that cost.
What to Do If You Suspect Love-Bombing
What should you do if you aren’t sure if someone is love-bombing you or not? Take the following steps.
1. Establish Clear Boundaries — and Enforce Them
You always need clear boundaries to protect your mental health. Everyone should know what they enjoy, will tolerate or avoid at all costs.
Pay attention to phrases like, “If you cared about me, you would…” This statement is manipulative, assigning feelings and motivations to you that aren’t based in reality. Reconsider the relationship if the other person tries to control how often you see them, who you can talk to outside of the relationship, how you dress or behave around family and other loved ones.
Remember, outright forbidding you is coercive control — but that’s only one type of manipulation. The other person might also get moody, give you the cold shoulder or the silent treatment when you don’t do what they want. Address these equally insidious behaviors.
2. Press Pause
Sometimes, you do meet someone compatible in nearly every way. Guess what? If you’ve genuinely found “true love,” it won’t follow a forced schedule.
There’s a good reason people wait a day or two before calling and space their dates a few days, even weeks apart at the beginning. Take your time getting to know the other person so you can recognize the red flags and exit before you get too attached.
3. Examine Their Other Behaviors
Everyone’s human. It’s okay to show your partner a little grace — you’d expect the same. However, discuss what disturbs you and evaluate their reaction.
For example, they sent two dozen roses to your workplace, making you uncomfortable. The next time you connect, graciously thank them for the gesture, but explain how it made you feel. If they understand how it could make you feel awkward, that’s a green light, but watch out if they grow enraged or accuse you of ingratitude.
4. Speak Up
If you suspect someone is love-bombing you, speak up about how their behavior makes you feel. Someone who isn’t trying to manipulate you will listen to your point of view without punishing you for broaching the topic with rage, moodiness, coldness or silence.
All healthy relationships require clear and honest communication. Feeling like you must walk on eggshells is a major red flag and a sign you should either exit the relationship or seek professional counseling.
What Is Love-Bombing?
Cinderella tales create the impression that romance is a matter of sweeping you off your feet. Unfortunately, this inaccurate depiction leaves many people vulnerable to love-bombing. You think you’ve found the one — until their behavior changes.
Love-bombing might be unconscious, even well-intended. However, that doesn’t detract from the effect that involvement with toxic personality types can wreak on your psychological health. Stay alert to the signs, maintain firm boundaries and take it slow — the right one will wait.
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