If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Between "ghosting," "haunting" and "breadcrumbing," it seems like a dream to find a person who spoils you with fancy dinners, endless compliments and other grand gestures straight from the start. But depending on their intentions, this over-the-top behavior, called "love bombing," can be dangerous.
"Love bombing is when someone uses advanced intimacy techniques so you feel close to them very quickly," Match Chief Dating Expert Rachel DeAlto told TODAY.
Coined by the Unification Church of the United States, love bombing was initially used as a manipulation tactic to recruit new members. Since then, it's become a relatively common behavior in romantic relationships by narcissists or anyone, for that matter.
While it's not ideal to be on your guard in a new relationship, it's important to know the warning signs of love bombing before you get in too deep — and subsequently, get your heart broken. Here are some red flags to look out for, along with advice on what to do if you fear the worst.
What is love bombing?
Deep down, love bombers have a need to be loved by others. Because of this, love bombers often figure out what their victim likes and mimics those characteristics. This facade allows them to gain the trust of victims quickly and create a positive perception of themselves in the minds of others.
Licensed therapist Susan Zinn told TODAY that love bombing is a common practice for narcissists and sociopaths, which explains why it's a popular tactic among cult leaders like Charles Manson and Jim Jones. “Narcissism has a spectrum from being self-involved to a sociopath and there is a risk of love bombing, particularly with narcissists and even sociopaths," she said.
That said, modern-day love bombers can be all around us — and unfortunately, we won't know until we know.
What are some telltale signs of love bombing?
According to Zinn, love bombing often occurs in two stages:
- Idealization: Your partner is being the best possible version of themself. They are doing everything in their power to make you feel special and sweep you off your feet.
- Devaluation: This is where you will see a shift in the behavior of your partner. Here they will start to cut you off from your loved ones, and start to criticize undermine the decisions that you make.
The behaviors of love bombers vary from one relationship to the next. For that reason, here are some common red flags to watch out for:
- Excessive gift-giving: Love bombers tend to shower their victims with gifts to show their affection. If your partner is buying you very expensive gifts early on in the relationship, this might be a red flag.
- Flattery: Love bombers tend to deflect criticism by constantly trying to compliment you. If their flattery starts to feel obsessive, then it might be a cause for concern.
- Control: Love bombers often try to isolate their victims from friends, family and activities they used to enjoy as a way to get their sole time and attention.
- Gaslighting: Does your partner blame you for the inconsistencies in your relationship? Love bombers often change their personality after they are in a relationship and make it their partner’s responsibility to figure out the path forward.
Questions you should ask yourself to determine if you're being love bombed
First things first: Compliments, gifts and quality time are hallmarks of any healthy relationship, especially during the honeymoon phase. But, at any point in your relationship, if something feels off, it's imperative that you trust your gut.
The one constant in your life is you.
“Many experts will give you things to watch out for such as a list of red flags, but the most important way to protect yourself from love bombing is to honestly notice the changes within yourself," relationship expert Sarah Ramsey told TODAY. "If you are making decisions that are out of character or you find yourself lowering your defenses early into a relationship, then that is the most important sign that you are being love bombed.”
To get a better read on your current situation, Zinn recommends asking yourself these questions:
- Does this person compliment you and then undermine you?
- Does this person display narcissistic tendencies?
- Do you feel safe with this person?
What to do if you're being love bombed
Love or love bombing? That is the question. If you think you're experiencing the latter, Zinn suggests safely removing yourself from the situation and taking the following steps.
- Cut off contact with the love bomber. Love bombers will try to use manipulation to keep you in a relationship. "If it becomes something more serious where you feel like you are being controlled and manipulated by someone, then this really gets into that narcissistic cycle where you’re going to not have contact with this person," Zinn said.
- Find support. Turn to people that you trust to get the help you need. Beyond talking to friends and family, Zinn also recommends seeking help from a licensed therapist. In therapy, you'll have time to uncover "what happened for you to green light a person like this, that was so unkind and controlling of you that you lost your sense of self."
- Seek serious help. “[Love bombing] can be incredibly common in cases of domestic abuse,” Zinn said. If you don't know what steps to take next or need help finding support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t think that everyone is a love bomber — or that you did something to deserve this treatment. "It doesn’t mean this is going to happen again," Zinn said. "It just means that [you should have] rose-colored glasses on" and "be more careful."