Is It Love, Or Love Bombing? (2023)

Key Takeaways

  • "Love bombing" refers to behavior patterns where, at the beginning of the relationship, a partner showers the other with over-the-top attention and affection.
  • Understanding love bombing, and why we might do it, can help us identify harmful patterns and begin to work through them.
  • If you notice these behaviors in your relationship early on, it's important to set boundaries or walk away.

You started seeing someone two weeks ago, and have been on a couple of dates. You like them, but they've made it very clear—almost too clear—that they like you. They're already talking about introducing you to their family. They're showering you with gifts. They might even be starting to say "I love you."

While this might seem like just the beginnings of a whirlwind romance, this is known as "love bombing," or showing an amount of attention and affection that seems over-the-top for a beginning of a relationship. And this relationship dynamic has been buzzing on social media lately.

Although every relationship is different, there are still some common threads behind love bombing, Miriam Steele, PhD, professor in clinical psychology and co-director of theCenter for Attachment Research, told Verywell.

"If we think about the development of relationships, they're built on a series of interactions and connections, ruptures and repairs," Steele said. The problem with love bombing, Steele added, is that it doesn't leave time for that development. Rather, it's a projection of a bond that doesn't yet exist.

"It can't possibly be that after meeting me twice, this person's declaring their love for me," she said.

And it's not always an innocent projection. Sometimes it's a stage in a cycle of narcissism, manipulation, ghosting, and hurt, Lia Huynh, MS, LMFT, a relationship therapist based in California told Verywell. It can be "to make you dependent on them and control you, or ghost you and move on to another victim without any remorse," she said.

Why We Love Bomb

Steele and Huynh say there are at least two major reasons why people love bomb: Because of a conscious desire to manipulate, or due to unconscious or unresolved attachment patterns formed over past relationships.

The desire to manipulate others can be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). We can all be narcissistic at times, but folks with NPD can pose a real danger to their relationships, and love bombing may be a sign of the disorder.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Clinicians often diagnose narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) in people who are having trouble in interpersonal relationships and do not know why. Generally, NPD patterns are characterized by a cycle of feeling truly better or more deserving than others, regularly seeking admiration, and then hurting others without fully grasping one's impact or feeling remorse. There's no standard treatment for NPD, but it is often diagnosed alongside other disorders such as depression.

"Many people who love bomb are narcissists who are looking to control their victim," Huynh said. They form a closebond quickly, often choosing people who have codependent tendencies, or who seem vulnerable and inviting of a "savior." Then, they will start to take control once they know there is an attachment.

But it's important to remember that not all people who love bomb have NPD, Steele said. Sometimes love bombing comes from a place of unresolved pain and conflict. Our attachment style—which describes behavior patterns in relationships—and how conscious we are of it, can drive us.

For example, someone with an insecure attachment style may love bomb in an effort to "secure" the relationship quickly, out of fear the partner will abandon them. The problem is, love bombing may overwhelm a partner and push them away, leading to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, someone with a more avoidant attachment style may love bomb to feel in control over the level of intimacy. But once the partner reciprocates, they may feel overwhelmed by the closeness. Then, they may begin to resent them and push them away, leading to what Steele calls the "flipside" of love bombing: ghosting.

They may begin to think, "based on the few interactions we've had, this person couldn't have fallen in love in an authentic way," Steele said. Instead, they're projecting their own need or unresolved conflict onto another person, "which can feel like a different kind of ghosting," she added. In this way, the love bomber has ghosted the relationship before it even got a chance to start.

So How Do You Know It's Love Bombing?

Identifying love bombing can be just as important as identifying what isn't love bombing.

It might look like declaring love very early on in the relationship. It can also look like buying expensive gifts, sending large bouquets of flowers to a person's work or home consistently, or wanting to move in together or get married soon after meeting.

"They may want to spend inordinate amounts of time together and monopolize your time with others," Huynh said.What might follow is an about-face change in personality or level of attention. "All of a sudden this sweet person would become very mean, degrading, and nasty," she said.

Huynh's heard various love bombing stories from clients. "At that point, it is very hard to get out, because you are attached to the person and because there is 'hope' that they will return to their 'old self' and things will be euphoric again," she added.

So one way to distinguish between normal affection and love bombing is to keep your eye on the level of intensity. Does this person go back and forth? Do they switch from over-the-top love to pushing you away?

It can be helpful, Steele notes, to think of a healthy relationship as a set of interactions where both members gradually learn about each other and construct their own rules and language.

Another helpful tip for distinguishing between an exciting beginning and love bombing, Huynh added, may be to evaluate intention. "A healthier relationship beginning comes from a place ofgiving,and love bombing comes from a place ofselfishness," she said.

"Giving always comes from a place of 'you first'; consideration, empathy, respect, and care," she said. "Dysfunctional love bombing comes from a 'me first' mentality."

To evaluate this, it may be helpful to ask yourself, or the other person, if all this attention has another motive. For example, is this relationship a way to improve self-esteem? Or to feel that you're worthy of something? Relationships can improve our lives, but they are healthiest when they also come from a place of openness and care for the other person.

"Most love bombers are doing it unintentionally, or are at least in denial or rationalizing their behavior," Huynh said. Either way, she added, it often serves a self-centered purpose. It's hard to know how you really feel about this person so soon in a relationship.

Defusing the Situation

Much of what happens in relationships can be subconscious, according to the experts. And even when we do start to become more aware of our actions, many struggle with changing behaviors. After all, the ways we behave in relationships are influenced by our early experiences.

But a healthier beginning to a relationship, Huynh said, "will allow the freedom for you to express how you feel and for the other to adjust."

Even if there is some love bombing going on, you can lay the ground for a healthier relationship by saying you're feeling overwhelmed by all the attention. "A healthy person will say, 'No problem, I can back off, I want you to feel comfortable,'" she added. "A dysfunctional love bomber will gaslight you and make it your problem."

And if someone doesn't respond well to your boundaries, it may not be in your best interest to show them why they're love bombing. In that situation, it might be best to simply walk away. "So much of our dysfunctional behavior is a protection from some trauma or hurt that we learned 'worked,'" Huynh said. "For us to call that out when these dysfunctional patterns are 'working' for them is like taking away someone's security blanket when they are not ready to let it go."

Steele also encourages acknowledging your own reaction to a love bomb. You might love it, "soaking it in and thinking, well, of course, I deserve this, I'm a fabulous person," she said. "It's hard to turn away a tsunami of attention."

If you see yourself love bombing or being love-bombed over and over again, Huynh added, try talking to a therapist to explore what pain and hurt may be leading you to these patterns. It might also help to find role models in people who have healthy relationships.

"So many of us have dysfunctional relationship patterns because we didn't have good role models," Huynh said. "We don't learn it in school—all we know is what we see around us. So find a good role model and learn from them."

As another rule of thumb, she added, let loved ones in on your relationship. They can help you identify patterns from the outside.

"This is advice for anyone who is dating," Huynh added. "We just have to be careful, have fun, and keep one eye open, at least in the beginning. Let them earn your trust over time."


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