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The Love Bomber

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Image description: A series of colorful heart-shaped locks with the words "I love you" inscribed on them are slung on a wire with greenery in the background.

It is interesting to note that a term gaining a lot of attention and inspiring conversation across the digital landscape actually originated in a cult like organisation with a messiah claimant at its helm. Lovebombing was originally advocated by the Unification Church of United States as means to recruit more members into their fold. Around 2010-11 it managed to find its way into mainstream psychology after being included in psychologist Oliver James’ book about parenting which claimed that love-bombing was a great technique for resetting childhood anxieties.

So, what exactly is lovebombing?

While a lucid definition still escapes most of us, lovebombing can largely be described as the process of influencing or even manipulating someone by showering them with inordinate attention and a heightened version of affected care followed by rejection. Lovebombing might initially seem like selfless affection but dig deeper and you see some peculiarly disturbing patterns of control disguised as care.

At the core of persistent lovebombing is a desire to dominate the individual who is being lovebombed. Lovebombing in context of online exchanges including those involving social media and dating apps involves covert or overt manipulation over a period of time. There is a heady thrill to being swept off your feet and exalted when you become the center of attention someone's life. Soon though you are overwhelmed and might feel like a goldfish in a bowl. This is easier to do given that social media gives people almost an unregulated and constant access to each other. It can stem from stalking followers or even forms of eratomania - a delusional perception that someone is in love with you even though they aren’t - and escalate into dangerous obsessions with severely psychological or even physical after effects.

American Psychiatrist Dale Archer has written extensively about the negative fallouts of lovebombing. He chooses to differentiate between healthy affirmations of honest care and support versus narcissistic displays of forcefully remaining attached to someone or getting them to remain attached to you. This is done through disruptive and circumspect behaviours that alternate between excessive affection followed by devaluation and condescension.

Archer coined the acronym IDD to denominate the 3 stages of lovebombing -

1. Idealization - Characterised by extravagant displays of affection including showering with gifts, compliments and praises. This phase usually involves making a person feel like they are the center of the world.

2. Devaluation - A shift commences during this phase where care slowly starts to be replaced with control. Irritation first peeks from the facade of unconditional affection and eventually escalates into outright demands about someone’s time, space and energy. Complaining, disrespecting boundaries and irritability are common. There might even be a push-n-pull dynamic where the person who was held at the cynosure of the eye is now stonewalled, or given the cold shoulder treatment followed by allegations of insincerity and selfishness.

3. Discarding - This is the phase where the previously exalted partner or object of attention is no longer considered sufficient for fulfilling the lovebombers immediate needs. Either the devalued individual is no longer biting their bait and starts upholding boundaries or they have become less “attractive” for some or another reason. However, the discarding is often a feint because the lovebomber has pre-decided that they will connect after some time has elapsed. A very glaring aspect of discarding is that even if a lovebomber sees they are causing harm, they choose not to apologise and instead use the lagging or absent apology to make inroads into the devalued person’s life at a later stage.

So what are 5 evident signs of being lovebombed?

Soulmate Connection Theory - Right in the beginning there is insistence that you are soulmates and meant to last forever. This is before you have even gotten a chance to get to know each other as individuals.

An abundance of gifts - Everyone enjoys receiving gifts but in this case, the gifts are either inappropriate (very personal items or the amount/expense/quantity is huge) or sometimes they aren’t even based on your choice, preference or liking but more a way to show the lovebomber's tastes and desires. Sometimes the way by which they find out what you like borders on stalking - asking your friends very personal questions about you or running through your history on social media without explicit consent. What makes this excessive gifting truly uncomfortable is that often it doesn’t stop even when there is expressed need for a pause.

Hyperbolic compliments - Again, we all enjoy a bit of positive boost and upliftment through kind and caring words. However, the compliments can sound very exaggerated at times. Repeated avowing about your how perfect and irreplaceable you are is often mixed with shining endorsements of your every quality, good or bad. Compliments in isolation aren’t a bad thing but when they are coupled with a general excess and boundary encroachment in a very short span of time since you first met a person, they should be considered red flags.

Constant connection - You are bombarded by texts, calls, social media messages and emails on a regular basis. The individual wants the type of connection that is like a drip in the veins. You don’t get much of a breathing space. Soon this connection can also resemble a type of surveillance where your every move needs to be accounted for.

Boundary Breakdown - When an individual actively tries to dismantle your healthy boundaries by telling you that their relationship with you is so special, boundaries aren’t needed, consider it a warning sign. Boundaries related to personal space and time are actively breached and disregarded.

Lovebombing may not always start as a negative act but it can easily warp itself into narcissistic domination. It can further devolve into outright abuse. While the onus of behavioural change rests of the person who is initiating lovebombing, we can try some small steps to recognize if we are being subject to it. The idea is not to victim-blame or burden a survivor with guilt but to merely allow ourselves the recognition of what might be going on and if it is harmful to us. One of the ways to curtail it is to ensure you don’t allow a singular relationship or person to overtake your life. Especially when you haven’t known them a long time. Trust your instinct when it tells you to tap out and pull the brakes. Society can sometimes put such a premium on loneliness that we might feel it very gratifying to have someone who worships us all the time. This is the myth that starts the tumble down the rabbit hole. You are enough. Allow yourself the freedom to express your needs and desires in interpersonal relationships and disengage when someone constantly tries to steamroll you even if they first cover you in rose petals.

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