“Love bombing” is a term that’s been coming in the media more and more frequently. Last year, following the aftermath of Evan Rachel Woods’ public announcement in which she named her abuser as Marilyn Manson (whose real name is Brian Warner) on Instagram, you might have noticed that the term “love bombing” kept popping up. Since her post, several other women have come forward with similar accounts of abuse. These accounts illustrate a concerning pattern of behaviour. Many of these women described being bombarded with excessive praise and affection by their abuser early on in the relationship before being subjected to acts of violence, abuse, and emotional blackmail. The emotional downpour survivors are subjected to is called love bombing.
Love bombing is just one form of many types of abuse. Similarly to psychological or economic abuse, love bombing can be harder to recognize. Knowing what to look out for is the first step in recognizing this form of abuse and its implications in relation to traditional understandings of abuse, technology, and mental health.
Love Bombing in Abusive Relationships
Love bombing is often described within the framework of narcissistic abuse. Vickie Howard, in her article Recognizing Narcissistic Abuse and the Implications for Mental Health Nursing Practice, describes narcissistic abuse as “harm of individuals often through manipulative psychological communication by someone considered to have narcissistic traits”. Within this context, a narcissist would be considered someone who exhibits traits of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). These traits, which are listed within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), can include a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, interpersonally exploitative behaviour, a lack of empathy, or envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them.
When evaluating the presence of love bombing in a relationship, it is incredibly important to recognize that this behaviour is dangerous when it takes place within a cycle of abuse. There are often stages that narcissistic abuse progresses through. These stages are illustrated below.
Prior to the start of the relationship, the abuser will seek out and choose someone that has a particular use to the abuser or someone who will elevate their sense of self. Once the relationship starts, the love bombing will begin. Love bombing essentially works how it sounds. The abuser showers their victim with attention, affection, flattery, gifts and praise within a short time frame at the beginning of a relationship. It is important to point out that these declarations of love and affection are overly intense, incessant and intrusive. These are grand gestures that are excessively over the top. For example, giving expensive jewelry on your second date or sending you several bouquets of flowers to your work-place after your first date. These gifts are disproportionate to the time you have spent together. Through this process, the abuser will put their partner on a pedestal. This creates a strong bond between the new couple and instils a false sense of the abusers’ true self.
Once the abuser has successfully “hooked” their partner so they are immersed in the relationship, a new stage in the cycle begins. The abuser will start to devalue their partner through a variety of tactics involving belittling remarks and insults that are designed to destroy their partner’s sense of self (Howard, 2019). This is a calculated stage in which the abuser does not care about the outcome of their comments or actions. In the case of Brian Warner, many of the women who publicly came forward against him described a similar change in behaviour. He would start off generous and kind, but eventually, there would be a turning point where the physical and mental abuse would begin and the affection would end. It is described as if he has two personalities; one prior to the abuse and one once the abuse starts. Within the realm of a healthy relationship, there should not be a significant shift in how your partner treats you.
In the final stage, the abuser moves on from the relationship by seeking a new partner. Often this involves having an affair or the old and new relationships will overlap. The abuser’s behaviour will be inconsistent, meaning their behaviour switches from being abusive to being loving and considerate, which makes it difficult for the survivor to judge the relationship. At this stage, gaslighting is used and results in the survivor questioning their hold on reality. The abuser will deny their abusive behaviours and instead shift the blame onto the survivor. Eventually, the abuser will give their partner the silent treatment and completely cut off communication without an explanation in an effort to completely discard their partner.
Examples of Love Bombing
Here are some key patterns to be aware of:
- Non-stop compliments. For example: “you’re my soul mate” or “I only ever want to spend all my time with you”.
- 24/7 communication: non-stop and they are texting you, calling you, messaging you on all social media platforms and it begins to feel suffocating, then it can be problematic
- They need to be the centre of your attention at all times and are overly needy. They get jealous when you want to spend time alone or with your friends or family. They can’t understand why you would want to be apart from them.
- They convince you that you’re soul mates.
- They try rushing you into plans. They rush into ideas of moving in together or getting married after a short period of time.
- They get upset when you put up boundaries.
Implications to Consider
One important implication to consider is that technology can make love bombing easier for an abuser given the non-stop nature of texting, messaging apps, and social media. Since most people use several forms of social media platforms and most people have their partners on social media, it can be easier to be in constant communication across various platforms with one another. As a result, in an abusive relationship, the abuser can take advantage of the 24/7 nature of social media to incessantly message their partner at all hours of the day and night. They can bombard their partner with messages and then check to see if they are online, and if they are, the abuser might then flood their partner with questions of why they’re online but not responding (the abuser might ask “I can see you’re online! Why would you not want to respond to me immediately?”).
Traditionally, domestic abuse has been understood as a physical altercation that takes place in an intimate setting. In a situation like that, it is theoretically “easier” to see that a boundary has been crossed because there is physical evidence, and thus it is “easier” to assess who the perpetrator is and the severity of the violence. However, due to the non-physical nature of psychological abuse, it is often harder to assess the severity of the abuse because there are not necessarily specific physical altercations or physical evidence to focus on. This can often mean that people who are suffering from abuse cannot access the help that they need.
The aftermath of psychological and physical abuse can manifest itself in similar ways through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), and damaged neurological processes. However, because narcissistic abuse is not widely understood, it is harder to help its survivors.
In Howard’s article, she highlights that it is important for health care and mental health providers to be able to recognize when someone might be suffering from narcissistic abuse by understanding its features. Without this awareness, health care professionals might run the risk of providing inadequate solutions that could exacerbate the existing abuse such as suggesting couples therapy This, as Howard highlights, can be even more damaging because it provides another platform for the abuser to continue to gaslight and lie in order to cause further trauma.
The main purpose of love bombing within the context of an abusive relationship is to prime an individual for abuse and can have devastating long-term consequences for its survivors. This is why it is so important to understand some of the red flags that are associated with narcissistic abusers and to be aware of the pattern it exists within. The more awareness that develops surrounding this issue, the better we can develop programs, provide awareness, and start conversations. With the courage of Evan Rachel Woods and the many women that have come forward to call out their abuser’s horrific behaviour and their determination to force the damaging effects of love bombing into the spotlight, we can create meaningful dialogue and hopefully better understand the effects that love bombing and narcissistic abuse has on its survivors.