Have you ever been in a relationship that left you feeling more overwhelmed and drained than happy and fulfilled?
Maybe it wasn’t always toxic; maybe in the beginning, everything seemed to fall into place and develop organically. But as you stuck around, you found yourself sacrificing most of your time, energy and other relationships for your partner.
Without realizing it, you might have been the victim of love bombing, a disproportionate show of affection done with the intent of monopolizing someone’s time and attention. According to Psychology Today, this might include flattering comments, surprise gifts, a constant flood of romantic text messages and more—until the love bomber’s target has no choice but to devote all their energy to that person.
Sammi, 24, remembers her experience with love bombing very clearly, though at the time it wasn’t so obvious.
“I was in high school, at a time in my life when I was vulnerable to manipulation,” she said. “The guy I was dating made me feel special. At first, it was endearing and almost addicting.”
But once the relationship progressed, Sammi said, he grew extremely jealous and spiteful. If he didn’t have her full attention at all times, he would send message after message, telling her how much he loved her, how they should run away together and get married—all while he pursued other girls on the side, which Sammi said she was unaware of.
Love bombing can be detrimental to its victims, blinding them to red flags and leading them down paths they never intended to take. For instance, Sammi said she knew deep down that her connection with this guy was anything but “normal.” But because his persistent efforts made her feel worthy and important, she figured it couldn’t possibly be toxic—even though there were signs.
“I would spend hours in my car alone, feeling nothing but guilt and confusion, because this guy continuously convinced me I was the issue, without directly saying it,” Sammi explained.
“Because he showered me with love and affection, any time I did something that set him off or pushed him away, I thought it was my fault. I thought I was the problem. I felt like I was losing touch with reality, but I also couldn’t take a step back and see the situation for what it was.”
Unfortunately, love bombing isn’t always easy to detect when you’re the victim. When you’re invested in a relationship, you don’t want to admit there’s anything unhealthy about it, so you internalize most of the issues and start blaming yourself.
Are you afraid you might be susceptible to love bombing—or that your current partner may be love bombing you? Here’s everything you need to know, so you can protect your heart and define your boundaries.
What is love bombing?
Love bombing is essentially a symptom of love addiction, according to Alexis De Los Santos, licensed professional counselor for Awaken Into Love, an online community for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). The “love bomber” acts on a strong impulse to continuously seek affections from and provide affection to their partner, hoping to feel a sense of fulfillment in return.
“Love bombing is trying to get attention and seal the deal to then move on to the next search for an adrenalin fix,” said De Los Santos. “It is showering someone with affection such as love notes, poems [and] flowers. Not that any of that is wrong, but the amount and speed of it is what falls into the love addiction category.”
Often, this is actually a subconscious action and belief, stemming from an early childhood wound, she added.
Why is love bombing bad?
We all want to feel wanted, right? But where do we draw the line? What boundaries are necessary to prevent dependency and manipulation?
By pouring on the charm and affection, love bombers typically portray themselves as the perfect partner, only to guilt people (often subconsciously) into spending all of their time with them. As with many relationship pratfalls, it essentially stems from one person pretending to be someone they’re not.
“For many reasons, the person doing the love bombing is actually trying to get attention fast and big to then fall off and create a dependency and an emotional need from the other party involved,” said De Los Santos.
These types of relationships are rarely healthy, as the victim often views the love bomber with rose-colored glasses, further positioning himself or herself as a target for potential manipulation and abuse.
Love bombing versus just being in love
Love is an emotion, and as we all know, emotions can be messy and confusing. Sometimes lines can be blurred or overstepped, and we might not even understand what we are feeling or experiencing in a relationship.
So how can you tell the difference between love bombing and simply being in love?
“Being in love is something that ultimately develops slowly with time,” said De Los Santos. “Infatuation is something that happens fast. Love bombing is trying to reach addiction highs and withdrawing to create some lows in the other person.” Once the love bomber feels needed and wanted, they try to start the cycle over again with a new victim.
When someone is in love, they consider their partner’s well-being—not just their own. However, when someone is love bombing, their actions and intentions are selfish and narcissistic in nature. They might love their partner, but the love bomber is more concerned with how their partner makes them feel about himself or herself.
What to do if you’re being love bombed
Just because you’re dating a love bomber doesn’t mean you need to cut all ties and run in the opposite direction. The person might not have malicious intent, but simply an unhealed trauma that needs reworking.
“The first [step] is acknowledging and taking ownership on how you’re feeding into it, noticing and getting curious [about] what personal wounds are feeding into that distorted view of love, relationship and connection,” De Los Santos said.
From there, you should take a step back and reach out to friends or loved ones for perspective and support. Once you gain some clarity, you’ll be better equipped to build healthy boundaries and strong foundations.
Love bombing might seem like an obvious red flag to spot, but it’s more common and difficult to catch than you might realize. However, understanding what it is and how it might present itself will help you mend the situation or avoid it at all costs.
For Sammi, it wasn’t until her friends and family expressed their concerns that she picked up on the signs of her partner’s love bombing.
“It wasn’t until I removed myself from the relationship that I realized I was compromising my own happiness for someone else’s,” she said. “And that’s not love.”