Out of all the things that can rear their ugly heads in dating scenarios, manipulation is probably the worst. When someone is willing to trick you into doing something to satisfy their needs and ambitions—however harmless or sinister they may be—it's often indicative of underlying patterns of emotional abuse. And out of all the manipulation tactics out there, love bombing is one of the cruelest. But what is love bombing exactly?
To get a clear understanding of the psychology behind it, we asked Kelly McNelis, teacher, speaker, author, relationship expert, and founder of Women for One, to weigh in with her expertise. "Love bombing is inundating a person with adoration and attention to the point that it gets overwhelming. It can be romantic at first—flower deliveries, sweet notes, flattery, and other grand gestures—but it's also designed to manipulate the person who's being bombed," she explains.
Though manipulative behavior can be had to notice when it's actually happening (and it can happen at any stage in the dating lifespan), it's easier to spot when you know exactly what to look for. So to learn what the signs of love bombing are and how to respond to them, read through McNelis's insightful tips below.
How to Spot Love Bombing
Some of the signs that you're being love bombed include behavior like "showing up to spend time with you announced (and other stalker-like qualities), guilting you into reciprocating grand acts of love, isolating you from other friends and family members, not honoring the time and energy you have to give and constantly demanding more, attempting to control where you go and what you do but under the pretext of love, and saying hyperbolic things like 'We were meant to be together' and 'We're so perfect together' even though you may not really know them well.
Basically, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it's a red flag."
The distinction here is that the attention is bad, not good. McNelis suggests that you "connect with how comfortable you feel with the attention. Instead of just listening to the words they say, look carefully at their behavior, as well as the people with whom they surround themselves. Are there any signs that they have healthy relationships with other people in their midst? Does it feel like they are trying to isolate you to have you all to themselves? Trust your intuition; if it feels like too much, it probably is.
If the person seems like they are too good to be true, that is likely the case. And if it feels like the person is pushing too fast too soon rather than respecting your space and boundaries, it's likely that you are being love bombed."
Why Love Bombing Is a Red Flag
Since the immediate emotional response to love bombing is feeling appreciated and flattered, it's hard to understand why it's a negative thing. This is where the distinction between intention and outcome becomes important. As McNelis explains, "love bombing is meant to create feelings of obligation and dependency in the 'object' of attention, the operative word being 'object.' There isn't really a sense of mutuality when you're love bombed." In fact, "what looks like chivalry and good, old-fashioned romance at first can quickly descend into feeling like you're being bombarded and there's no space to just breathe.
That kind of almost-obsessive attention is also a red flag because it's connected to patterns of control and abuse."
What Comes After Love Bombing
Successful love bombing is designed to win someone over, so the attention they receive makes them feel special and cared for. Indeed, "the love bomber tries to come off as a kind, attentive person, but often, they're a narcissist. Often, narcissists use flattery and seeming devotion to 'hook' a person and gain their trust," McNelis explains. "They basically make themselves indispensable. Many narcissists recognize that once people catch on to their game, the relationship will end. But the narcissist tries to hold on to you by putting you in the starring role of the relationship.
And once you're hooked, they might retract their attention and leave you begging for just even a crumb of what you used to have. Overall, there is little hope for a mutually loving, healthy relationship."
How to Respond and Cut Ties
If this toxic relationship pattern sounds familiar to you and you're looking for some ways to move forward, McNelis advises letting "the other person know that you don't feel comfortable with what they are doing." And once you do, "if they try to make you feel guilty or to justify their behavior rather than respecting your wishes, run in the opposite direction. It might be tempting to give them another chance, but don't feel pressured to do so. Again, trust what your gut is telling you. Sometimes, we unknowingly give other people power to manipulate us, especially if we have a low self-esteem and enjoy someone else being so adoring and attentive to us.
This can give us a momentary rush of validation, which is totally understandable, but at its core, it's not healthy when its foundation is manipulation and dishonesty."
Though much easier said than done, "do your best to connect to practices of self-love and self-care so that the relationships you end up having reflect that kind of genuine adoration back at you and set the stage for healthy, mutual relating."
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