Love bombing is a scary manipulation tactic that can be really hard to spot

While grand gestures can be romantic, sometimes they can come with an ulterior motive; a slippery slope into emotional manipulation and abuse. Here’s what you need to know about love bombing. 

Flying you from Melbourne to Sydney, a diamond necklace at the end of your date, endless bouquets of roses. On paper, these sound like the types of grand gestures most of us romantics could only dream of, if not see in the sappiest of romcoms. But when paired with an ulterior motive, these over-the-top professions of love can actually be a sign of something much more sinister.

Indeed, musical artist FKA Twigs recently sued former partner Shia LaBeouf, citing physical and emotional abuse during the course of their relationship, which LaBeouf has denied.

In the lawsuit, she described how the early days of their relationship were marked with “over-the-top displays of affection” (per the New York Times) and gradually became abusive. This is otherwise known as love bombing.

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“If you put a frog in a boiling pot of water, that frog is going to jump out straight away,” Twigs told Elle.

“Whereas if you put a frog in cool water and heat it up slowly, that frog is going to boil to death. That was my experience being with [LaBeouf].”

What is love bombing?

“Having someone shower you with gifts, affection and admiration can feel really exhilarating in the beginning of a new relationship,” notes clinical psychologist and President of the Australian Psychological Society, Tamara Cavenett, and many relationships can start intensely.

“However, love bombing happens when someone uses these behaviours as a manipulation technique,” she says, and “it’s often used to win over your trust in order to meet an ulterior motive.”

Psychologist Briony Leo agrees, explaining that the intention is to manipulate someone into an intense relationship for the purpose of control.

“More often than not, love bombing tends to stop once the relationship has entered the committed stage and the love bomber might pull back and withdraw, having lost interest or feeling like they’ve gotten what they want,” she says.

What are the signs?

“Generally, signs are over the top declarations of love or affection, lavish gifts, excessive focus on you and your needs, and typical ‘romantic comedy’ behaviour,” says Leo; gestures that feel disproportionate to the situation.

They might also want your undivided attention, says Cavenett, which could include calling or texting excessively when they know you’re busy, or showing up when they know you have friends over.

It’s important to remember that these acts in and of themselves aren’t negative or should give you cause for concern, but “it’s the frequency and intensity that may indicate red flags or something to be mindful of,” she explains.

Why is it dangerous?

This kind of manipulation is known to be common in those with narcissistic personality disorder, a mental condition in which someone has an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for attention and admiration.

Leo explains this is because narcissists “can tend to see potential partners as objects rather than people,” and therefore take a cookie-cutter approach to what they perceive to be romance.

“In order to win their love and affection, it might be more of a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with gifts and declarations of love being the most successful strategy to form an emotional bond,” says Leo.

Narcissists may seek to prey on their partner’s insecurities, professing their love to earn trust. Once they’ve earned that trust, however, they may move to destroy your self-worth.

“That’s when they start to take it away,” says divorce and narcissism recovery coach, Megan Holgate.

This is because, at their core, narcissists are deeply insecure and fragile themselves, despite their outward persona.

“Over time you get cut down, bit by bit. Then as you get cut down, you’re fueling their ego,” says Holgate.

“They want to cut you down because actually, they’re internally shallow, shattered human beings.”

What can you do about it?

The unfortunate reality is that, similar to other forms of emotional abuse, it can be really difficult to escape. Holgate observes that while the ideal scenario is to cut all ties immediately, it’s easier said than done.

“They’ve convinced you that no one will love you like they will,” she says, “so will you go back? A couple of times, probably, yeah.”

Leo advises to speak to your new partner about their behaviour and let them know their lavish attention isn’t necessary or it makes you feel uncomfortable.

“Your new partner might have just been trying to show you that they like you and if they stop, you can assume that there is nothing to worry about,” she says.

Cavenett agrees, saying boundaries and respect are markers of a healthy relationship.

“Pay attention to how your partner or potential partner responds in these circumstances,” she says.

“You should be able to say no, push back and have your boundaries respected by your partner… While these behaviours may simply indicate incompatibility, they may also indicate more concerning behaviours such as manipulation, control or even stalking.”