4 Motives Behind Love Bombing
What to consider and how to respond.
Posted Sep 27, 2020
Love bombing has become the popular label for overwhelming someone with attention, gifts, and words of affection or praise in order to win over their affection very early in a relationship. To the receiver, it may initially feel like being swept off your feet by someone who has fallen in love with you. After a few days or weeks, the person on the receiving end of this attention usually begins to feel uneasy and uncertain of the motives of the love-bomber.
Due to numerous recent articles, many individuals are aware that this type of attention may be a sign of manipulation with malevolent intent. That certainly is a risk, particularly if the love-bomber is a narcissist or even a sociopath. The narcissistic person may be using these gifts and declarations of love as a way to manipulate the receiver. Sociopaths have a history of weaponizing this strategy, with examples dating back to cult leaders of the 1960s (Charles Manson) and 1970s (Jim Jones). The narcissist is driven by meeting their own needs with little regard for the feelings of others, while the sociopath has virtually no empathy for others.
Are they love-bombing or just “in love”?
Statistics on the frequency of love-bombing are difficult to pin down. However, it is likely that one subgroup of love-bombers comprises individuals who have fallen in love quickly and don’t hesitate to express their feelings. Research (Harrison & Shortall, 2010) has indicated that men tend to fall in love faster than women and to express it sooner. This doesn’t mean that they are more certain of lasting love or more ready for a commitment.
Considering all of the factors that may contribute to love-bombing, it seems likely that a variety of circumstances and motivations are worth considering. The following appear to be among the most common motivations to consider before assuming that the person showering you with attention is intent on manipulating you.
Common motives of love-bombers
1. Family culture of affection and expressiveness. These individuals may have grown up in families or cultural environments that encourage the expression of feelings of fondness or appreciation of each other. Their intent may be neither serious nor harmful, and they likely do not perceive that showering you with attention is causing concern and uneasiness. They may even say “I love you” and not understand the weight of those words.
You might respond by…telling them that so much attention is not something that you’re accustomed to. It makes you uneasy or it’s just not how you generally approach relationships. If they are not intent on manipulating you, they should be able to stop the behavior and give the relationship more time to develop.
2. Loneliness and desire for a close relationship to develop quickly. Those who have been alone for longer than they wanted to be, or who thrive on being in a love relationship may have a sincere intent to love you and hope that you will love them back. Their intense level of attention may be their way of keeping you close and not losing you to someone else while the relationship is still developing. This motive may overlap with having an insecure attachment style, and possibly a tendency to form codependent relationships. There is usually no calculated effort to deceive or to influence, but rather a strong need for an attachment.
You might respond by…first expressing your discomfort with the attention or gifts being given to you. Be honest about your own wish to form an attachment (or not) and explain that the relationship is moving faster than you’d like. Discuss boundaries that you’re comfortable with. If the love-bombing persists and boundaries are not respected, it is probably best to part ways.
3. Desire to keep you “on hold” while they decide whether they want a lasting relationship with you. This individual is likely making a more calculated attempt to persuade you to stick around while they decide what they truly want from the relationship. This motive may overlap with an avoidant attachment style, which means that the love bomber seeks a secure and stable relationship but is hesitant to be emotionally vulnerable. The attention keeps you interested but it probably doesn’t reflect readiness for any consistent and mutually loving commitment.
You might respond by…stating your discomfort with the attention and remaining aware of any inconsistencies between words and actions. Learning more about avoidant attachment styles can be very helpful in identifying this motive for love bombing. A person with an avoidant attachment style tends to be dismissive of emotional needs in a relationship and may not respect your need to take things more slowly.
4. Desire to manipulate, influence, or take advantage. This is the most serious motive and it encompasses the love-bombing that is done by the narcissist, the sociopath, or the person with borderline personality disorder. Although each of these personalities is distinct, the form of love bombing is similar. It tends to occur in 3 phases, with the showering of attention and gifts being the first phase, also called "idealizing." This phase is followed by “devaluing”, in which the receiver is ignored or otherwise punished for not responding to the attention as hoped by the love-bomber. A third phase is eventually the "discarding" of the receiver, who is no longer serving the needs of the love-bomber.
Tremendous emotional, financial, and even life-threatening damage can be done by these love-bombers. Their efforts to influence via signs of “love” are best described as calculated and insincere.
If you suspect that manipulation is the motive...pay careful attention to whether or not the words (or other gestures of affection) are consistent with the actions. Are their interactions with you usually transactional? (“I gave you that expensive gift and now you owe me!”). Do they ask for too much of your time, leaving little for other friends or family? Is there pressure to move the entire relationship along too quickly for your comfort? If you deny any of their requests, is that attention phase quickly followed by the devaluing phase? (They stop communicating with you, or they make angry comments directed at you). These are all red flags of insincere affection.
Contrary to the popular assumption, not all love-bombing is calculated or intended to be harmful. The behavior ranges from being something that is relatively innocent albeit naïve, to being emotionally devastating or even life-threatening, such as when carried out by leaders of cults.
Hopefully, when given feedback from the receiver, those with sincere intentions will become more aware of how this behavior can be misunderstood or disturbing. They may be able to reign it in and give the relationship more time to develop. Those who are at the receiving end have the more difficult task of considering the motivation and deciding what to do in response. Establishing boundaries may be the critical step in saving these relationships when the motivation of the love-bomber is sincere.
If you’re at a loss in figuring out what the motive is and still feeling uneasy, seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Practiced manipulators are very good at deceiving others, and you may need support to break free of those individuals.
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Harrison, Marissa A. and Shortall, Jennifer C. (2010). Women and Men in Love: Who Really Feels It and Says It First? The Journal of Social Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0022454.2010.522626?src=recsys