A bunch of flowers delivered to your office. A surprise romantic getaway to a secluded countryside cottage for the weekend. A thoughtful phone call when you least expect it. All the signs of the beginning a of loving, caring relationship, right?
Well, perhaps not. In fact, they might be signposts for the opposite, or what is commonly known as 'love bombing'.
According to Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and author, 'love bombing' occurs when people are showered with over-the-top displays of attention and affection. And, we're not just talking romantic gestures and the occasional home-cooked meal, but romantic conversations, talks of the 'future' together, and constant contact via social media, phone calls and messages. The difference between a solid loving relationship and one that is subject to 'love bombing' is what happens next...
More often than not, 'love bombing' is when these displays of 'affection' are grandiose and really over the top, leading people to quickly think they might have found their 'soul mate' or 'the one'. However, they soon find the loving, caring, affection, and understanding behaviour from their partner flips, resulting in unreasonable, controlling and manipulative traits.
What is 'love bombing'?
In essence, 'love bombing' is a form of conditioning tool (otherwise known as a form of abuse), whereby one person in the relationship drowns the other in displays of 'love' to maintain power and control.
'Healthy relationships build slowly, and are based on a series of actions, not a flood of words,' Archer writes for a blog post titled 'The Manipulative Partner's Most Devious Tactic' for .
The term is widely believed to have been first used by the Unification Church of the United States in the 1970s, whose cult leaders used love as a form of ammunition 'to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder', according to Archer.
'Pimps and gang leaders use 'love bombing' to encourage loyalty and obedience as well,' he writes.
How does it work?
First things first, all relationships are different and just because a partner showers you with love and affection does not mean they're narcissistic or have psychopathic tendencies that might lead to 'love bombing'. Some people genuinely are very loving and thoughtful and these sorts of gestures continue long into the relationship with no catch.
However, those who use 'love bombing' as a form of control often reinforce their love for their victim by showering them with affection when they act in a certain way that pleases the abuser, and later they will punish that person for behaving in a way that the abuser doesn't like.
For example, an abuser will post an adorable snap of the two of you at dinner to Facebook, for all to see, with an equally mushy caption about how much you mean to him and how happy he is to be spending the evening with a gorgeous creature like you. The same person, though, when you head out for a dinner without him or go to a club with your friends, will call you ten times and accuse you of cheating/abandoning/not caring enough about him.
''Love bombing' works because humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can't fill this need on our own,' writes Archer.
How do you spot 'love-bombing'?
Getting butterflies, falling head-over-heels, and feeling like you're falling madly in love with a new boyfriend/girlfriend is very normal in the early months of a relationship.
But, according to Archer, potential love bombing victims often find themselves trapped into having constant contact with a partner, which ultimately convinces them the intensity of the communication is a sign of success and love.
'If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it's probably not "love bombing",' adds Archer.
'On the other hand, if there's an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands, that's a red flag.'
Who is vulnerable?
Joe Pierre, a Health Sciences Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, explained in that narcissists (aka common 'love bombers') are attractive because they display behaviours such as self-sufficiency, confidence, and ambition. Meanwhile, Deborah Ward, author of the book Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness suggests in a different for the publication that victims are attracted to partners who remind them of their parents.
Quite often, people who have experienced family trauma or turmoil might choose relationships with individuals who show similar traits to their family members, as a way of filling the void or in an attempt to fix what was 'damaged'. However, this tendency isn't to be taken as a sign of weakness necessarily, but of potential empathy, argues psychologist Perpetua Neo.
'People think often if you are attracted to a narcissist, you tend to be someone quite weak and very passive in your life... but they tend to be very high achieving women,' Neo told .
'A very common trait I see in my clients is they're over-empathetic... but you stop empathising with yourself, because you explain everything away for other people,' she adds.
How do you avoid being 'love bombed'?
When the 'love bombing' turns into making a victim feel unappreciated, guilty or devalued, they often strive to get their relationship back to the 'good old days', when their partner would shower them with affection and surprises. However, Neo argues that those former positive behaviours were illusory.
'They "love bomb" and then they devalue you, so you're always on high alert, and you never want to do anything wrong.
'Because of that your standards are lowering, your boundaries are getting pinched upon, and you lose your sense of self,' she adds.
The best thing to do with a new relationship is to take things slow, keep perspective and remind yourself of boundaries so not to feel trapped in a 'love bombed' relationship.
Archer urges people to remember the advice: 'If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.'