Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. The phrase can be used in different ways. Members of the Unification Church (who reportedly coined the expression) use or have used it themselves to mean a genuine expression of friendship, fellowship, interest, or concern. Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and the practice is manipulative. It has also been used to refer to abusers in romantic relationships showering their victims with praise, gifts, and affection in the early stages of a relationship.
In 1999 testimony to the Maryland Cult Task Force, Ronald Loomis, Director of Education for the International Cultic Studies Association, reflecting his belief that the term was not invented by critics, asserted: "We did not make up this term. The term 'love bombing' originated with the Unification Church, the Moonies.
Sun Myung Moon, the founder and then leader of the Unification Church, used the term "love bomb" in a July 23, 1978 speech (translated):
Unification Church members are smiling all of the time, even at four in the morning. The man who is full of love must live that way. When you go out witnessing you can caress the wall and say that it can expect you to witness well and be smiling when you return. What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.
Former members of the Family International, including Deborah Davis, daughter of the founder of the Children of God, and Kristina Jones, daughter of an early member, have used the term in describing the early days of the organization.
Criticism and response
Critics of cults often cite love bombing as one of the features that may identify an organization as a cult. Critics hold that love bombing is insincere or with an ulterior motive and that it is used to reduce the subject's resistance to recruitment.
Psychology professor Margaret Singer popularized the concept, becoming closely identified with the love-bombing-as-brainwashing point of view. In her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst, she described the technique:
As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members' flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark. Love bombing - or the offer of instant companionship - is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.
The Unification Church rejects this view of its practice. Church leader Damian Anderson has written:
One man's love-bombing is another man's being showered with attention. Everyone likes such care and attention, so it is unfortunate that when we love as Jesus taught us to love, that we are then accused of having ulterior motives.
Keith Henson is among the cult critics to write about love bombing, postulating that it is similar, in terms of effects on neutrotransmitters within the brain, emotional state, and conduct, to the administration of drugs of abuse, temporarily producing intense euphoria when under its influence, and encouraging the actions from which the stimulus was derived. Pursuit of the stimulus often becomes an obsessive focus that is detrimental to financial status and human relationships.
- "Abusive Women, Cults, Brainwashing and Deprogramming, Part I".
- "Sun Myung Moon (1978) "We Who Have Been Called To Do God's Work" Speech in London, England".
- "The Children of God: The Inside Story". Term used in memoir about the 1970s Texas Soul Clinic, predecessor of the Family International.
- "Eyewitness: Why people join cults". BBC News. March 24, 2000. Retrieved January 5, 2010. Term used by Kristina Jones in recollections of her mother, an early Family International
- Building Resistance: Tactics for Counteracting Manipulation and Unethical Hypnosis in Totalistic Groups When people perceive that someone likes them or cares about them, they listen less critically to what is told to them and are also less apt to think negatively about the communicator.
- Richardson, James T. (2004). Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe. Springer. ISBN 0-306-47887-0. p. 479
- Singer, Margaret (1996; 2003) Cults in Our Midst. Revised edition, 2003. Wiley. ISBN 0-7879-6741-6
- "Damian Anderson (1996) "Responses to Questions on Unificationism on the Internet - Volume 20"".
- From Sex, Drugs, and Cults. An evolutionary psychology perspective on why and how cult memes get a drug-like hold on people, and what might be done to mitigate the effects, The Human Nature Review, 2002 Volume 2: 343-355.
- Langone, Michael, Recovery from Cults, Chapter 3 - Reflections on "Brainwashing", Geri-Ann Galanti