Love bombing

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Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection. It happens when someone overwhelms the victim with loving words, physical actions with manipulative behaviours.[1] It can be used in different ways and for either positive or negative purposes.[2] Psychologists have identified love bombing as a possible part of a cycle of abuse and have warned against it. Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and that the practice is psychological manipulation in order to create a feeling of unity within the group against a society perceived as hostile.[3] In 2011 clinical psychologist Oliver James advocated love bombing in his book Love Bombing: Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat, as a means for parents to rectify emotional problems in their children.[4]

Origin of term and definition[edit]

The expression "love bombing" was coined by members of the Unification Church of the United States cult during the 1970s[5] and was also used by members of the Family International cult.[6][7] In 1978 Sun Myung Moon, the founder and then-leader of the Unification Church, said:

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.[8]

Anthropology professor[9] Geri-Ann Galanti defines the term: “A basic human need is for self-esteem.... Basically [love bombing] consists of giving someone a lot of positive attention.[10] However, psychotherapist Ami Kaplan, LCSW,[11] further explains:

Anyone is capable of love bombing, but it's most often a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder. Love bombing is largely an unconscious behaviour. It’s about really getting the other person. Then when they feel like they really got the person and they feel secure in the relationship, the narcissist typically switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative.[12]

Marriage and Family Therapist Shirin Peykar, LMFT,[13] further defines the original motivation behind “love bombing”: “It’s often used to win over your trust and affection so that they can meet a goal of theirs”, such as a desire for control, the feeling of power or superiority, or the boosting of the abuser’s ego.

Popularization of concept awareness[edit]

Psychology professor Margaret Singer popularized awareness of the concept with her writings on cult behaviors and psychology.[2] In her 1996 book, Cults in Our Midst, she writes:

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.[14]

Abusive relationships[edit]

The expression has also been used to describe the tactics used by pimps and gang members to control their victims.[15] Modern social media can intensify the effect of love bombing since it enables the abuser with nearly constant contact and communication with the victim.[16]

One of the signs of love bombing in the start of a relationship is intense attention during a short period of time and pressure for very rapid commitment.[17]

Psychologist Dale Archer identifies the phases of love bombing with the acronym IDD: ”Intense Idealization, Devaluation, Discard (Repeat)" and the process of identifying this behavior pattern as SLL: "Stop, Look, and Listen"; after which breaking off contact with the abuser can become more possible by also seeking support from family and friends.[16]

Another sign of love bombing is being intensely showered with affection, gifts, and promises for the future with the predator so that the victim feels or is made to believe that all this is a sign of ”love at first sight”. Since such signs of affection and affirmation may meet felt needs and not look harmful at the surface, the excitement of such a new relationship often does not appear cause for alarm.[18] However, after the initial excitement, when the victim shows interest or care about anything beyond their new partner, the manipulator may show anger, passive-aggressive behavior, or accuse the victims of selfishness. If the victim does not comply to demands, the devaluation stage begins: the abuser withdraws all affection or positive reinforcement and instead punishes the victim with whatever they feel is appropriate—shouting, beratement, mind games, silent treatment, or even physical abuse.[19][20]

Benign occurrences[edit]

Excessive attention and affection does not constitute love bombing if there is no intent or pattern of further abuse. Archer explains:

The key to understanding how love bombing differs from romantic courtship is to look at what happens next, after two people are officially a couple. If extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not love bombing. That much attention might get annoying after a while, but it’s not unhealthy in and of itself.[16]

In the 2010s British author and psychologist Oliver James recommended love bombing as a technique for parents to help their troubled children. He described it as, “dedicating one-on-one time spoiling and lavishing your child with love, and, within reason, pandering to their every wish.”[21][22] A reporter for The Daily Express tried the technique with her son and reported:

It’s not rocket science that showering a child with affection will impact positively on their behaviour but what surprised me was how much my behaviour changed. Love bombing enabled me to see my child through a fresh lens, my disposition towards him softened and he seemed to bask in the glow of positive attention.[23]

Evolutionary psychology analysis[edit]

Dr. Hans Breiter, a neuroscientist at Harvard University, states that "Some people seem to be born with vulnerable dopamine systems that get hijacked by social rewards."[24]

Keith Henson has attempted to explain in evolutionary psychology terms how love bombing works. It is based on the idea that the brain evolved in a social context and that attention from others acts as a reward.

"It should come as no surprise that this powerful reward mechanism can be taken over by drug-induced rewards, but this is not the only way the brain reward system can be hijacked. Memes . . . which manifest as cults and related social movements have "discovered" the brain's reward system as well. Successful cult memes induce intense social interaction behavior between cult members. This trips the attention detectors. Tripping the detectors causes the release of reward chemicals . . . . Anyone who has ever had the feeling of being higher than a kite after giving a public speech is well aware of the effects of attention.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Love Bombing: 10 Signs to Know". Healthline. 2019-12-17. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  2. ^ a b Richardson, James T. (2004). Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe. Springer. ISBN 0-306-47887-0. p. 479
  3. ^ Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth, On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000, page 19.
  4. ^ All you need is love bombing, The Guardian, September 21, 2012
  5. ^ "1999 Testimony of Ronald N. Loomis to the Maryland Cult Task Force". Archived from the original on 2004-08-18.
  6. ^ "Eyewitness: Why people join cults". BBC News. March 24, 2000. Retrieved January 5, 2010.
  7. ^ "The Children of God: The Inside Story".
  8. ^ "Sun Myung Moon (1978) "We Who Have Been Called To Do God's Work" Speech in London, England".
  9. ^ California State University profile Archived 2002-06-17 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Langone, Michael, Recovery from Cults, 1995, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-31321-2, Chapter 3 - Reflections on "Brainwashing", Geri-Ann Galanti
  11. ^
  12. ^ L'Amie, Lauren (2019-03-29). "Are You Being Love Bombed?". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  13. ^ "Sherman Oaks Therapist | Sherman Oaks Online Therapy & Teletherapy". Shirin Peykar LMFT. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  14. ^ Singer, Margaret (1996; 2003) Cults in Our Midst. Revised edition, 2003. Wiley. ISBN 0-7879-6741-6
  15. ^ Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution, Michel Dorais, Patrice Corriveau, McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, Jan 1, 2009, page 38
  16. ^ a b c Dale Archer, The manipulative partner’s most devious tactic, Psychology Today, March 6, 2017
  17. ^ Lindsay Dodgson, what is love bombing?, Business Insider, July 30, 2017
  18. ^ Dodgson, Lindsay. "Manipulative people hook their victims with a tactic called 'love bombing' — here are the signs you've been a target". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  19. ^ Dodgson, Lindsay. "Manipulative people hook their victims with a tactic called 'love bombing' — here are the signs you've been a target". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  20. ^ L'Amie, Lauren (2019-03-29). "Are You Being Love Bombed?". Cosmopolitan. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  21. ^ Love bombing kids to get happy results, The Daily Telegraph, February 22, 2011.
  22. ^ 'Love bombing' reminds parents how much fun it is to be with kids, The Australian, March 2, 2013.
  23. ^ It took one day to change my son’s bad behaviour, The Daily Express, June 30, 2011.
  24. ^ Quoted in Hijacking the Brain Circuits With a Nickel Slot Machine By SANDRA BLAKESLEE, New York Times February 19, 2002.
  25. ^ 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