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Gary Chapman’s 1992 book The Five Love Languages described the different ways people show affection in romantic relationships. It became a cultural touchstone relating how people use physical touch, acts of service, affirmative words, quality of time, and gifts to demonstrate admiration. But when do expressions of love slip from a real gesture into something born of narcissism and emotional control?
It can feel like a nebulous line, but if you’ve ever been in a relationship where a partner showered you with excessive love, perhaps a barrage of gifts, praise, and affection to use as an emotional stick later on, you could have been the victim of “love bombs”.
Love bombs are a newer concept. So let’s unpack what it means to be with someone who submits you and how to deal with it when love bombs are part of your relationship.
What is love bomb?
Lovebombing inundates someone with waves of affection, compliments, gifts, and the like to knock them off their feet, usually in the early stages of a relationship. The darker side comes when the person performing the love bomb uses their efficiency to maintain control over their partner, possibly manipulating them into feeling bad, or thinking that somehow they didn’t return the affection.
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InStyle points on the recent lawsuit filed by singer FKA Twigs against actress Shia LaBeouf, accusing her of physical abuse, assault and emotional distress. At the beginning of their relationship, LaBeouf reportedly sent Twigs (real name Tahliah Barnett) up to twenty bouquets of roses a day and also hopped over the fence of their house in London to give her various love letters. The relationship went dark when LaBeouf allegedly subjected the singer to various forms of abuse, as she claims, such as threats to crash her car unless she told him she loved him and physically attacking her in a public gas station.
The polar extremes of such behavior are classic love bombs. Basically, it’s about turning on another person to control them emotionally, and it’s usually a symptom of a narcissistic personality disorder. As Ami Kaplan, a psychotherapist, said Cosmopolitan in 2019:
It’s about really getting the other person. Then, when they feel like they really have the person and feel safe in the relationship, the narcissist usually switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative.
Ultimately, lovebombing is a tool of manipulation and a way for a narcissist to project the image of a perfect partner. As the psychologist Suzanne Degges-White wrote Psychology Today in 2018::
Narcissists in particular are known for their manipulative skills and their penchant for self-love. You can use flattery and Attention As tools to build yourself up as the perfect partner, all the better for gaining your trust, affection, and ultimately your worship.
That flawless image will of course scratch over time as the relationship turns for the worst.
How can you tell if it is happening to you?
A tell-tale sign can be an extreme expression of affection at the beginning of a relationship. Usually love takes time to develop, and while large overtures are occasionally made when it’s just beginning, research has shown that men and women usually take a number of overtures Months before the L word is spoken.
Lovebombers tend to demand your full attention and consideration regardless of the context. They could bombard you with texts and calls, or show up at your door unannounced with flowers. After being showered with affection and praise, the focus of your relationship turns and stays on the love bomber, often to the detriment of the bond.
Instead of taking things slowly, you may find that you have jumped headlong into some serious dynamic with someone on a short timeline. As therapist and relationship counselor Denise Dunne told InStyle, the adorable bunch doesn’t last long at the beginning of the relationship and quickly gives way to something more destructive:
Admiration is abruptly withdrawn, rendering the feeling admired worthless and confused, or being forced to pursue admiration by submissive means.
What to do if it happens to you
The first step is to recognize love bombs when you see them. When you feel like you are in a relationship with a narcissist, start taking steps to get out of the relationship. Research shows that people with narcissistic tendencies are far more likely to cheat on their partners, and that they are far less exuberant and caring than other people in a longer relationship.
As family therapist Darlene Lancer wrote for Psychology today In 2017, these relationships are usually quite unhappy:
Many narcissist partners are sad for years and long to feel respected, important, valued, and cared for. Your self-esteem will suffer over time. They risk turning into empty shells of their former selves.
Apart from the departure there is one Some things to try before you quit for good will quit if you really want to. However, the best general advice is to get off before the relationship feels inevitable.