In her article Misdirection: The Art Of Love Bombing, Aubrey Cole talks about the way love bombing looks in romantic relationships,
The love bomber has a sweet, romantic, heart-tugging story for everything that is meaningful to you. He or she will ensure that you are convinced of a connection that is being carefully spun spider-like web of control. In generations past, they might have called this “coming on too strong” or “chasing” someone. But it goes deeper than that. This tactic seeks to target your soul to ensure that you will doubt anything bad that may happen later, and say, “There’s no way he did that to his ex-wife! He is so sweet and loving and caring!”…Being in love is a wonderful thing. I know. Having that attention showered on you when you have been craving a connection is like water to a thirsty person in the desert. The sad thing is that this makes you the perfect target for someone who seeks an emotional slave rather than a partner. Be mindful of behavioral patterns that suggest a transaction, e.g. I did this for you so you should do this for me.
All of this is true. Love bombing is used by people in romantic and sexual partnerships all the time. But what does it look like in other contexts?
What Is Love Bombing?
Love bombing is a manipulation tactic used by abusers—of all kinds—to convince the people they want to use that they are worthy of trust; using it as a bargaining chip to fall back on if the target starts realizing that they’re being mistreated. Often in the form of grand gestures that are intended to overwhelm the target with gratitude. As a side note, there is an important distinction between love bombing and gaslighting. They are similar, but they are not the same. Love bombing is a part of the gaslighting abuse strategy. An abuser generally needs to use love bombing to gaslight their target.
It is common in romantic partnerships, as mentioned in my story above. But it is also a strategy used in many other contexts. Below are some more examples of how widespread this emotionally abusive strategy has been implemented in my life, and the life of my friend and colleague at SwanWaters, Mags Thomson (written with her permission, of course).
Love Bombing In Churches
Love bombing is a classic strategy in the modern evangelical church. I can testify to it, but so can the numerous other people who have been seduced into congregations by a honeymoon-phase type of acceptance and love. This is an institutionalized form of love bombing that people who are already members of the congregation are instructed to implement when new people attend a Sunday morning service.
“Make sure you give our visitors a lovely, warm welcome!” Is often spoken from the pulpit. Which isn’t such an outrageous statement, but from behind closed doors (particularly in extreme groups like the one I came from) we were instructed to strategically gather around sinners/newcomers and accept them as they were—with the intention of deprogramming them once they felt they were loved.
Imagine a gay teenager coming to a church that appears loving on the surface, but is actually a cesspool of homophobia waiting to unleash itself upon them when they finally feel safe and let their guards down. They become confused and start to think, “Wait, did the pastor really just say in front of everyone that I’m living in sin because I’m a girl and I like girls? But I thought they loved me as I am.” Then the pastor might drop in by this teenager’s house with some groceries to help them out the next day. And she thinks, “Maybe I misinterpreted what the pastor said on stage. I probably misheard it.”
As Aubrey Cole says, this strategy becomes successful
“…when you start excusing, explaining away, or blaming yourself for the other person’s bad behaviour.”
Love Bombing In Parental Relationships
Mags is very open about the toxic relationship she had with her parents. But one story that she told me during a recent Skype meeting was about the way her mother made fun of her when she was a child for not being athletic anymore (even though she had just recently been hit by a truck which broke her leg). Her mother then proceeded to make fun of the weight gain that ensued because her daughter was not able to exercise. But in the same breath, she’d take Mags out for a nice hot chocolate and pastry before check-ups at the hospital café. It felt like a genuinely kind gesture. And in those moments, Mags felt like she could shut out the verbal and psychological abuse to think that maybe her mother really did love her.
It is similar to the way a spotlight shines on one person to keep the audience’s attention focused on them—rather than be distracted by the other parts of the stage that exists in the surrounding darkness.
Love Bombing In The Workplace
Drawing, again, from Mags’ experiences, she once had a boss who would smack her across the head when she’d make a mistake. He would also go through all his employees’ rubbish bins to look for mistakes they’d made in their work. At one point, he’d told her that she’d be getting a promotion, but then wrote up a newspaper advertisement for the exact job she was going to be promoted into. Naturally, she started freaking out and wondering what was going on. After he let her stew in anxiety about her future for a few days, he decided to tell her that she got the job.
This whole situation is the perfect example of gaslighting, and how love bombing is used to elicit feelings of gratitude in the target of abuse. And this, inevitably, keeps the target caught in the abuser’s web.