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How to recognise and defuse a love bomb

Being in love is usually wonderful, but what if your new relationship smothers you? Experts chime in about what love bombing is and how to deal with it

 Kanye West and Kim Kardashian 
 Kanye West and Kim Kardashian  (AP)

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“I still remember the first time we met. It was casual, cute and not overwhelming at all, recounts Neha Makkar, a Mumbai based 23-year old who identifies herself as a victim of love bombing. Makkar’s boyfriend started showering her with expensive gifts, surprise dinner dates at 5-star hotels and overly affectionate messages and long calls within a week of their first meeting. “I initially thought that he was just plain attracted to me and probably really liked me until he gave me Swarovski and said that he will never leave my side,” she recalls. Makkar was shocked and is now finding a way to get out of the relationship.

Makkar’s is one of the many stories of love bombing - a manipulative technique that is being talked about widely since the rapper Kanye West is said to have ‘love bombed’ actress Julia Fox. West apparently “had an entire hotel suite full of clothes” waiting for Fox when they returned from their first official date. Fox has slammed these accusations citing that she didn’t consider it love bombing. According to her, someone who ‘love bombs’ has a shady, ulterior motive where one gets love-bombed and is then isolated, which wasn’t the case with them. Interestingly, on Valentine’s day, hours after it was confirmed that West and Fox had broken up, West sent a truck full of roses to his ex Kim Kardashian, again seen by many as love bombing.

But is that really the case? How does one identify love bombing? Experts answer these questions and more.

What do you mean by love-bombing?

Essentially love bombing is a technique where someone gets overfamiliar really soon, and the person brings overwhelming amounts of intensity in their affections and feelings very quickly. These are typically individuals who are insecure about what they offer in romantic partnerships, so they will do whatever possible to secure their place in your life. They will tell you that they love you and make a lifetime’s worth of promises, all very soon. The relationship will soon graduate from casual to serious, and it won’t be a step-by-step process. As Anshuma Kshetrapal, a Delhi based creative arts psychotherapist, articulates, “A healthy development of a relationship would be: you stop, you review, you assess your position time and time again, and then you decide that you want to continue with this person because you feel affectionate. But in a love bombing scenario, that assessment time is not given as you are constantly and consistently overwhelmed.” And if you end up wanting time, it is considered a threat. “The partner will think you don’t love them as you need time. Trying to place a boundary with such an individual will be met with manipulation as they want to affirm their place in your life,” Kshetrapal further adds.

Also read: How career growth impacts women's mental health

Another important factor in love bombing is that such gestures and manipulations result from narcissistic behaviour. Dr Meghna Singhal (PhD Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS) throws light on this factor, saying that narcissists’ self-love makes them use flattery and attention as tools to build themselves up as the perfect partners. “Once you’re convinced how good you’re together, you’ll end up becoming another object to satisfy their desire for attention. All in all, a narcissist would try to shape your role in the relationship into a member of their ‘supporting cast,” she adds.

Knowing the difference

Often, the problem in such a relationship occurs because the victim isn’t able to understand the difference between a genuine compliment and flattery to take preventive measures early on. When it comes to compliments, both individuals appreciate something about each other, have mutual affection, respect and want to display it. But then comes flattery, where one partner puts the other on a pedestal. There are comments about how they’ve never met anyone like you and how you’re the ‘only one, and all of this can be very intense. “Compliments would come from a place of honesty and would be meaningful, whereas flattery would happen without knowing the other person, giving them time and space. Flattery would also involve idolising the other person,” Kshetrapal explains.

Divija Bhasin, a New Delhi-based counselling psychologist, warns that genuine compliments will not be followed by the person asking you for something in return. This could range from anything like money to power. She further apprises that listening to your “gut feeling” is important. “If you feel uncomfortable, try to understand why and don’t brush it off as just a compliment,” she says. Dr Singhal also concurs with Kshetrapal and gives examples of flattery as being excessive and insincere where narcissists say things such as “You look like an angel” or “You’re the most beautiful woman to ever walk on this earth”. She distinguishes between the two saying that compliments are genuine appreciation, usually of something specific, something on the lines of “Your laugh is electrifying!”.

When it comes to gifting, the gift will be thoughtful and mindful in a loving relationship. One will try to find out what their partner likes and dislikes before buying something. But a narcissist who love-bombs will want to remind their partner of themselves and become the provider of needs. “They would want their partner to think about them, and the gifting comes from a compulsive and obsessive place as against an act of mindfulness,” asserts Kshetrapal. The gifting is to make them feel good and doesn’t really serve any purpose for their partner. Kshetrapal adds that many a time, it may also cross boundaries. No one wants to receive packages all the time, and if the narcissist isn’t thanked, they get upset.

How can one take charge?

Since the power dynamics of these relationships are imbalanced, there are higher chances of these relationships becoming toxic very quickly. Bhasin opines that one can try to set boundaries by clearly stating how they feel and communicating it to their partner. “But at the same time, it’s important for the partner to be willing to change and recognise what they’re doing as “wrong” for the boundaries to be possible,” she adds.

Also read: How boundaries help build better relationships

When it comes to creating boundaries, Dr Singhal advises, “How often you meet your partner in person, how often you exchange messages, how often you speak on the phone, etc. all of these should be mutually decided and should be within your comfort zone.” She goes on to say, “If you start to feel smothered, it’s a good idea to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about how much is too much for you- how you’d also like to prioritise your work, your family, your hobbies, etc. Any relationship which becomes the SOLE focus of your life is NOT healthy. If your partner doesn’t pay heed to your protests of feeling smothered, it might be a good idea to give the relationship a pause.” In Kshetrapal’s experience, both partners have to lay down the groundwork for healthy communication where the victim is firm but gentle. “Allow for the other partner to have feelings and resist for a little while. If your partner really loves you, then they will understand that they will have to come around and that your boundaries cannot be compromised,” she concludes.

Five signs of love bombing

Dr Meghna Singhal lists five behavioural traits of love bombing:

○ Your partner overwhelms you with signs of adoration and attraction: flattering comments, tokens of affection, love notes on the windshield, flowers sent to your office, surprise appearances to get you to spend more time with them, again too much too soon

○ Proclamations of how “we’re so good together” despite you not feeling the same

○ Building you up into more than you know anyone could actually be

○ Co-opting your time because they want to spend so much of theirs with you while surreptitiously manipulating you to have little time left over for friends or family

○ Not listening to your protestations to dial it back and trying to excuse away the smothering behaviour

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