When you’re first dating someone, it makes sense that you will want to know if their attention is genuine – or if it is love bombing.
What is love bombing? How is it different from genuine interest?
Before going further, let’s define love bombing. By definition, love bombing, is when a person in the early stages of dating showers you with attention, compliments and gifts. This is a strategy employed by people who are narcissistic to ultimately control their partner.
Genuine interest, on the other hand, is sincere. There is no ulterior motive other than to let you know they value you – and want to connect further.
What is the Point of Love Bombing?
Love bombing is a standard tactic for abusive narcissistic partners. It helps the narcissist keep their partner for months, years, or even decades while being cruel once their partner has an idealized version of the abuser.
Beginning a relationship with love bombing creates a fantasy of the relationship which compels the victim of this abuse to stay. They are hoping that the relationship can return to the “true” or “real” version of their partner – the person who was once so attentive, loving, and complimentary.
Protecting Yourself from Love Bombing
Because of this fantasy, the best time to protect yourself from a love bomber and narcissist is early on in the relationship – before you are too invested or confused.
When you are dating someone new, pay attention to these signs of love bombing. Ending a relationship with a love bomber early on is the best way to protect yourself from psychological abuse including gaslighting as well as second guessing yourself.
Here are the 4 ways to differentiate between genuine interest and love bombing.
How to Know if It’s Love Bombing or Genuine Tip #1: The Frequency of Communication
When a person is love bombing you, they will shower you with attention. Research shows love bombers text at a “significantly higher” level than other types of people. Within these relationships, there is an expectation for “excessive” communication. A person who is love bombing will frequently make time to communicate with you – even when they are busy at work, in class, or with friends or family. This is very exciting yet ultimately not sustainable.
People who are genuine in their interest will absolutely communicate with you frequently yet there’s not the same intensity. They will be excited to communicate with you yet still naturally have times when they are unavailable. They have a life outside of your relationship which is healthy and interdependent. (Interdependency is the goal state of relationships where you balance your attention to others with your own needs – it’s the opposite of codependency.)
How to Know if It’s Love Bombing or Genuine Tip #2: You are Getting Mixed Signals
A love bomber – a narcissist – is often inconsistent. It can be hard to figure out who is the “real” them. Or you may try to analyze what they really mean or want. You may find yourself making excuses for them to others or yourself.
A narcissist may tell you amazing words – but their actions don’t line up. They may tell you, for instance, they’ve never felt this way…..but they’re not yet ready for commitment. Work may just be too busy right now to commit for example. Yet they want to ensure you stay hooked, so they continue to shower you with empty words.
Genuine partners, on the other hand, are consistent. Their attention towards you is steady and their communicative if it won’t be like if they are traveling. Also, they make it a point to reach out to you again as soon as possible. Genuine partners mean what they say and say what they mean. Their actions match their words – there is no need to guess what they mean or excuse their actions. You will never get mixed signals.
How to Know if It’s Love Bombing or Genuine Tip #3: How High You Feel
A love bomber will often make you feel like the most important, special, attractive person on the planet. This feels intoxicating, of course. Yet this is the initial stage of an abusive relationship – to trap you into staying because their attention makes you feel high. To highlight this, how many true crime shows have you watched in which a woman was killed by her boyfriend or husband in which they describe their relationship as having been a “whirl wind romance” where he was the “perfect man”?!
When a person has genuine interest in you they won’t shower you with gifts, attentions, or compliments in a whirlwind way. It will feel more balanced. When a person is genuine, they will be cautiously optimistic. They will naturally have their own vulnerabilities they want to protect in case you don’t feel the same way eventually. Also, they will not want to focus on your appearance because genuine interest is much deeper than that. Genuine love surpasses our looks because these change with different seasons and over the years.
Of course, falling in love is always super exciting because of our brain chemistry – this isn’t codependent. Yet, this excitement feels more balanced than the high of a narcissist’s attention. You feel both excited for this relationship yet a sense of peace and security.
How to Know if It’s Love Bombing or Genuine Tip #4: Trust Your Gut
Finally, one of the best ways to tell the difference between genuine attention or manipulation is to listen to yourself. Your gut will often clue you in if someone you’re interacting with is trustworthy or not.
Of course, many of us have been trained to stop listening to our intuition to be more “logical.” Yet this is a skill you can cultivate again.
How to Listen to Yourself
To practice listening to yourself with clarity try the following exercise:
- Take time and space away from the person you’re wondering about right now
- Find a quiet space where you can be alone
- Breathe deeply into your body for at least 4 breath cycles
- Land in the present moment by tuning your attention to your body
- Scan your body to see how it feels in this moment and breathe out any spots of tension if present
- Now place your attention and breath into your gut
- Ask yourself: Is this person (you may name them) trustworthy?
- Listen or feel for a “yes” or “now” – “Yes” often feels open while “no” often feels tight
- Work to not overthink it – whatever you feel is your truth even if it’s inconvenient
When you listen to yourself you will know, deep down, that you can trust this person – or not. If so, notice this with clarity. You can trust yourself. Then take whatever steps you need to honor your insights. If they’re trustworthy, for example, practice leaning into your vulnerability. It’s ok to be nervous when dating someone you like because you don’t know how it will work out and for this to be a healthy experience for you.
Or if you know, deep down, you can’t trust this person, honor this. Set the boundaries you need to protect yourself in this relationship. Take space and distance. Weigh the pros/cons of continuing this relationship. And maybe, end this relationship knowing that you can trust your sense that they’re manipulating you.
Take Your Time to Protect Yourself
You can date with healthy boundaries and protect yourself from narcissists and their love bombing. These limits protect you from getting sucked into a fantasy of someone or absorbed by the high of their attention.
Take your time to figure out your personal limits when dating anyone new and stick to these boundaries. Maybe you want to limit how much time you spend with someone for the first couple months to keep your vision clear for warning signs? Also identify your needs around sex and casual sex.
Narcissists, and love bombing, can make dating even more intimidating. Yet there are absolutely healthy, genuine partners out there. Use your boundaries and these warning signs to help protect yourself moving forward.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
She is currently working on her book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram.
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