Is It Love Bombing Or Genuine Affection? A Psych Told Us How To Recognise The Difference

love bombing
Contributor: Emily J. Brooks

There is a type of person you have probably encountered, and if you haven’t, your friend likely has. They’re the the person who, after the first date, will text you all the time and call you for hours. They will shower you with gifts and never let you pay your way at dinner. They will dote on you in a way no one else has, with so much attention and affection that you can’t quite believe your luck. And as you ask yourself whether this is all too good to be true, you sit with a quiet feeling that something doesn’t add up. There’s a name for it: love bombing.

What is love bombing?

Love bombing is a form of emotional abuse and coercive control that can arise at the beginning of relationships. While it may initially seem like harmless behaviour, characteristic of a person who is besotted with you rather than anything else, it is a common grooming tactic that can appear at the beginning of many abusive relationships — manipulating not just the victim, but others in their life.

Love bombing occurs when a person overwhelms their partner with attention and affection. The result of this intoxicating behaviour means that, down the track, the love bomber can point to these intense declarations of love as evidence that they aren’t abusive, that they couldn’t possibly control or hurt their partner.

People who love bomb can also impress their partner’s friends and family, making them more doubtful or disbelieving when the abuse begins. It can also leave a victim feeling even more hurt when the abuser withdraws this attention, creating a powerful and dangerous dependence on these love bombing tactics.

What’s the difference between love bombing and real affection?

It might seem hard to pinpoint, but as trauma counsellor Angela Atkinson explains on relationships site QueenBeeing:

“Early on in a healthy relationship… you might feel like spending every moment together – and for a short time, you might actually even do that. But for the most part, you’re going to be still living your life, seeing your friends and family, and generally, this person will be added to your existing world, at least at first.”

To put it plainly, someone who isn’t love bombing you will likely be chill with you doing your own thing and making your own plans.

Atkinson goes on to point out that the relationship will feel positive, even when there are rocky patches. “Over time, [a] healthy relationship will smooth out into a more comfortable rhythm that feels natural and good to both parties. While you might on occasion argue, it never ends in someone being punished, belittled, or otherwise dehumanised.”

What is coercive control?

It’s those feelings, and those arguments, that can often spiral into coercive control, a form of emotional and psychological abuse that slowly reduces a victim’s autonomy, decision-making abilities, and sense of self.

While domestic violence has been traditionally viewed as physical abuse, new conceptualisations recognise coercive control as a collection of manipulative actions that individually appear benign but, together present a pattern of behaviours that can be a precursor to lethal violence. For example, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety lists coercive control as a “high risk factor” for serious injury or death.

What are the signs of coercive control?

Common, subtle signs of coercive control include jealousy and a suspicion of friends, monitoring of movements, constant insults, and financial abuse.

Dr Hayley Boxall, a research manager at the Institute of Criminology, found in recent research that 73 percent of women (of 1,023 surveyed) had experienced a current or former partner being jealous and suspicious of their friends or family in the last three months. 65 percent of women said their abuser had been monitoring their time and whereabouts. 

When it comes to recognising the signs, Dr Boxall said jealousy and suspicion can show up in statements such as “your friends don’t like you very much” or “your friends and family are not supportive of our relationship”.

Meanwhile, the monitoring of time and whereabouts can include stalking your social media, in-person stalking, and, according to Dr Boxall, “really quite simple things like asking [a partner] to account for where they’ve been and who they’ve been with”.

What to do if you think you are being love bombed

If you’re unsure — or merely questioning — whether you’re in a relationship involving control and manipulation, the most important sign, Dr Boxall says, is an internal one: “If [people] talk about feeling like they have a lack of autonomy, if they feel like they have an inability to make decisions for themselves, if they feel claustrophobic within their relationships, then we kind of go, ‘it sounds like you’re experiencing coercive control’.”

It pays to be clued into the subtle red flags that can appear in a relationship. Whether it’s signs of love bombing or an odd statement about the nature of your friendships, it’s not always best to let it slide.

To learn more about love bombing and coercive control, listen to Future Women’s new podcast, There’s No Place Like Home, which pulls back the curtain on domestic and family violence in Australia.

If you or anyone you know has experienced domestic violence and you are seeking support, please visit or call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service. You can also contact Lifeline (13 11 14). If you’re in immediate danger, call 000.