Browse all

What is Love Bombing, manipulative technique of those who convince themselves they can do anything

From religious sects to spiritual teachers, from multilevel marketing to toxic love

What is Love Bombing, manipulative technique of those who convince themselves they can do anything From religious sects to spiritual teachers, from multilevel marketing to toxic love

A raw nerve and Achilles' heel, we have all needed at some specific moment in life or at several moments to feel that we are carriers of uniqueness for someone, motivated, embraced by a warmth that sometimes becomes extreme and welcomed to the point of having multiple families. One need not be uneducated, clueless or extremely fragile to fall into a devious mechanism that sounds by the name of Love Bombing, literally love bombing. 

A phenomenon that has always existed is, for the first time, stigmatized and defined in 1995 by American psychologist Margaret Singer in her text Cults in our midst. Singer, who defines Love Bombing as the dangerous drift of a fragile mind, finds ground by analyzing, from the California background of the 1970s, that counterculture phenomenon which, manifested in a desire for freedom and experimentation, urges the liberation of body and mind to delineate disciplines such as rebirthing and crystal therapy, in the West yoga and meditation. Alternative medicine and "New Age" seek new definitions for treating body and mind, and, especially in the case of the latter, the territory of hidden shadows, necessary of extreme care, can give rise to dangerous slips that go from engaging to unsettling, taking away clarity about what it means to "treat" and what it means, instead, to "manipulate."

"Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually at the behest of the leadership, to overwhelm recruits and neophytes with flattery, verbal seduction, non-sexual but affection-laden bodily contact, and a great deal of attention to whatever remarks are made," writes Margaret Singer, who takes as her subject the sects, an extremely prevalent problem in 1970s America, that would not hesitate to persecute her.

This strategy of manipulation, implemented as the first step of entry to try to entice a victim and drag him or her into their own network, ostensibly resembling a home, a big family, the bearer of total understanding, acceptance, ease and empathy, does not only lurk within sectarian groups but acquires, for example, sap from pathological narcissists with their excessive love from the toxic form or radiates within pyramid marketing. These are extremely nice people who can operate in so many different environments: one can do Love Bombing within a romance, an affective scam or a workgroup, it can be implemented, in the search for followers, to drag a person into a sectarian group or to convince them to buy a product. There is no exclusion of areas: from marketing to relationships, from business to health. Think, for example, of realities that entice people to deceitfully buy mindfulness courses.

This being said, it does not mean that these worlds are bad on every occasion and that one is always faced with manipulative mechanisms, but if not, one should understand almost immediately that something false is going on even if the person who is subjected to it does not feel the danger because the situation manages to make itself very cozy.

Explaining, in a direct way and through various testimonies, the signs that are used to recognize risky situations, the areas that benefit from this technique and some hints to get help, Roberta Lippi, author, podcaster, lecturer in multimedia journalism, has worked for MTV Italy, was editorial coordinator of the website at its birth and of the Video Factory of all Condé Nast Italia titles and today, after being Original & Content Director of Dude.

For, after "Soli - the children of Osho," a podcast chronicling the lives of children raised in Osho communes, from which an international version was also made, Roberta makes eleven episodes (The affective scams 1 and 2, network marketing, the Christ metalheads, Pentecostal extremists, pathological narcissism, online trading, psycho-counseling, kinky manipulation, manipulation at work, gambling) that are encapsulated within the macro-text by the name Love Bombing whose third season is in the works.

When I ask her what strategies help to circumcise people but more importantly I dwell on why, indiscriminately, we could all fall for it, she explains that it starts with making the victim feel safe, making them feel understood, accepted but most importantly special, different. 

"Because it is not true that those who fall are more or less fragile or are more sensitive at a specific time in life. We can all be victims of it because we all need love and, often, the very people who are not particularly fragile but are simply curious, or one would say particularly structured, are manipulated anyway because they settle on a buffer, reinforcing situation. If a person tells you that you are special, that you are different from others, that they have finally found someone to speak the same language with, you feel understood. You don't need a situation of devastating discomfort in order to be vulnerable."

Always performing this kind of process are those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder and sway between lack of empathy, need for flattery and delusions of grandeur. Extreme kindness that results in exaggeration and constant invitations to do things together should lead one to wonder if, within this couple or group, it is all, really, too much. The request to get away from one's affections and possibly money are two other alarm bells that should raise the antennae of attention.

"She presents herself as the best person in the world in that she really believes she is. She succeeds, demonstrating all the characteristics that the perfect person must have, in her conquest. Those who fall for it always repeat that they had the best early days of their lives until they get stuck in relationships that change very quickly because the narcissist shows his true face. He changes, reveals himself, becomes violent, standoffish, aggressive. The victim becomes fossilized in this paradoxical situation in the memory and in the hope of returning to the early days to the point of guilt because - through phrases like you are the one who is blowing my mind - the victim feels the cause of the other person's mood changes and toxic dynamics open up that are really very complex," Roberta further explains.

The web today is a medium that is allowing so many people who were previously hidden to have an audience and thus be able to reach a larger audience. When you widen the pool, it is clear that you also widen the possibility of hooking someone, and Love Bombing is often implemented, in this case, through multilevel marketing mechanisms. Thus, growth paths are presented in which there are levels to be surpassed and people are rewarded through displays of extreme esteem that leads to urging them to enroll others. Intertwined then are counseling courses that are presented as free, but is there really such a thing as free in life? This question should, as a lark's mirror, cast doubt from the start.

In closing, I ask Roberta what one should do when one realizes that one is a victim of this insidious mechanism and whether there are any associations to help:

"One cannot get out of such mechanisms alone so it is necessary to talk about it with close people who are the ones from whom one has probably been estranged, reconnect and confide one's fears. A support network in these cases is crucial. Another important thing is to start a course of psychoanalysis because, both during and after, you are psychologically destroyed. Rebuilding oneself and understanding what were the reasons why one fell into this trap is necessary. Analysis helps to understand the reasons, the network of friends helps to get out of it and get support. There are associations but not specifically for love bombing. This is just one of the strategies that is implemented within the manipulation process. Victims can, however, find support in CeSAP - center for psychological abuse studies - which was founded by Lorita Tinelli, a forensic psychologist who is dealing with many sectarian and religious manipulation cases."

Also of great support are the self-help groups that work very well with addictions but are not for their exclusive use. Support from those who have gone through similar experiences helps not to feel stupid because that is the first thing that invests the survivor. 

"How did I fall into it? Why me?": these turn out to be among the very first questions that one undergoes with severity and disbelief. And it is from here that one must start again.