Love Bombing

Love bombing is a tactic often employed by cults (or any religious, political or other group of like-minded individuals) as a way of luring prospective members. Current members typically ‘love bomb’ potential or desired new recruits by showering them with affection, praise, and offers of friendship.

Cult awareness experts warn that this seemingly kind and welcoming practice is often the first step in a mind control (‘brainwashing’) process that leads to religious conversion or involvement with a group that may be harmful to its membership or to society. While most people can discern such cynical ploys from honest offers of fellowship, anyone caught at a vulnerable time in his or her life (following a divorce, death, loss of job or any major life change) or suffering from insecurities could fall under the spell of a charismatic leader and the true believers who inevitably surround such a person. 

The phrase can be used in two slightly different ways: Members of the Unification Church, and perhaps members of other groups, use or have used the phrase themselves to mean a genuine expression of friendship, fellowship, interest, or concern. Critics of cults use the phrase with the implication that the ‘love’ is feigned and the practice is manipulative. Abusers in romantic relationships also do this to victims in the early stages of a relationship, showering their partners with praise, gifts, and affection. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, used the term ‘love bomb’ in a 1978 speech (translated): ‘Unification Church members are smiling all of the time, even at four in the morning. The man who is full of love must live that way. When you go out witnessing you can caress the wall and say that it can expect you to witness well and be smiling when you return. What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.’

Psychology professor Margaret Singer popularized the concept, becoming closely identified with the love-bombing-as-brainwashing point of view. In her 1996 book, ‘Cults in Our Midst,’ she described the technique: ‘As soon as any interest is shown by the recruits, they may be love bombed by the recruiter or other cult members. This process of feigning friendship and interest in the recruit was originally associated with one of the early youth cults, but soon it was taken up by a number of groups as part of their program for luring people in. Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members’ flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark.

Love bombing – or the offer of instant companionship – is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.’ Steven Hassan and Keith Henson are among the other cult critics to write about love bombing, postulating that it is similar, in terms of effects on neutrotransmitters within the brain, emotional state, and conduct, to the administration of drugs of abuse, temporarily producing intense euphoria when under its influence, and encouraging the actions from which the stimulus was derived. Pursuit of the stimulus often becomes an obsessive focus that is detrimental to financial status and human relationships. Dr. Geri-Ann Galanti (in a sympathetic article) writes: ‘A basic human need is for self-esteem…. Basically [love bombing] consists of giving someone a lot of positive attention.’

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