'I Work With Love Bombing and Gaslighting Victims—Here Are My Top 5 Red Flags'

As a psychologist and psychotherapist, my work has been fairly varied over the years; seeing all sorts of people. But when I moved to Spain in 2011, I needed to retrain and started working in clinical hypnotherapy. I immediately attracted a lot of clients who were women in abusive relationships coming to me about their relationship issues. I started to see there was a commonality in the psychology of the client in the relationship and also their partner.

Love bombing, gaslighting, and trauma bonding are all aspects in the same continuum of an abusive relationship. I now work with clients using a combination of psychotherapy and clinical hypnotherapy, typically women involved in high conflict divorces. In my experiences treating clients in abusive relationships, whether it's physical, sexual or emotional abuse, at the bottom of it, you are going to find these tactics.

What is love bombing?

Love bombing isn't just at the beginning of the relationship. But what I normally see with clients is a fairly predictable set of behaviors from the beginning by the person who is doing the love bombing. It is not giving flowers and chocolates, it's more to do with dominance and control, moving in on the person's life and taking over decision making very quickly.

Unfortunately when we look at romantic movies we see a lot of "love at first sight" or meeting and then getting married in a fortnight. That's generally the biggest red flag you will ever see in your life.

I've had clients who have said they met their partner and that he was wonderful and nothing like their last partner, for example, he even helped her buy her children's shoes. But she hardly knew this guy at the time. So love bombing is packaged up almost like perfume and roses, but actually it's someone saying, "I'll come and help you buy your clothes, oh you'll look much better in that," or, "I don't think you should be working like that, it doesn't suit you. I'm telling you because I don't want to see you so tired." It's control dressed up as love.

I had one client who met a man at a bar. He asked her out but she didn't want to go out with him. He then managed to steal her phone out of her bag, sent himself a text from it so he had her number, bombarded her with texts and eventually took her on a date to meet his mom and dad. He was testing her boundaries and then embedding her in a real relationship very quickly. Often women I see perceive it as odd behavior but they might be coming from a background where there were problems in their family dynamic, so they don't realize that what they are seeing is an invasion of their boundaries.

Examples of love bombing might be if a partner is talking to you about getting married within a fortnight, bombarding you with texts—which at first might feel amazing—or wanting to move into your house really rapidly.

Another example of an abusive or narcissistic partner is that they may be telling you that their life is terrible, playing the victim and blaming their "psycho ex" who ruined it all for them. The problem with the "psycho ex" story is a tendency to want to meet the challenge. We won't be that "psycho ex", we will be better than that. I see that over and over again in my clients; wanting to prove to their partner that they are worthy of them.

A lot of my clients are high achievers, so they really want to meet this goal, but they are never going to reach it. The love bombing phase is releasing the dopamine and oxytocin in their brain, but the positive feedback from their partner, over time, gets harder to achieve.

What are examples of gaslighting?

Gaslighting often starts from the get go. The women who come to see me might be very good at their jobs, but their partner may have started telling them that what they are doing isn't the right job, or that the way a friend talks to them is really quite horrible. This may be a friend my client has never had a problem with, but suddenly her partner is changing her perspective to isolate her. In order to follow the love bomb high, a decision has to be made to cut these friends out, which creates isolation. With time this becomes a serious "trauma bond" that connects them to the abusive partner, through this use of unpredictable love bombing and ongoing gaslighting. Gaslighting is about taking over that person's sense of where they are in the world, and it is often constant.

I've seen clients who have been told they are crazy, or too emotional. I have seen examples of partners putting monitoring devices in the house to make sure that they are "safe" or asking for passwords to all of the computers to "make sure you are safe online." Some of these abusive partners have sent emails to my clients' family members saying: "I don't know why we're getting divorced, there is something wrong with her, it's her instability."

When a person gets to a stage where they want to leave because they realize the relationship isn't right, the abusive partner can then tell the woman that she's crazy. They may then go out and tell everyone that she's a bad mom, she's unstable or she drinks too much. I see that all the time. I have even seen examples of abusive partners sending young children emotionally manipulative messages like, "The marriage has broken down. I don't know what it is, but you're my special girl."

Clients send me emails from their partners and they are all framed in a way that says: "We are agreeing on this separation but you really know this is about you and you have issues here. I think you need to see a doctor, it's really about how I care about you."

Saying someone is mentally unstable is a very common form of gaslighting.

Love Bombing, Gaslighting in Relationships
Love bombing and gaslighting can be common in abusive relationships. Getty/iStock

What are red flags in a relationship?

I think what people can miss with rom coms is that those two people who meet across a crowded room actually have a trajectory. We see them progress in the movie over a couple of hours; one person doesn't typically move in with the other the following day. I always say you need three months in a relationship before you change the slightest thing in your life. So there are red flags I see with clients that can be useful to be aware of.

The speed of the approach

When somebody is telling you they love you in a few weeks and they don't really know you, they could be playing with your oxytocin levels, love bombing you to get you hooked on them.

"My ex was a psycho"

Anyone who is coming to you with a "my ex was a psycho" story is a red flag, because it shows a lack of taking responsibility. Any relationship takes two, so if they are telling you that the other person was Satan incarnate, there is no self reflection happening.

Playing the victim

A definite red flag is when I see clients with a partner who has come in with a victim story about how everyone is out to get them and it's all gone wrong because of other people, but is taking no personal responsibility.

Anger

Whenever a client tells me that a partner is showing flashes of anger, I see it as a red flag. It may only be a flash at the beginning, but if a partner is short and dismissive with waiting staff say, or in general, it tells you a lot about how they cope when things don't go their way.

How they deal with "no"

If a new partner says they want to come round and see you and you say no, because you are busy, and their response is anger, whining or controlling behavior, they are telling you that they have heard you say you have a limit, but they don't care. They are not listening to you.

A person in a state of independence who is secure is not going to drop everything at a moment's notice and a stable man will respect that. But if you get emotional blackmail that is a massive red flag because that person is never going to listen to you.

The first step for someone who is in a situation like this is to go to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, lawyers and certainly to the police if they are experiencing any kind of physical abuse. But often people don't know they are in an abusive situation, which is why I suggest looking on social media to open your mind.

There are loads of groups on social media about narcissism and abusive relationships and many videos that explain these concepts. If people think they may be in this situation and go to social media, they are going to see others experiencing the same things and see that it isn't just them. Therapy can then help to learn what is a red flag because a therapist will ask what the dynamics of the relationship are, or were, and what was happening between the couple. Of course, it can take a while to get out of these relationships. I have clients who over seven months have been in and out because they are hopeful and the love bombing and trauma bond are incredibly powerful.

There are relationships where two people are not compatible, that's what happens 95 percent of the time, but with love bonding, gaslighting, trauma bonding and all these red flags, it is important to realize they are very likely part of an abusive trajectory.

Dr.Anne PhD is a psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist. You can find out more about her work at myfreedomtothrive.com and follow on Instagram @myfreedomtothrive.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

If you or someone you know needs help getting out of a domestic violence situation, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text START to 88788.