Friday, May 2, 2008

Beware the Love Bomb!

In “thatmom’s” latest Podcast, Part III of our discussion of Spiritual Abuse, Karen and I mentioned the term “love bombing,” and discussion of this one element of Thought Reform could encompass an entire Podcast itself. So I’d like to explain additional details and information about “love bombing” as a concept that can help you be much more objective when you encounter this technique.

…and you will.

I neglected to mention "love bombing" in the second Spiritual Abuse Podcast when I discussed “Milieu Control,” the first technique identified by Robert Lifton. Love bombing helps enhance the desirable appearance of the group and the environment (the milieu) created by the group or the individual that attempts to gain your confidence. This can also overlap into a type of "mystical manipulation" as well, but it is generally listed as a means of enhancing what Lifton identified as “milieu control.”

“Love Bombing” refers to the show of (genuine or feigned) love and affection that a motivated individual or group bestows upon their “mark” in order to endear themselves. The “mark,” (the person that a manipulator “marks” or targets as an object to be exploited) in a very subjective response to the overwhelming, pleasant experience of the great show of affection, becomes highly unlikely to recognize or even consider any negative information about the manipulator. The “mark” does not realize the subtle and very powerful influence that the manipulator has initiated because their experience has been so pleasant. The “mark” does not realize that their reasoning shifts from an objective perspective into a very subjective, emotional and experiential one. The situation exploits deeply personal, very human needs, wants and desires so that the “mark” will likely not notice any hint of manipulation until they are deeply invested, entrenched or dependent upon the manipulator in some way so as to make leaving the relationship very difficult.

As I write this, I’m reminded of some obvious and more concrete examples of how this phenomenon works well in real-world examples. Think of a parent who pits a child against the other parent through giving the child everything that they want, thus “buying” the child’s affections. The permissive, accommodating parent has exploited that child for personal gain and self-gratification, even if the gain is merely an avoiding of the responsibility of parenting. A parent with no rules who satisfies the child’s desires seems “easier to love.” Citing another example from “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage,” Dr. Harley notes that extra-marital affairs ensue through the neglect of needs inside of a marriage so that when the straying partner finds an opportunity to meet those needs outside of marriage, the illusion created becomes nearly irresistible. Free from the responsibilities of daily living and serious relationship, the marital affair appears to be a subjective “dream come true.” The “honeymoon phase” of such relationships promotes a type of emotional high that interferes with rational thinking while the love bombing continues. Sadly, everyone comes down off that high eventually because the initial “love bombing” efforts require a high degree of energy and resources to maintain that cannot be sustained indefinitely.

The term “love bombing” actually originated within the Unification Church and was frequently used by Reverend Moon himself as early as the 1970’s. Other “Bible-based cults” or cultic Evangelical Christian groups, per the testimony of former members, also used this very terminology themselves to describe their efforts of evangelism (i.e., recruitment. So although counter-cult literature makes use of the term to identify the tactics of reducing one’s resistance to a manipulative person or group, note that the term originated from within the vernacular of cults themselves.

To read more about how love bombing takes place, I encourage the reader to consider the experiences of former members of manipulative groups. Online websites offer a staggering number of former members’ personal experiences in their different groups, paying attention to their accounts of the recruitment process. I’ll offer a few sites here, but this is by no means a comprehensive list. I also think that there is much wisdom in reading the accounts of people from a variety of groups which is why I recommend reading former moonie Steven Hassan’s “Combating Cult Mind Control” to Christians. Wendy Duncan, a social worker and a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has also written an excellent account of her story in “I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult.” The tactics of recruitment are identical to those employed by these “off-center” Evangelical Christian groups, particularly those groups that prey on those who are already Christian believers.

Visit these sites for to read a wide variety of the “love bombing” experienced during the recruitment process of former members from a wide variety of different groups (including Christian Cults). Follow these links to pages linking to the accounts of former members:

* International Cultic Studies Association (Not specified by Group)
* Cult Awareness and Information Centre (Information listed by Group)
* Rick Ross Institute (Search by and select an Individual Group for a list of articles)