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Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. The phrase can be used in different ways. Critics of cults and churches use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned by cults and churches and that the practice is manipulative of vulnerable individuals, particularly teenagers and young adults, who may have been emotionally rejected by partners, parents, siblings, peers or who have other developmental problems and that love bombing is also utilized by the leadership of cults and churches to both silence internal dissent and further control members within group settings by directing the withholding attention and affection from individuals within the group.
Members of the Unification Church (who reportedly coined the expression) use or have used it themselves to convey a genuine expression of friendship, fellowship, interest, or concern projected toward potential and new recruits. It has also been used to refer to abusers in romantic relationships showering their victims with praise, gifts, and affection in the early stages of a relationship.
It should not be confused with the method developed by the Clinical Psychologist Oliver James, described in his book Love Bombing - Reset your child's emotional thermostat, which offers a means for parents to rectify emotional problems in their children.
In his 1999 testimony to the Maryland Cult Task Force, Ronald Loomis, Director of Education for the International Cultic Studies Association, said: "We did not make up this term. The term 'love bombing' originated with the Unification Church, the Moonies."
Sun Myung Moon, the founder and then leader of the Unification Church, used the expression "love bomb" in a July 23, 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.
Former members of the Family International, including Deborah Davis, daughter of the founder of the Children of God, and Kristina Jones, daughter of an early member, have used the term in describing the early days of the group.
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.
In the 2010s British author and psychologist Oliver James developed a technique for parents to help their troubled children which he called “love bombing.” It is described as, “dedicating one-on-one time spoiling and lavishing your child with love, and, within reason, pandering to their every wish.”