Love bombing

From XFamily - Children of God

Love bombing is the deliberate use of an intense, concerted show of affection by a group of people toward an individual they seek to recruit or otherwise influence.

The phrase can be used in slightly different ways.

  • Certain organizations, notably the Children of God/The Family and the Unification Church, use or have used the phrase themselves. In this context, the implication is that the show of "love" is sincere.
  • Critics of cults often use the phrase with the implication that the "love" is feigned and the practice is manipulative. "Love bombing" is sometimes cited by critics as one of the defining characteristics of a cult.

The phrase apparently originated within the Children of God. Deborah Davis, daughter of founder David Berg, and Kristina Jones, daughter of an early member, both use the term in memoirs of the cult's early days.

Unlike the "Flirty Fishing" previously practiced by the group, "love bombing" is usually nonsexual.

The term was popularized by the controversial psychiatrist Margaret Singer. She used the term in 1981 when testifying in a lawsuit on behalf of the Daily Mail. (The Unification Church had sued the newspaper for libel, in regard to stories the newspaper had published about David Adler's experiences with the church). In her testimony Singer said that she had interviewed over five hundred members of various sects, about half of them members of the Unification Church. She said that the church's use of a showering of intense affection was more effective than the brainwashing techniques used by the North Koreans on prisoners of war. In a 1996 book entitled Cults in Our Midst, she described the technique thus:

"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."

A few years before Margaret Singer died she discussed love bombing and capture-bonding in long phone conversations with Keith Henson who at that time was applying Evolutionary psychology to understanding the relation between cults and drugs. Henson proposed a mechanism rooted in the evolution of Stone Age human ancestors to account for the effects of love bombing. In brief, he proposed that intense social attention has similar effects to addictive drugs because the attention causes the release of brain chemicals that activate the brain's reward circuits.

The postulated evolutionary origin of this mechanism is that tribe members who took actions such as hunting received attention. If the attention rewarded them they were more likely to repeat the action, and in the long-term people with such motivational traits were more likely to become ancestors. In this view drug addiction is a side effect of Stone Age evolution.

If attention-reward theory[1] is accepted as an important human psychological trait, then intense cult love bombing is just the extreme end of what all groups (religious and otherwise) do to obtain members.

However, there is no litmus test which defines love bombing, any more than there is any way of objectively determining the sincerity of any human emotion.