PETALING JAYA: In this complicated world of modern relationships, a concept known as love bombing has emerged. Picture it as a rose adorned with thorns – enticing at first, only to unveil its sinister side as the relationship unfolds.
Relatively unheard and unspoken of, love bombing is in fact a form of emotional abuse. It is characterised by extreme and overwhelming grand gestures of affection and attention, often with the goal of making the recipient feel dependent and obligated to the giver.
Now, if you visited certain Klang Valley malls last month, you might have noticed digital posters bearing the words: “Violence hushed by gifts is still violence.” This foreboding message is part of the “Love Bombing” awareness campaign, a collaborative effort between Mediabrands Content Studio (MBCS) and the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).
Cleverly mimicking wrapping paper to represent the gifts that perpetrators may offer their victims, each poster features repeated patterns such as diamonds and handbags followed by various forms of abuse, mirroring the toxic cycle.
“The message is to show that on the surface, love bombing may seem like all sunshine and rainbows, but if you look at it closely, it’s a different story entirely,” MBCS creative director Eddy Nazarullah explained.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, he recalled the moment that triggered their mission. “As we were brainstorming one day, one of our colleagues approached us to say she wanted to highlight something that had been happening in her family for years.
“She told us the story of how her mum has been abused for as long as she can remember, and her father keeps giving gifts to justify the action.”
‘A vicious cycle’
To obtain further insight, FMT Lifestyle sought the expertise of clinical psychologist Sanghamitra Gupta, who explained that while love bombing may sound enchanting, it can be psychologically harmful.
“It is a kind of vicious cycle,” she said. “Love bombers may not always start with the intention of harming or abusing someone”, but perpetrators often feel a heightened sense of control or an ego boost when they shower their significant other with grand gestures of love.
But these acts, while extravagant, lack the emotional intimacy inherent in healthy relationships.
“Since it is not genuine, it does not last very long. Eventually this ‘high’ wears off, and that is when the signs of abuse and violence show up – at the devaluation phase,” she said.
“In toxic or emotionally abusive relationships, the love bomber then apologises and showers the victim with gestures to win their affection back. And the cycle continues.”
WAO’s head of case management, Vaneezha Muniandi, called love bombing a form of manipulation, and pointed out that it can even occur in non-romantic relationships.
“When we think of domestic violence, we often think of something physical or visible. But love bombing isn’t easily noticed,” she warned.
“For many of the cases we handle at WAO, the abuse builds up from the love-bombing phase. When the receiver opposes and proposes setting boundaries, the giver may retaliate with verbal or physical abuse.
“I’ve had people tell me, ‘Oh yes, I’ve been experiencing this, but I didn’t know there’s a term for it’.”
While the digital displays in shopping malls have ended for now, the “Love Bombing” campaign will continue on social media, and the organisers hope to do more during the Christmas period.
In the meantime, Eddy said they have observed the impact of their campaign even within their circles.
“Some of the men at our office said, ‘Now that I think about it, I may have done it without even realising’,” he noted – seemingly small measures that will go a long way towards shedding light on this insidious domestic phenomenon.
WAO provides free shelter, counselling and crisis support to women and children who experience abuse. For help, contact 03-3000 8858 (9am-5pm) or message Tina at 018-988 8058 (24 hours).