Should Lovebombing Be Criminalized? Not Always! (TalkTV with Trisha Goddard)

Uploaded 5/14/2023, approx. 11 minute read

Once upon a time, we used to think of domestic abuse as purely being someone, hitting someone in the vast majority of cases, although not exclusive.

It was about a man hitting a woman. That's how we used to see it. We know it works both ways and we know domestic violence can extend to other members of the family.

But that's how it was once seen.

But things have become more nuanced and now we've got social media and what have you and there are lots of different ways of controlling somebody, keeping them in line.

And so the Crown Prosecution Service has had to continually update their definition of coercive control.

Now the latest one, Update Guidance, sets out the various sophisticated and subtle ways that suspects can manipulate their partners to exert control over their lives and seek to minimize the likelihood of detection and punishment.

Notice as I said subtle.

Now, if you were to tell somebody that your partner continuously gives you presents, gifts, showers you with all sorts of amazing presents and praise and things like that and then takes those away.

And then that's usually not done on its own. It's difficult, one, to tell yourself what's going on here when your friends will probably tell you you're lucky and two, to extricate yourself from that.

It's a really complicated issue.

And so many times you hear people say, well, if that person was just abusive, just leave. It's not that easy because the art of manipulation and coercive control is insidious. It's gradual and it's very, very powerful.

But one person to talk about this.

I've had him on the show before. Absolutely amazing.

Sam Vaknin, who is Professor of Clinical Psychology and a leading authority of narcissism, which is all part of that.

Sam, thank you so much for joining me again. You know, as I said before, when we talk about coercive control, it's very difficult for somebody to get their head around it, even if they're in the claws of it, to know what shape it takes.

Now, this love bombing, as I said, so many people say, you're lucky, but just talk us through about what kind of control that is exerting and how it manifests.

Good to see you again, Tricia. And no, I'm not love bombing you. It's simply good to see you again.

Thank you for having me. I'm a former professor. I get my position.

So just for this close. Thank you.

Love bombing, as the name implies, is when you weaponize the expression of affection and love and compassion and attention in order with explicit intent to manipulate another person into a behavior which you deem beneficial to you.

This should be the definition.

Unfortunately, how does it look, Sam?

I was going to say, I'm just trying to give me some examples of how it might look when you say weaponize.

But allow me with your permission before I proceed.

One disclaimer.

We need to define when we criminalize behaviors, we need to define them really, really, really well, because if we don't define them really, really, really well and delineate all the nuances with precision, we will end up criminalizing romance. We will end up criminalizing sex.

And many, many young men are already terrified to approach young women, because so many aspects of intergender interaction have been criminalized. I would even say excessively.

Now, this is no exception.

Love bombing is pathological, dysfunctional, and abusive. It's manipulative. It's an integral part of coercive control.

However, if it is not well-defined, we may end up criminalizing totally legitimate, lovely, charming, and chanting behaviors between people.

And unfortunately, from the little that I've seen, love bombing is wrongly defined in the Crown Prosecution Services document.

Oh, wow.

So what does it look like then?

Where are they going wrong?

Because as you say, young men are terrified.


Here are the minimal elements that should exist in any definition, proper definition of love bombing.

First of all, it should be over the top. It should be unbelievable, incredible. No reasonable person would ever accept the contents of love bombing as real or truthful.

Number two, it should be premature. In other words, the compliments, the affection, the attention, the gifts should come too fast and too early.

So on the first meeting, you're the most amazing woman in the world. The second meeting, there's an offer of marriage. And at the end of the second meeting, you're already planning to have three children together and you're discussing the college funds. That's premature.

Number three, it should be ill-founded. The compliments in love bombing have nothing to do with you. So even you feel as the victim of love bombing, even you feel that something's wrong, you're being described in a way that nothing to do with you.

We call this idealization. The compliments are actually directed at some idealized image of you, which is totally fictional.

So love bombing must include a pronounced element of fantasy. In the absence of fantasy, it simply might be a dysfunctional way of courting or flirting gone awry if there's no fantasy. Fantasy is crucial.

Number four, love bombing must be a part of a pattern of behavior, misbehavior, known as coercive control. If it is divorced from coercive control, it should not be criminalized.

Number five, love bombing should be a part of what we call in psychology, intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement means you get conflicting messages fast on the hills of each other. So thought and called, I love you, I hate you. I want your company. I don't want to talk to you. Let's chat. I'm blocking you. So it is called intermittent reinforcement. It disorients you. You become disoriented. You don't know how to decipher the other person's behavior. You try to please the other person. You become submissive. You're intimidated and you're manipulated. Intermittent reinforcement is a crucial part of coercive control.

And there is no love bombing without intermittent reinforcement. In other words, So you're continuously trying to keep that person in the positive sort of thing. On their toes. On their toes. So you said right at the beginning, it comes too early.

Now, I remember going back in my single days, this chat, we'd had like the first date. I was amazing and all this sort of thing. And I was ostensibly there for a completely, I've been invited there for a completely different reason to talk about mental health, what have you. Then you're amazing and what have you, all this sort of thing.

And then the next thing he's saying, I'm trying to figure out this thing, which house we're going to live in. And I'm like, so you say, I mean, that was like the second date and you sort of think, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Now you talked about that, although that can't be criminalized, to take it from hot and cold and black and white, that would still be a flag. Should still be a flag.

I'm saying for anyone in a relationship to be wary.

Yes, am I right? Absolutely.

Intermittent reinforcement in the vast majority of cases is a manipulative control instrument. It's intended to control. It's intended to create such uncertainty in your mind. It's intended to gaslight you into doubting your own judgment and perception of reality at the other person's behavior, their motivations, etc., so that you become dependent on the other person's input. He becomes your reality test.

And so then you lose your independence and agency. You become an extension of that person.

And you, because he has the capability to withhold affection from you, to withhold his love, to withhold the pleasant times together, you want to motivate him to give those back to you.

And so you try to please him to the point of denying yourself and your needs.

Sam, let me throw something at you, Sam, because we're talking about in a relationship. Not physically at home. No, we're talking about in a relationship.

I've seen this play out in workplace situations. Of course. And work-wise, and that legally and every other way is very difficult to prove. We're a boss right at the beginning.

It's talking about you're amazing, you're this, and then the next bit, you're rubbish and you need me. You don't need me calling you in appropriate times. I'm only calling you at these inappropriate times because I can't do this work without you.

And then you did.

Can it happen in a workplace situation?

No, I think you're very right. I think two additional shortcomings of the CPS definition of love bombing is limiting it, confining it to intimate romantic relationships.

When it's absolutely untrue, it can happen in church. It can happen in a workplace. It can happen between a teacher and a student. It can happen if love bombing is a universal, universal manipulative tactic.

Second thing, the CPS does not make a distinction between love bombing, which is the outcome of mental illness. For example, people with bipolar disorder, they love bomb in the manic phase. People with borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder love bomb because they can't tell the difference between truth and lies in a fantasy. People with other psychotic disorders, they love bomb because they can't tell the difference between internal and external and so on and so forth. These people are not acting criminally. They're just playing out their mental illness. And there's no such exemption or mitigation in the CPS definition of love bombing. That's catastrophic. That's absolutely wrong.

And so I think the key is coercive control.

Is the love bombing, does the love bombing lead to a coercive control scenario? Is it embedded in a coercive control strategy? Or is it a totally independent behavior that goes nowhere? If it goes nowhere, if it goes nowhere, it's just a warning sign. You wouldn't want to have a relationship with someone who jumps to conclusions in the first meeting.

It is, however, if it is embedded in coercive control, it should absolutely be criminalized. I fully agree because it leads to where it was.

Now, with your permission, I would like to give the indications of coercive control.

It's up to you.

Sam, we're just about to run out of time and I don't want to interrupt you in the middle of that.

I did this last time because when I talk to you, it generates so much interest.

Can we leave people hanging? Would you mind coming back on the show?

Because this is something I really...

The whole thing about it being in the workplace as well, I know people are going to be like, "Whoa, they haven't thought about that."

And how the CPS definition needs to be expanded.

Sam, we will talk again.

Thank you so much.

I love you.

Sam Vatten in there with some really interesting stuff about coercive control. And as I said before, we will be talking more about that.

Coming up, we've got a lot, lot more about bringing in legislation that prevents obese people being discriminated against.

Good idea or not? That and a lot, lot more right after this Brexit.

Stay with me here on Talk TV. See you in a moment.

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