Note: The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence (2018).

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior.

My writing usually focuses on the more positive aspects of EQ (like IQ, for emotions), such as how it can help you handle an insult or establish deeper relationships. But it's important to remember that emotional intelligence, much like "traditional" intelligence, is not inherently virtuous.

For example, you may have heard of "the dark side" of EQ: the ability to use a knowledge of emotions to strategically achieve self-serving goals, with little or no concern for others. Much like a person possessing a brilliant mind could become a lifesaving surgeon or a master criminal, one with superior emotional intelligence has a choice between two very different paths.

What type of manipulative tactics might someone use to prey on your emotions?

One is what's become known as the "love bomb."

'Love Bombing': What Is It and Why Is it Dangerous?

Simply put, love bombing is an attempt to use attention and affection to influence another person.

The term reportedly originated with the Unification Church of the United States, a religious organization with roots in South Korea, who used the term to convey genuine love and interest shown to others.

But according to a number of psychiatrists, the love bomb is commonly used as a weapon, a form of psychological manipulation that is used to maintain power and control in a relationship. Pimps and gang leaders use it to encourage loyalty and obedience. Cult leaders have practiced it to coerce followers into mass suicide. And more than a few individuals use love bombing to abuse romantic partners.

"Love bombing works because humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can't fill this need on our own," writes psychiatrist Dale Archer in a blog post for Psychology Today. "Sometimes the reason is situational, brought on by an event, like divorce or job loss. Other times, it's more constant and traces back to our childhood. Whatever the source, love bombers are experts at detecting low self-esteem, and exploiting it."

How to Identify It (and Protect Yourself)

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a person who is naturally kind and affectionate (or even over-the-top), and the person who is using such displays to manipulate.

So how do you know if it's happening to you?

For one, it's important to remember that building trust into healthy relationships takes time. Love bombers want to rush the process, so they can get to taking advantage of unsuspecting victims.

Additionally, Archer explains that unlike healthy relationships, in which displays of affection continues indefinitely and actions match words, love bombing often involves "an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands."

He goes on to describe a good "litmus test" for identifying a potential love bomber:

"Think of your best friend, how much you have in common, and how often the two of you agree (or disagree). Now consider how long it took to build that bond. Is it likely someone you've just met knows you as well as your best friend? If you find yourself saying, 'Yes, they do!' warning bells should be ringing."

To prevent yourself from falling into the trap of the love bomb, beware of those who:

  • constantly seek to stroke your ego
  • push a relationship to levels you're not ready for
  • are quick to show warmth and affection, but then lose their temper or find other ways to "punish" you when they don't get their way

So, how can you protect yourself if you suspect a love bomber in your midst? 

In the early stages of any relationship, don't be afraid to slow down if you feel things are moving too fast. Setting boundaries and limiting your personal contact will keep you from falling under the victim's spell, and help you to see your relationship from a more realistic perspective.

If you're afraid that you're already involved in an unhealthy relationship, try talking about it  with trusted family or friends, or seek professional help.

"The important thing to remember about love bombing is that it is psychological partner abuse, period," says Archer. "When one person intentionally manipulates and exploits another's weakness or insecurity, there's no other word for it. Love is not about controlling who you see or what you do."

Remember: knowledge is power. Aim to build self- and social-awareness by learning the different ways others can use emotions against you. Because the best way to protect yourself from harmful uses of emotional intelligence...is working to increase your own.

Published on: Oct 16, 2017
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