Gaslighting, Lovebombing, and Other Manipulation Tactics Named and Explained
These days, everything has a label. Buzzwords like "gaslighting" or "lovebombing" might have come across your social media feed or been mentioned in your favorite podcast. As jargon-y as they might sound, these terms are essential to have but also to understand. By putting a name to these behaviors, we begin to demystify them, allowing for open discussions, recognition, and crucially, a means to call them out or in.
Growing up Latina, we often grow up in the shadows of certain behaviors, deeply ingrained and normalized due to the constant influence of machismo in our culture. These practices, inherited from generation to generation or sometimes even demonstrated within our own family dynamics, can begin to chip away at our mental wellbeing, often without us being consciously aware of their impact.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable after having a big fight with your partner, only for them to show up later with an over-the-top bouquet of roses? (Bonus points if it happens in a public place, that way, you won’t turn them down.) Or felt sad and betrayed after having a date you thought was successful, only to find your date has seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again?
In our increasingly individualistic society, emotional responsibility is often overlooked, but we’re slowly making our way toward bringing more and more awareness to it. And a crucial step in this journey is calling out harmful practices that belittle emotions and are potentially manipulative. Let's have a closer look:
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Picture this: You find yourself in a situation where you point out something your partner did or said, only for them to vehemently deny it ever happened, despite your unmistakable memory of the event. Alternatively, if they acknowledge an event occurred, they might belittle your emotions by saying things like, "You're too sensitive," or shift the blame to you, saying that it’s you who misunderstood or misinterpreted the situation.
This psychological manipulation technique is now commonly referred to as gaslighting. It involves the perpetrator making you question your own sanity, experiences, and perception of reality. It’s a tactic often employed in abusive relationships to sow confusion, undermine your feelings and experiences, shift blame, and establish control over you.
To be clear, if this happens to you, you are not “crazy” as they often allege and make you feel. Once you identify you are dealing with a gaslighter, it’s best to try to keep your distance and establish healthy boundaries, or if possible, just cut the person off completely because a gaslighter rarely tends to take responsibility for their actions and the impact of those actions on those around them.
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Have you ever found yourself in a sudden downpour of affection that felt overwhelming, too coincidental, or almost too good to be true? If so, you might have experienced lovebombing. Lovebombing is a technique in which someone showers you with an excessive amount of love and attention, either to compensate for their abusive behavior, to manipulate you into feeling guilty for receiving such affection and subsequently compelled to reciprocate it, or to prime you for a cycle of giving and withholding which they then use to emotionally manipulate you further.
The ultimate aim is to make you feel deeply indebted and dependent on them, to the point where you cannot imagine life without their presence. This tactic is often accompanied by periods of withholding or "ghosting" you, and, in some cases, even periods of abuse. All these elements are deliberately designed to keep you in a state of confusion, with your adrenaline constantly running, which can lead to an unhealthy emotional attachment.
Ghosting is the art of disappearing without a trace, cutting off all communication without any prior indication. It's a phenomenon that, while initially tied to dating, has spread to friendships and even professional connections. While it may seem like an easy escape for the ghoster, who is someone who potentially lacks emotional responsibility or maturity, it often leaves the ghosted feeling disoriented and hurt.
Photo by Liza Summer: https://www.pexels.com/photo/displeased-diverse-women-in-room-6382686/
In dating lingo, benching refers to someone keeping you in their life but not fully committing, much like a sports player kept on the bench during a game. This can also lead you to get stuck in the dreaded “situationship.” It can feel like they're playing with your emotions, engaging with you just enough to keep your interest piqued, while they explore other options or hesitate to take things to the next level, meanwhile, you’re holding on, thinking that someday they will fully commit.
The person doing the benching may have an underlying fear of commitment, enjoying the attention but hesitant to fully invest emotionally. Some people simply thrive on the thrill of the chase and lose interest once they feel they've won the other person's attention. But always remember, relationships should be built on mutual respect and genuine interest, not on uncertainty and doubt.
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Imagine this: The person who ghosted you suddenly starts appearing in your social media notifications. They don't make direct contact, but their sudden presence, liking an Instagram post here, reacting to a story there, makes them hard to ignore. Or your ex, the one who must not be named, who only resurfaces twice a year - once to wish you Merry Christmas and then once more to ask you to pass along birthday wishes to your mother on his behalf.
This behavior is commonly referred to as haunting, a low-effort attempt to reconnect that can evoke old feelings and create confusion. It’s similar to Zombieing, where they resurface from the dead, only in this case, they aren’t even putting in as much effort as a zombie which really says a whole lot.
Haunting's intermittent and unpredictable nature leads to an emotional rollercoaster, causing anxiety and unsettled feelings. It fosters false hope for reconciliation, only to disappoint when genuine efforts to rebuild the relationship don't materialize. This emotional tether to the past hinders moving on and finding closure. This is where leaving the dead permanently blocked really comes in handy.
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While stealthing is often mentioned alongside all these other dating terms, it’s important to mention it goes far beyond simple dating jargon and is, in fact, dangerous and physically abusive. Stealthing involves the non-consensual act of removing or tampering with a condom during sexual activity without the knowledge or agreement of the other person. Originally associated with cisgender men's actions during penetrative sex, the term now includes the non-consensual removal of any barrier during any sexual activity.
Stealthing profoundly damages relationships, shattering trust and consent. It leads to feelings of violation, shame, and powerlessness, with lasting emotional trauma. The risk of STIs and unintended pregnancies adds further strain.
Stealthing is not a slip-up or a minor inconvenience; it is a form of sexual assault that violates a person's boundaries, trust, and consent, and at least one state, California, has made it illegal to do it.
Emotional manipulation is ever-present and ever-evolving. Therefore, giving a name to these sneaky tactics, no matter how they sound, is always essential. Being able to identify when someone is behaving in a way that is manipulative and/or emotionally abusive is the first step in being able to then respond in a way that protects your well-being and mental health.