Friends with ‘No Benefits’- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

Manipulative, confusing, toxic and worthless. Of all the adjectives one would use to describe friendship, these four words aren’t the ones they would usually turn to. Unless what they are describing is a ‘friend bomber’. Wearing the charming mask of attention and affection, friend bombing is all about faking authenticity. It seeks not to cultivate a genuine, long-lasting accord, but rather a psychologically enthralled victim to play with and then forget about.

Delhi-based Anindiya Tripathi, a 29-year-old writer, experienced the puzzling dynamics when she met Suhani Sharma (name changed) through a mutual friend last year. “We used to talk daily, meet up around the city, and she would often confide in me about her life. Each time, however, a new guy entered her life, things took a turn for the worse,” says Tripathi, adding that her friend had a pattern of becoming manipulative. “Suhani would stop talking to the guy, but used to ask me to speak to him to keep a tab. At first, it seemed harmless, but once I would tell her things, she would just take them out of context. When I finally expressed anger, she cut off all contact and vanished. It was a toxic cycle, and left me feeling hurt and confused.”

The fundamental issue with friend bombing is that it often leaves the recipient questioning their own worth. The once-clear lines of friendship become blurred, leading to a loss of identity and an emotional turmoil that can be difficult to escape. Just like love bombing, a manipulative tactic characterised 
by over-the-top affection, grand gestures and unrealistic expectations within romantic relationships, excess is the name of the game in friend bombing as well, but within a platonic context. It involves an intense and calculated charm offensive, a psychological strategy where one person showers another with extravagant gestures, gifts and overwhelming emotional displays. This behaviour, though initially appearing as genuine, gradually unveils itself as a tool to exert control and influence, often leaving the recipient bewildered and emotionally drained.

Noida-based relationship counsellor Deepank Saxena says, “It is a deceptive tactic that exploits our innate desire for validation. Therefore, individuals need to be aware of the signs such as compliments, gifts and constant attention that seem disproportionate. It is important to set boundaries, and not allow themselves to be played by excessive displays of affection.”

Lost in Labyrinth

Shivani Dua, a 28-year-old marketing professional based in Gurugram, too found herself in a similar situation with her colleague, Sakshi Bakshi (name changed). Dua says, “As Sakshi was younger to me, I used to treat her like a kid and even avoid people she didn’t like. But as I grew closer to other colleagues, Sakshi became possessive and controlling. She began to bad-mouth me, and it felt like she considered herself the owner of our friendship.”

One of the most common tactics in friend bombing is to isolate the individual from other relationships and make themselves the sole focus of attention. “Keeping a person away from other sources of support makes it easier for toxic people to manipulate and influence. It also minimises the chances of others in your life to witness the way your love-bombing friend is treating you,” says Bengaluru-based psychologist Nikita Jain.

While it’s typical for certain friendships to thrive in their early stages and gradually grow distant, the key difference between this natural progression and friend bombing is that the patterns in the latter resemble those in abusive romantic relationships. 

Dr Puneet Dwevedi, Chief of Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram, says, “It leaves the victim grappling with how to return to the initial ‘bombing’ stage.” The generosity can quickly transition into emotional trickeries, creating a power imbalance. People may even seek to exploit the target for personal gain, to create dependency, or establish a facade of friendship for ulterior motives. And unhealthy bonds can truly harm you over time. “They can make you feel more stressed, sad and anxious, disrupt your sleep, and erode your self-esteem,” says Jain.

Evading the Trap

The best way to ensure that you do not fall for the lure of a bomber is to be aware and stay cautious. Establishing and maintaining personal boundaries in a newfound friendship is a must. Equally helpful to remember is the fact that in any relationship, trust—like respect—is earned and built over time. “Take your time to evaluate the true intentions of the person. Avoid rushing into commitments or sharing personal information. Seek advice and insight from trusted friends or family to gain a fresh perspective on the situation. If you start feeling uncomfortable or detect manipulative behaviour, communicate your concerns politely but directly,” Dwevedi says. After all, healthy friendships should empower, not entrap.

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