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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are Players

In my recent articles, I focused on "breadcrumbing," a form of manipulation that is used by one person to string along, control and dominate another in a relationship in order to take advantage of them (see my articles:  Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1Breadcrumbing - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette, and Breadcrumbing - Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy).

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

In those articles, I focused on the person who is being manipulated.  In this article, I'm focusing on the person who is normally called the "player" (or pickup artist) to get beyond surface appearances and to take a deeper look at the underlying emotional issues involved.

Although this is a nonjudgmental look at men who are players, it should in no way be construed as condoning manipulative and deceptive behavior at someone else's expense.  Nor should it be interpreted as encouragement for anyone who is involved with a player to remain in a situation where you are being emotionally abused.

What is a "Player"?
A player can be either a man or a woman, heterosexual, gay or bisexual.  But, generally speaking, the term refers to a heterosexual man, who is unlikely to be faithful, honest or respectful in a relationship.    

He usually presents himself as someone who is the opposite of a player--a man who is kind, thoughtful, and interested in being in a monogamous relationship with a woman.  But his outward presentation hides a more seductive and manipulative person who only pretends to be interested in a relationship so he can fool women into having sex with him.   Usually, his main goal is to sleep with as many women as possible in short term hook ups.

Someone who is a "successful player" has mastered the pickup lines, demeanor, and strategies for deceiving a woman into thinking he is serious about a potential relationship with her.  He is often able to quickly assess her emotional vulnerabilities in order to get what he wants (see a fictional vignette from a prior article).

If a player has chosen a woman who is especially vulnerable, he can continue to manipulate her even after she realizes that she is being manipulated.  As in the case of the fictional vignette in my prior article, there are often unconscious issues involved for the woman who becomes aware that she is being manipulated and who remains with a player--even though she realizes that she's being played.

There are numerous books, manuals, workshops and boot camps for men who want to learn to be players.  These sources usually promise men that they will develop the necessary skills to seduce and sleep with as many women as possible.

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"
Needless to say, these men are often young and there is usually a level of emotional immaturity and arrested development for men who engage in this behavior.

Just like any other dynamic, the underlying personality dynamics for a player are on a continuum.  This often includes a fair amount of narcissism that vacillates between grandiosity and shame (see my article: Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame).

If someone's narcissism is on a sociopathic level, he will usually be completely self serving without any real shame or regret because he lacks the ability to be empathic towards the women he is deceiving and manipulating.

At the same time, there are many men who gravitate towards being players because they lack the necessary social skills and genuine confidence (as opposed to faked confidence) to be real with women.

They think that being a player or a "bad boy" will get them more women.  To an extent they're right about being fascinating towards certain women (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Another aspect that makes becoming a player attractive to some men is they believe they will gain the admiration of other men.  They believe that when other men see them with a beautiful, sexy woman on their arm, these men will see them as masculine and desirable to women and buy into the image the player is trying to project.  The fact that this often actually does happen among men only reinforces players' dynamics.

These men often grew up in homes where they didn't see loving relationships modeled for them in their household.  They might have grown up in homes where the father dominated a subservient mother and ruled the family, so these men get a distorted view of masculinity and what it means to be a man.  Also, many of them feel constrained by societal stereotypes of masculinity that are neither realistic nor attainable.

Many of these men, who project an air of confidence and charm, are really emotionally insecure.  They think they've found quick-fix techniques for attracting and manipulating women.  Underneath  their show of confidence is a fear that the women they're meeting will see how insecure and inferior they really feel (see my article: Looking Happy on the Outside But Feeling Broken on the Inside and     How to Stop Pretending to Feel Happy When You Don't).

While players, who succeed in obsessively seducing and sleeping with many women, might appear to be happy with their conquests, there are certain men for whom these mind games become old. As they age, the novelty and dopamine rush of conquering one woman after another becomes empty and makes them feel lonely.  And the thought of aging and becoming an old player, who is alone, begins to feel pathetic.

These men often face an emotional crisis because they really don't feel genuinely confident in being themselves and they haven't developed the necessary skills to pursue a more substantial relationship with a woman.  So, they can't go back to their old strategies, but they don't know how to move forward either.

The emotional crisis, while being painful, can be the first step for these men to seek help so they can change.

More about these issues in my next article (see Part 2: Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - A Clinical Vignette).

Players or pickup artists are usually heterosexual men who engage in manipulative and deceptive strategies to hook up or have sex with as many women as possible.  Their behavior can be emotionally devastating for a woman who is vulnerable to being manipulated.

Underneath the confident and charming facade of a player usually lies a fearful, emotionally immature man who hasn't developed psychologically and interpersonally.  Instead, he has learned various techniques and strategies through books and workshops that promise him success with women.

Over time, some men, who consider themselves to be players and who aren't sociopathic, realize that they're tired of these mind games and want a more substantial relationship with a woman.  But they haven't developed the necessary skills to form a mature relationship.

This often leads to an emotional crisis with feelings of emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness. At that point, they usually feel that they can neither go back to their usual ways of being a player nor can they go forward to form stable, monogamous relationships.

Many men, who are in this emotional crisis, find their way forward by seeking help in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with feelings of emptiness, loneliness, insecurity and lack of self confidence, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

When you feel stuck in a dynamic that no longer works for you and you can't find your way forward, a skilled psychotherapist can help you to get through this emotional crisis so you can discover a more authentic part of yourself to form a stable relationship.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist (see my article:

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

In my prior articles about "breadcrumbing," I discussed this concept in terms of it being a deceptive strategy used by a person in a relationship to string along and dominate their partner for selfish purposes.  In Part 2 of this topic, I also provided a fictional vignette to illustrate how this happens (see my articles: Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1 and Part 2).  In this article, I'm continuing with that same fictional vignette to show how psychotherapy can help someone who is caught in this web of deception.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing You?" Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

A Clinical Vignette: How Psychotherapy Can Help Someone Who is Being Manipulated in a Relationship

To recap from Part 2 of this topic:
Soon after Tania ended her relationship with Ed, she began dating John, a handsome, charming, intelligent and gregarious man she met at a party.  Initially, she was happy to meet John.  She couldn't believe she could feel so excited about meeting someone new.

But her excitement quickly turned into a roller coaster of emotions from excitement to disappointment and sadness.  Eventually, it turned into feelings of low self worth as it became evident that John was stringing her along for his own selfish purposes.  Specifically, Tania really liked John and she wanted to date him, but he was only interested in hooking up.

Tania confided in her friend,  Alicia, who had been unaware that Tania was dating John.  She told her about all the disappointments, cancelled plans, invitations to his apartment only to have sex, and so on.  Alicia listened patiently and then she told Tania that John had a reputation for being a player who would string women along with just enough attention to keep them interested and contacting him, but without giving of anything in the way of real substance.

Even though Tania could see John's pattern of behavior in hindsight, she still felt drawn to him, so she was reluctant to cut him off.  But as she realized that being around him was making her increasingly unhappy and she was feeling bad about herself, she took steps to stop contact with him.

At Alicia's suggestion, Tania contacted a psychotherapist that Alicia recommended, and Tania set up a consultation with the therapist.

During the initial consultation, Tania talked about how sad she had been after she broke up with Ed because, even though she loved him, she could see that there would be no future with him given how afraid he was to fully commit to their relationship and take it to the next step.

Tania told the therapist that, in hindsight, she could see that she was emotionally vulnerable when she met John because she had not fully grieved the end of her relationship with Ed.  Even though she liked John when she first met him, she also realized now that he was somewhat of a distraction for her to keep her from feeling the sadness related to the end of her relationship with Ed.

When Tania talked about how John manipulated her by stringing her along, she told the therapist that not only did she feel disappointed--she also felt foolish and ashamed for allowing him to manipulate her time after time.  She realized that she had been lonely after her breakup, and this contributed to her allowing a bad situation with John to go on for as long as it did.  She said she kept hoping that he would realize how much he liked her and treat her better.

Her psychotherapist felt empathetic towards Tania.  She realized that Tania was being very hard on herself, and she normalized the situation by telling Tania that people who use breadcrumbing as a manipulative strategy are usually very good at it and they sense the other person's emotional vulnerability, which they take advantage of for their own selfish purposes.

They also discussed Tania's family background and early childhood.  Tania revealed that she was closer to her father than her mother.  When she was five, her parents divorced and she hardly saw him after that because he moved out of state.  She told the therapist that she grew up yearning to be around her father.  In hindsight, Tania said she felt her father was narcissistic and he didn't take into account how much she missed him and how disappointing it was when he was hours late without an explanation to pick her up.

On those rare occasions that she saw him when he came to visit New York, she said she missed him so much that she overlooked that he came very late or he would sometimes cancel at the last minute.  Looking back on it, Tania said, she thought she didn't want to make waves by complaining to her father because she was afraid that he would get angry and she would see him even less.

As Tania was talking about this, she realized for the first time that she had similar feelings with John as she did with her father.  She and her therapist talked about the similarities between John and Tania's father. They also discussed the connection between how she was with her father and how she interacted with John, and Tania felt a strong connection.

During the next several months, Tania worked in therapy to deal with the loss of her relationship with Ed.  She and her therapist also worked on the earlier trauma of yearning for a father who lacked empathy for her feelings when she was a child and the connection to her dating relationship with John.

To overcome these issues, her therapist used a combination of Somatic Experiencing and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy (see my article: Integrating EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychotherapy).

Both EMDR therapy and Somatic Experiencing are experiential types of therapy that get to the underlying issues more effectively than regular talk therapy (see my articles: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

They worked on helping Tania to overcome her early childhood trauma.  Then, they worked on Tania's current problems and her anticipation about the future.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?  Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

Over time, Tania gradually felt better.  As a result of her trauma therapy work, Tania no longer felt drawn to men like John.  In addition, when she met someone who attempted to manipulate her in a similar way, she saw it immediately and she took care of herself by ending contact with him because she felt she deserved better.

Breadcrumbing is a form of manipulation that is used by both men and women to dominate and control the other person in a romantic situation.

People who are susceptible to being manipulated like this usually have earlier underlying issues that are getting replayed in the current situation--similar to the fictional vignette about Tania.  This is why these people are particularly vulnerable to these type of mind games.

Aside from stirring up old issues that s/he might be unaware of until they are unearthed in therapy, this type of manipulation often has a negative impact on the person's self esteem, especially if this person remains in the situation with the hope of getting a commitment from the person who is manipulating him or her.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been hurt by someone who manipulated you in a relationship, you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through the underlying issues that make you vulnerable to this type of manipulation so that you're no longer susceptible to these mind games.

Once you have freed yourself from the emotional abuse of breadcrumbing, you can make better romantic choices and lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and uses Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette

In my prior article, Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?, I discussed the dynamics involved with breadcrumbing.  As I discussed in that article, this is usually an intentional form of manipulation whereby the person who engages in breadcrumbing through intermittent text messages (and other forms of messaging) lures people in to get them interested for the sole purpose of boosting their own ego, manipulating, dominating them, and getting attention.  The person who engages in breadcrumbing is usually only interested in casual encounters like hooking up--not serious relationships.

Relationships: The Manipulation of Breadcrumbing

A Clinical Vignette About the Dynamics of Breadcrumbing:

While attending her friend's party, Tania met John, a handsome, charismatic and intelligent man who approached Tania soon after she arrived.

Tania was immediately captivated by John's good looks, charm, gregariousness, intelligence and sense of humor.  She was also struck by how well he listened to her and how interested he was in getting to know her.

Two months before, Tania broke up with Ed, someone she had been in a relationship with for several years.  Until she met John, she had been hesitant about getting involved with another man because she was still very upset that the relationship with Ed had not worked out.  Although they loved each other and they talked about moving in together, Ed was too afraid of taking their relationship to the next level.  Since Tania was in her early 30s, she decided, reluctantly, to end her relationship with Ed because she wanted to get married and have children before it was too late.  She understood Ed’s fears and she had a lot of empathy, but she also had a strong feeling that Ed would never get over his fears and she would end up alone.

By the end of the evening at her friend's party, Tania agreed to give John her phone number so they could get together.  And she was pleasantly surprised to hear from him late that evening after she got home.  He sent her a text message telling her that he enjoyed talking to her and hoped to see her soon.

Tania responded that she really enjoyed talking to him too, and she also hoped they could get together for a drink within the next week or so.  Then, she waited to hear from John--and she waited and waited, but she didn't hear from him, so she sent him a text to see if he wanted to get together.

Within a few hours later, at around 10 PM, she heard from John.  She felt herself light up as soon as she saw his text.  He apologized for not getting in touch with her sooner.  He said he had been very busy at work.  Then, he texted her that he would really like to see her and asked her if she wanted to go out for drinks that night.

Tania hesitated because she was about to take a shower and have an early night, but she really liked John and she thought there was no harm in meeting him for a drink that night.  So, she texted him that she could meet him for about an hour or so that night and asked him where he would like to go.

John responded that there was a great bar near his apartment and he asked her if she would feel comfortable meeting him at his place so they could go together.  Once again, Tania was hesitant.  She wondered why, if the bar was so close to his apartment, they didn't just meet at the bar, but then she thought she was being silly.  So, she agreed to meet him at his place so they could go together.

When she arrived at John's place, he seemed really happy to see her.  He told her that he had had a long day and he was mixing himself a drink.  Then, he made her favorite drink and suggested that they relax for a few minutes before they went to the bar.

As they sat on the couch, John leaned over and kissed Tania.  For the first time since she broke up with Ed, Tania felt sexually aroused by the kiss, and she was thrilled that she could enjoy being with a man again.

Then, John asked Tania if she would mind a lot if they stayed in because he was really tired and he would rather spend time with her in his place.  Tania could see that John sensed her hesitation and he quickly apologized, "I'm sorry, Tania.  I don't want you to think that I lured you here to jump on your bones.  I like you and I don't want to move too fast."

Tania told him that she really liked him too, but she could only stay an hour or so because she needed to get up early the next morning.  She sensed his disappointment, but he said he understood and they chatted about their lives until Tania said it was time for her to leave.  Then, John walked her home, kissed her good night and told her that he would contact her within the next few days.

During the next three days, Tania thought a lot about John.  She knew she should slow herself down because she was already head over heels about him, and she didn't want to get involved too fast, especially since she had just ended her prior relationship. But she felt she couldn't help herself.

By Day 4, Tania was getting concerned that she might not hear from John.  Although she was concerned, she decided to wait to hear from him rather than contacting him.

By Day 5 at around 11 PM, John sent Tania a text, "What's up?" Tania was happy to hear from John and sent him a long text updating him on what had been going on with her during the last several days.  She waited to hear from him, but she heard nothing more that night.  She was disappointed, but she thought he might have fallen asleep.

By Day 7, Tania felt like she was really missing John.  She told herself that she hardly knew him and she was probably reacting to his lack of communication out of her own loneliness.  She checked her phone numerous times during the day, but there were no text messages from John.

Ten days after she had last seen John, Tania received another late night text from John, "Hey.  What's up?  I miss you.  I know it's late, but do you want to come over?"

Tania was very tempted to accept John's invitation, but she didn't feel good about just going his apartment, especially since she hadn't heard from him in several days, so she suggested that they make plans to see each other on another day.

John responded by text, "I'll get in touch with you soon."  Then, there were no more texts from John for another week, and Tania was beginning to wonder if she had said or done something to cause John to distance himself from her.  She wondered: Had she been prudish for not accepting his invitation to come over to his place?  But she decided that she had felt uncomfortable going over there, and she shouldn't do anything that made her uncomfortable.

Two weeks after she had seen John, she received another late night text from John, "Sorry I haven't gotten in touch with you.  I've been very busy at work.  I hope you're not angry with me."  Then, he ended the text message with a little emoji hug and a flower.

Tania responded back that she was glad to hear from him and she wasn't angry.  She suggested, once again, that they make plans to get together.  But she didn't hear anything back from John.

A week later, Tania was feeling disappointed that John had not contacted her again, and she also felt sad and lonely.  She thought about her ex, Ed, and wondered briefly if she had made a mistake by breaking up with him.  She wondered if Ed would be interested in going with her to couples therapy, but then she pushed that thought out of her head and she went to bed.  She was restless all night and tossed and turned.

By the next day, Tania realized that she needed to distance herself from John.  She saw the pattern of her getting excited whenever she heard from him and then feeling sad and dejected when he didn't text her for a while.  She really didn't feel up to dealing with this back and forth on his part, so she decided that she should forget about him.

But by the next day, Tania received a text from John, "Hey.  I'm thinking about you."  Initially, she felt excited, but then she reminded herself that nothing ever seemed to come of these texts and she decided to ignore it.  A few minutes later, she received another text, "What are you doing?  Are you there?"

After a few minutes, Tania responded that she was tired and she was about to go to sleep.  John texted her that he would like to see her and he would text her in the morning.  Once again, Tania felt an initial burst of excitement, but then she reminded herself that John didn't follow through in the past, and she should forget about him.

When she woke up the next morning, she saw that John was calling her and she picked up the phone to hear him say, "Tania, I'm so glad I reached you.  I hope I'm not calling you too early.  I apologize for not getting in touch with you sooner.  I would really like to see you.  Are you free tonight?"

Tania hesitated, but she felt excited about hearing from John and she wanted to see him, so she accepted his invitation to go for dinner at a local restaurant near her apartment.

For the next several hours, Tania happily daydreamed about John, what she would wear, and what she would talk to him about when they got together.

By 2 PM, he texted her letting her know that he was really looking forward to seeing her, and she felt giddy with excitement.  She told him that she was also looking forward to seeing him too.

But by 5 PM, John sent her a text that he had to work late, and he would need to take a rain check on dinner.  He was apologetic, but Tania felt very disappointed.  She went home, made herself a bowl of cereal, and decided to go to bed early.

By 11:30 PM, Tania received a text from John, "I just got home.  I know we said we would go out to dinner and I'm so sorry I couldn't make it.  I'd really like to see you.  Would you want to come over?"

Against her better judgment, Tania agreed to go over to his place.  All the way there, she felt conflicted about her decision, but she felt lonely and she really wanted to see John.

A half hour later, Tania was in bed with John having the best sex she had ever had in her life.  She couldn't remember when she had felt so happy.  They stayed up for a few minutes to talk and then Tania put her head on John's chest to sleep.  But she felt him tense up and she asked him if there was anything wrong.

"Tania, I hope you don't mind, "he said softly, "But I have a hard time sleeping with someone else in my bed, and I have to get up early tomorrow...I'm really sorry."

"Do you want me to leave?" she asked feeling the tears welling up in her eyes and throat.

John hesitated, "I don't really want you to leave.  I want you to stay close to me, but I know I won't sleep at all tonight if you're next to me.  You don't have to go home--you can sleep on the couch."

Tania held her breath so she wouldn't cry in front of John.  She felt sad and humiliated.  She didn't want to sleep on his couch, so she told him that she would catch a cab home.  He offered half heartedly to go downstairs to help her get a cab, but she told him that she could manage on her own.  Then, he kissed her on the forehead and rolled over to go to sleep.

She cried all the way home in the cab, and she couldn't sleep that night.  She felt sad, angry, humiliated and used.  She vowed to herself that she wasn't going to ever see John again.  Then, she tossed and turned the whole night.

Even though she vowed not to see John again, part of her hoped that he would call or text her the next day, and sure enough, she heard from him, "I really like you, Tania.  I'm sorry you had to leave last night.  I hope we can get together again soon" and he ended the next with a bunch of hearts and flowers.

In spite of herself, Tania felt elated, but she also felt wary.  By Noon, she got another text from John, "What are you doing tonight?  Do you want to come over?

Tania paced back and forth in her office before she responded to John.  Then, she decided to call her friend, Alicia, to get her advice because she felt like she was in the grip of something that was beyond her.  She knew that Alicia didn't know John well, but she knew him as an acquaintance from their circle of friends, and she hoped that Alicia could shed some light on what was going on with John.

After she told Alicia everything that was going on, Alicia was silent for a few seconds before she said, "Tania, I'm sorry to hear you've been involved with John.  I had no idea--or I would have told you that he's a player and he's breadcrumbing you just like he has done to so many other women.  You're much better off without him, especially since you're so vulnerable after the breakup with Ed."

Despite Alicia's advice and her own conflictual feelings, Tania continued to be involved with John for a few more months.  His pattern of contacting her, ignoring her and then contacting her again continued as did her indecision about whether or not to continue to see him.  Throughout it all, she felt like she was on an emotional roller coaster.

They got together at his apartment a few more times, and each time Tania knew that she would be going home alone.  John was apologetic, but less so each time.  When she asked him how he felt about her, he told her that he really liked her, but "I'm not into labels.  Can't we just have fun together and enjoy each other's company without defining it?"

When Tania spoke with Alicia again, she was feeling depressed, and Alicia suggested that Tania stop seeing John (on those rare occasions when he wanted to see her) and block John from her phone.

Alicia also suggested that Tania seek help in therapy.  She told her that she thought John took advantage of her because he knew that she had just gotten out of a relationship and she was emotionally vulnerable and easy to manipulate.

Reluctantly, Tania blocked John from her phone.  Then, she left a message for a psychotherapist that Alicia had seen a few years before and recommended to Tania.

The vignette above is a typical example of how someone like John senses the emotional vulnerability in a woman like Tania, how he targets her and manipulates her through breadcrumbing.

Even though the vignette focuses on how a man uses breadcrumbing to manipulate a woman, women also engage in breadcrumbing and this occurs in all types of relationships, including heterosexual and gay relationships.

In my next article, I'll continue with the same vignette to show how psychotherapy can be helpful to someone like Tania who has fallen prey to a player like John.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the vignette above resonates with you, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional.

This type of manipulation can really make you  question your judgment and it takes its toll on your sense of self worth.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to heal and overcome the effects of breadcrumbing so you can make better choices in your relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

In my couples work, I use Emotionally Focused Therapy to help couples to overcome the problems in their relationship.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1

In the world of dating, there have always been people who like to play mind games with their dates and potential partners.  This isn't anything new. But there's a particular form of game playing that's usually especially manipulative and sadistic, and it's called "breadcrumbing."

Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?

What is Breadcrumbing?
Many people who have been hurt in relationships complain about being "ghosted" when the person they're involved with loses interest in them.

Ghosting occurs when someone ends a relationship abruptly with no explanation or communication.  The person who has been abandoned is left to wonder what happened and to pick up the emotional pieces after the ex has left.

Some people, who engage in ghosting in their relationships, even ghost their psychotherapist by disappearing from therapy without an explanation and being unresponsive to their therapist's efforts to find out what happened (see my article: Why Ghosting Your Psychotherapist is Harmful to You).

Breadcrumbing is worse than ghosting.  Breadcrumbing is usually the intentional act of leading a person on just to experience an ego boost and to control and dominate the other person and their situation.  There's no intention to explore a relationship.  

Breadcrumbing involves leading someone on with flattery, flirtatious behavior or sexual innuendos to keep the other person interested and to get attention.  

How Do You Know If Someone is Breadcrumbing You?
People who engage in breadcrumbing (this includes both men and women) are usually adept at intermittently drawing someone in, getting that person interested, getting attention from them, and then pulling back.

If someone pulls away, the person who engages in breadcrumbing initiates the cycle again, and it usually looks like this:
  • They Send You Intermittent, Meaningless, Vague Messages:  Are you receiving casual messages that mostly lack substance and that occur inconsistently, like "What's up?" or "What's going on?" Occasionally, there might be messages that have some substance, but most of the messages are vague. These messages often come late at night. The purpose of these messages is to hook you in, especially if you're not showing interest or you have pulled away, and get you interested again to boost their ego.  In other words, this person is giving you "breadcrumbs"(or very little) to try to spark your interest--usually sexual interest.  They're also very good at knowing when your interest is beginning to wane, which is when they give you more breadcrumbs to try to get you interested again.
  • They Just Want to Hook Up Without Any Commitment:  There's no intention to have a real relationship with you.  When you get together with him or her, s/he moves quickly to sexualize the encounter.  If this is what you want, there's no problem, but if you're looking for something more, you're going to be disappointed because it's not going to happen. 
  • They're Noncommittal and Don't Like "Labels": When someone is breadcrumbing you for a superficial relationship or just to hook up, it's nearly impossible to pin them down.  There might be a lot of "checking in" via message or text, but it's hard to get a commitment from them as to when the two of you will get together--unless it's a spontaneous hook up.  Often, they'll tell you, conveniently, that they're "not into labels," which gives them a lot of wiggle room to make their encounters with you whatever they want at the time.
  • You Might Doubt Yourself: After a few cycles of this moving towards you and then pulling back, you might begin to doubt yourself and what's going on between the two of you: Are they really interested in you or not?  Sometimes it seems that they are and other times it seems they're not.  Unless you know that you're dealing with a "player," you can really begin to lose confidence in yourself and your ability to figure out what's going on.
  • You Don't Feel Good About Yourself:  After a while, all this push-pull behavior on their part can have a negative impact on your self esteem, especially if you like them.  If you're unaware of what's happening, you might think there's something wrong with you or that you did something wrong.  But, in fact, there's nothing wrong with you--this is all part of their game.
  • They Get Defensive When You Call Them on Their Behavior:  Needless to say, people who engage in this behavior don't want to be called out on it.  If you confront them, they get defensive and, possibly, passive aggressive towards you.  They might try to blame you by telling you that you're imagining things or that you're making a "big thing out of nothing."
What to Do About Breadcrumbing
Breadcrumbing is usually intentional behavior, as previously mentioned.  But there are times when people who engage in this behavior do it unconsciously.  They might genuinely be interested in you, but their fear of being emotionally vulnerable or making a commitment keeps them from taking the relationship to the next level. When this happens they might unconsciously try to reengage you because they don't want to let you go.  But after a while, you begin to feel all the same negative feelings that people do when they're dealing with a player who is doing it intentionally.  At that point, you would have to decide if you want to continue to get hurt or if you want and deserve something better.

Even though they don't like to be called out on their behavior, if you recognize that you're being manipulated, it's important for your own sense of self worth to either call them out or stop engaging with them altogether.

If you recognize that they are playing games with you and you try to get them interested, you're playing right into their hands.  This is what they want because, more than anything, even though they're not really interested in you, they want your attention.  So, if you disengage from them, remain consistent in your withdrawal from them, and don't allow them to prey upon you, they will usually move onto the next unsuspecting person.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to illustrate the dynamics of breadcrumbing:
Part 2: A clinical vignette about breadcrumbing
Part 3: Getting help in therapy if you think he's stringing you along

Getting Help in Therapy
People who engage in breadcrumbing are usually very skilled at choosing people who are emotionally vulnerable.  After all, if you're vulnerable, you're more likely to fall for their manipulation.

If you really get caught up in these games and if you're already emotionally vulnerable, you could get very hurt.  

A skilled psychotherapist, who has seen this behavior many times before, can help you to disentangle yourself from a player and help you to regain your sense of self worth.

Rather than remaining caught in a web of manipulation and game playing, you could develop a stronger sense of self and focus on being with someone who really cares about you.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I also use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples to help resolve relationship issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

Committing an act and having a thought about it are two very different things.  But for some people even having the thought is enough to make them feel guilty and ashamed--as if they're "bad."  They might know, logically, that thoughts can't harm anyone but, on an emotional level, they still feel bad (see my article: Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame).

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

What is a "Thought Crime"?
Before we go any further, let's define what we mean by a thought crime.

A thought crime is considered an unacceptable or controversial thought that goes against conventional thinking.

The term thought crime (also known as "thoughtcrime") is derived from the novel, 1984, by George Orwell.  In the novel, a thought crime was a thought that went against the orthodoxy of the government and it was illegal.

As the term is used today by people who consider thoughts to be potentially toxic, a thought crime is anything that they believe goes against their own morals or the conventional morals of the community or society they live in.

As a result, different people will have different definitions of what constitutes unacceptable thoughts. For some people, the idea that there are unacceptable thoughts originates in their past or present religion.  For other people, the idea of unacceptable thoughts is derived from their family of origin.

For some people it's part of their obsessional style of thinking where they get caught up in a cycle of unacceptable thoughts, guilt and shame, and more unacceptable thoughts and so on.

A longstanding unresolved childhood traumatic history can also contribute to feeling guilty and ashamed about unacceptable thoughts (see my article: Are You Living Your Life Feeling Trapped By Childhood Trauma?).

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes":
The following fictional vignette provides a typical example of how someone suffers with his unacceptable thoughts and how trauma therapy can help:

John was in his early 20s when he contacted a psychotherapist for a consultation.  He told her that he had chronic problems with falling and staying asleep.  He said that, over time, his primary care doctor prescribed different types of medication, but he continued to suffer with insomnia.

During the consultation, he revealed that his past and current medical doctors all ruled out any physiological problems and concluded that the problem was psychological.  However, John indicated that he didn't know of any particular incident that might have caused his insomnia.

When they talked about his family history, John revealed that he was an only child raised by a single mother, who was very strict.  She forced John to go with her to church from the time he was a young child until he moved out and went to college.

He said that his mother was fervent believer in the church's teachings and she imposed strict prohibitions based on those teachings, including the prohibition against premarital sex.  This included not only sexual intercourse but kissing, petting, masturbation and even having sexual thoughts.

John told his therapist that, as a child, he tried to follow his mother's rules, in part, because he was aware that his mother was very unhappy and he didn't want to add to her unhappiness.  He also wanted to avoid punished by her for breaking her rules.

But he admitted to his therapist that there were times when he was alone in his room that he would masturbate, and afterwards he would feel very ashamed and guilty about it.

He indicated that one night when he was 14 and he was alone in his room, he felt sexually aroused under his bed sheets while he fantasized about a girl in his classroom that he liked.  Just as he was achieved an erection, his mother walked in on him and saw it.

Even before his mother began yelling at him, John said, he felt extremely ashamed and guilty.  As his mother yelled and threatened him with eternal damnation, a part of him dissociated so that he no longer felt present in the room.

To add to his humiliation, by the next day, his mother forced him to see their pastor to confess his "sin" and to get help.  For the next six months, John was forced to have weekly sessions with his pastor and he was given relevant homework assignments to read the Bible.

He said that getting caught by his mother and having to see the pastor about his sexual thoughts was a chapter in his life that he never forgot.

From then on, whenever he had any sexual thoughts, he would try to force himself to shift his thoughts to something else.  But there were times when it was too challenging to shift his thoughts and he would pray for hours long into the night to let go of these thoughts.  By the next day, he was exhausted from his lack of sleep.

At those times, he described the guilt and shame as being almost unbearable, and there were times when he contemplated suicide.  But he never made any suicide attempts because he feared that his mother would be devastated and the suicide attempt would be an even bigger sin in his religion than having sexual thoughts.

He said he was further humiliated in his high school when other boys were talking about their sexual exploits and he remained silent.  They laughed at him, teased him, and called him "cherry boy" when he admitted that he had never been sexual.

By the time he went college, he was relieved to leave his mother's home.  Since he was born out of wedlock, John felt angry with his mother for her hypocrisy.  Following his birth, she became very religious.  Although he never confronted his mother about this, he saw her religiosity as being part of her own guilt and shame about engaging in premarital sex.

Throughout his first three years of college, John remained socially isolated and celibate.  By his fourth year, he felt so depressed and anxious that he sought help in the student counseling unit.  He found the counseling to be somewhat helpful in terms of allowing him to recognize his sexual arousal was normal.  This helped to soften his guilt and shame somewhat.

A few months after he started counseling at his college, John felt comfortable enough to masturbate when he was alone, and he had his first sexual encounter with a girl on a date.  Although he no longer felt as guilty and ashamed as he did before, he still felt some discomfort that he was a "bad person."  To make matters worse, he ejaculated prematurely, which made the experience unsatisfying for him and his date and deeply embarrassing for him.

As he and his therapist explored these issues, the therapist asked John if he began having insomnia when his mother caught him being sexually aroused at age 14.  In response, John thought about it for a moment and he was surprised to realize that the insomnia had, indeed, started at that age after his mother caught him.

His therapist helped John to understand the connection the trauma of his mother discovering his sexual arousal, the guilt and shame, and the consequent insomnia which continued through the years.

She also suggested that they process the memory of his mother walking in on him using a form of trauma therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to see if his insomnia would resolve (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Although it was difficult for John to go back into that memory, during EMDR therapy, he was able to tell his therapist that he still felt somewhat guilty and ashamed about it--even though he knew logically that having sexual thoughts is normal.  He could still remember the horrified look on his mother's face and how angry and disappointed she had been.

As John and his therapist continued to use EMDR, he began to feel better, and his sleep problem started to abate.

Over time, he was able to process his guilt and shame for his sexual thoughts as a 14 year and also for disappointing his mother.  He also felt on a visceral level (not just on rational level) that having sexual thoughts wasn't wrong, and he no longer felt like a "bad person" (see my article: What's the Difference Between Toxic and Healthy Shame?).

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

On the contrary, he could feel that he was actually a very good and decent person and he had nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about.

Over time, as John let go of his negative emotions about sexual thoughts, he also began socializing more easily. Eventually, he entered into a stable relationship with a woman he met at a party, and they were able to have a satisfying sexual relationship.

Feeling guilty and ashamed about having particular thoughts is a common experience for many people.

In the vignette above, the guilt and shame were about sexual thoughts, but any thought can be experienced as taboo.

Guilt and shame can manifest in physical symptoms like insomnia, headaches, stomachaches, backaches and other bodily symptoms.

Making these connections on your own is often difficult, but a skilled trauma therapist can help you to make the connections and also help you to resolve the underlying issues through a form of trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy.

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy
If you've been feeling guilty and ashamed about your thoughts, you might know, on a rational level, that thoughts are harmless.  But on an emotional level, you can continue to feel these negative emotions because intellectual insight isn't enough to help you to change.

Unlike regular talk therapy, which can help you to develop intellectual insight, trauma therapy, like EMDR, gets to the deeper places in your brain where the unresolved trauma resides and helps you to process the trauma to the point of resolution.

Trauma therapy can free from your traumatic history so you can lead a fuller and happier life, so rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a skilled trauma therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapists who works with individual adults (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy). 

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many clients to overcome longstanding trauma so they could lead happier lives.

I also use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples with relationship problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Relationships: Falling In Love With the Fantasy Rather Than the Reality

Many people who get into a relationship make the mistake of falling in love with what they see as the other person's potential rather than accepting the person as s/he actually is.  In my professional experience as a psychotherapist, this is especially true of women--although men also fall into this trap.  So, I'm going to address this issue from the woman's perspective, but it applies to everyone. This issue often brings people into therapy, which can help to identify the underlying issues and resolve the problem (see my article: The Problem With Trying to Change and "Improve" Your Partner and Are You In Love With Him or Your Fantasy of Him?).

Relationships: Falling In Love With the Fantasy of His "Potential" Rather Than the Reality of Who He  Is

It's not that people don't change.  Make no mistake--many people do change. As a psychotherapist, I see this every day.  People come to therapy with a desire to make positive changes, work hard in therapy and gradually make those changes over time.   Most of the time, those changes have a positive impact in their personal life as well as the lives of those who are near and dear to them.

The problem arises when the woman becomes so fixated on what she sees as his potential and her codependent need to change her partner that she loses sight of the fact that time is passing and he's not changing (see my article: Relationships: Overcoming the Need to Rescue Your Loved Ones as Part of a Codependent Pattern).

For many women, it's as if the fantasy of what they want materializes before their eyes and rather than seeing the person in front of them, they almost see their partner as being already transformed.

This often creates problems in the relationship.  Even when the man is in agreement with the changes that the woman wants to see, he's aware that, on some level, he's not "measuring up" to the woman's standards or that he's "falling short" in some way.

It's even worse when the man doesn't want to change.  He might want to please his partner, but if he doesn't see the need to change, he will often feel that his partner doesn't think he's good enough so it makes him feel insecure.

Whether the man wants to change or not, the constant reminder from the partner that he's not where she thinks he should be is often a source of conflict and destroys many relationships.

People often show who they are when they're in a relationship.  As the late Maya Angelou wisely said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

If time has passed and he either can't or won't change, it's up to his partner to decide if she can accept him as he is or if she needs to let him go (see my article: Letting Go of Hope That's Based on Denial).

Letting go of someone you love can be excruciating, but it's usually better than remaining in a fantasy or making futile attempts to force change on someone (see my article: Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship?).

Often the problem with focusing on the fantasy rather than the reality is rooted in early childhood trauma, which can be resolved in trauma therapy (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences From the Past).

Fictionalized Vignette:  Falling In Love With the Fantasy Rather Than the Reality of Who He Actually Is:
The following fictionalized vignette is a common example of how someone can get stuck in this fantasy trap and how working in trauma therapy can help:

Two years into her relationship with Jack, Sara felt deeply unhappy, angry and frustrated with the state of Jack's financial affairs.

A year into their relationship, Jack moved into Sara's apartment.  This only made matters worse because Sara was able to see first hand the full extent of Jack's impulsive spending problems.  They were arguing almost every day about what she called his "irresponsible" and "immature" behavior when it came to managing his money.

She told her psychotherapist that Jack never tried to hide that he was heavily in debt, he wasn't making progress in resolving his problem, and that he refused to get help:

"I tried to do everything to help him change," Sara told her therapist during their first session, "I encouraged him to attend Debtor's Anonymous meetings.  I've begged him to go to therapy.  I helped him to develop a budget that he never follows.  I even lent him money to pay off his credit cards, but he continues to max out his credit cards, and he hasn't paid me back.  His parents have also bailed him out numerous times.  He's a great guy in every other way and I can see how he could make a great husband and father--if only he would change his impulsive spending habits. We're both in our mid-30s and we've talked about getting married and having children.  I don't want to wait too long or I might not be able to have kids.  But I can't marry him while he's so irresponsible.  I don't know what else I can do, and I'm afraid he's feeling more ashamed and angry every time I complain."

When her psychotherapist asked Sara what she wanted to accomplish in therapy, Sara said that she wanted to learn to be "more patient" with Jack rather than scolding him.  She feared that if she couldn't be more patient with him, their relationship would soon end, and she knew she would be "devastated" if that happened.

The therapist could see that Sara was very focused on "fixing" Jack rather than dealing with her own unhappiness in the relationship.  It was obvious that, despite everything that she had seen, Sara was still looking at Jack through a distorted fantasy lens rather than the actual person who was before her eyes.  She felt her dilemma was that she couldn't change him nor could she accept him as he was.

As they continued to explore this issue in the therapy sessions, Sara's therapist tried to help Sara to imagine what it might be like if they had a crystal ball and they could see that Jack would continue to refuse to get help and that he would never change.

At first, Sara resisted trying to imagine their relationship with no change in Jack.  She continued to hold onto the image of the "potential Jack" rather than the "actual Jack."  She said she couldn't  understand how he could be so wonderful in every other way and yet he remained stuck with regard to his impulsive spending.

But, as time went on, Sara began to gradually focus on her own feelings rather than focusing on Jack.  She considered the possibility that Jack might not change, and this was a painful process for her.  She still felt ambivalent about completely accepting this possibility.

Then, one day Sara came into her therapy session looking more dejected than usual.  She told her therapist that she and Jack had a huge argument after she found out that he spent his half of the money they were saving for a mortgage down payment frivolously--he bought a race horse.

Not only did he not consult her before he bought the horse, but he felt justified in doing it.  He told her that he saw it as an investment and he couldn't understand why she was so upset.

Going through this painful argument was what finally got Sara to let go of her denial and see Jack clearly as he was rather than as she wanted him to be.  She knew she couldn't accept him as he was and, initially, she blamed him for ruining their lives when it became obvious to her that she had to end the relationship.

Over time, with the help of her psychotherapist, Sara was able to see her part the problems.  She saw that she had been holding onto an unrealistic fantasy about Jack.  She also gained insight into the connection between her early wish to change her father, who destroyed her family with his impulsive spending, and her wish to change Jack.  She accepted that she couldn't change her father or Jack.

Using EMDR  (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, a form of trauma therapy, helped Sara to heal her past and current emotional wounds so she could move on with her life (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Focusing on a fantasized potential (rather than the actuality of who he is) is a trap.  It keeps people stuck in a future fantasy of "what could be" rather than "what is" and "what won't change."

This perception is damaging to both partners individually and together in the relationship.

From a superficial perspective, it might be hard to understand why someone would remain frozen in this position, the dilemma becomes clearer when viewed from the perspective of the impact of early trauma.

Trauma therapy, like EMDR, can help someone who is stuck in this dilemma to overcome the current situation as well as the earlier trauma that is triggering it.

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, rather than remaining stuck, you could benefit from getting help in therapy.

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to understand your dilemma, make connections with your past and heal current and past trauma so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with adult individuals.

I also work with couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.