NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

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.