Everything you need to know about breadcrumbing

Have you ever been dating someone and felt that you’re constantly waiting for them to text back, notice that they’re hot and cold with you, or receive just enough attention to keep you coming back? If you are, chances are that you’ve been ‘breadcrumbed’. 

What is breadcrumbing?  

Like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, the act of ‘breadcrumbing’ is when an individual gives you just enough attention and affection to keep you wanting more. You might be left wondering why they stopped replying without an explanation, why you don’t hear for them for a long while before they start messaging you again like nothing’s wrong or have intense periods of flirting before they go cold on you. 

While this behaviour is fairly normalised in the dating world, it’s a form of abuse that leaves the individual in a state of emotional limbo. The person doing the breadcrumbing usually doesn’t have any real intention of building a respectful and trusting relationship, instead focussing on keeping them interested over time. 

While we usually see it in the context of romantic relationships, the pattern of intermittent attention and affection can also be present in family relationships, friendships and even at work.  

Recognising the signs of breadcrumbing 

Breadcrumbing can be challenging to spot when you're the one experiencing it. Here are some signs to look out for: 

Unreliable interaction 

The person communicates haphazardly. You might hear from them intermittently or the exchanges might lack substance and consistency. 

Uncertain behaviour  

They swing between showing interest and seeming distant. They may appear invested one moment, only to withdraw the next. 

Avoidance of commitment  

They evade making concrete plans or discussing anything that suggests commitment, leaving you in a perpetual state of uncertainty. 

Unequal effort  

If you're always the one pushing for communication or progress in the relationship, breadcrumbing could be at play. 

What to do if you’re being breadcrumbed 

If these signs feel familiar, you may be experiencing breadcrumbing. Here's how you can address it: 

Accept your feelings 

Breadcrumbing is hurtful, and your feelings are completely valid. By acknowledging the reality, you can begin to step away from the relationship, even if it’s hard. 

Seek a Fresh Perspective 

We can lose sight of the bigger picture when we're emotionally involved. Sharing your situation with someone your trust can help to see the situation from an outside perspective and gain clarity on how you’re being treated. 

Establish Your Expectations  

By getting clear on what you desire in a relationship, you can decide if this relationship is meeting your wants and needs. It can help to work with a relationship counsellor to figure out what’s important to you if you’re not sure where to start, and they can support you in ending things if that’s what you decide to do. 

Prioritise Self-Care  

Breadcrumbing can erode your self-confidence and leave you seeking lots of external validation. Finding time to reconnect with yourself and doing things you enjoy can help to rebuild your self-esteem after emotional abuse. If you’re struggling with this, our relationship counsellors are here to support you. 

Addressing Your Own Breadcrumbing Behaviour 

If you're noticing that you might be the one breadcrumbing others, it's important to tackle this head-on. Here are some steps you can take: 

Reflect on your actions 

It can be an important step to understand why you're breadcrumbing. Is it due to fear of commitment, the desire for validation, or something else? Understanding why you’re doing it can help you to work on underlying issues that might be preventing you from fully showing up and committing in relationships. 

Communicate openly  

If you identify an unhealthy pattern in your actions or intentions, we recommend expressing this honestly to the people on the receiving end. Be open to the fact they might feel hurt or let down but being honest is an important step to changing your behaviour for healthier relationships in the future. 

Consider professional support  

If changing your behaviour feels challenging, it can be useful to seek professional support. Our relationship therapists are trained to provide you with the tools to better understand your actions and work with you to build healthier relationships in the future. 

Remember that breadcrumbing can cause significant emotional distress and turmoil. By learning to recognise this behaviour, we can take steps towards more emotionally balanced relationships fostered on mutual respect, consistency, and open communication.  

How we can help

If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.

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