Although many people have likely not heard the term “breadcrumbing” when used to describe toxic relationships – both romantic and otherwise – the phenomenon is unfortunately not so rare. Breadcrumbing is an apt name that describes the behaviour someone exhibits when they consistently deliver just enough empty promises and provide you with just enough attention to keep you invested. Much like the tale of Hansel and Gretel, where the children leave a path of breadcrumbs as they wander deep into the woods, only to discover their way out of the dangerous forest has been consumed by birds, a victim of breadcrumbing will often devotedly follow the snippets of affection given to them, blind to the fact that they are in a totally one-sided relationship. Relationships built with a breadcrumbing partner are inconsistent and insubstantial. These toxic patterns can manifest themselves in a multitude of ways, from a spouse only showing enough affection to keep the other committed, to a family member providing purely conditional love when it is convenient, to a supervisor at work consistently bringing up promises of opportunities and promotion that never occur. Although a friend who only messages you when it’s convenient for them or as a way to get you to do what they want is irritating and inconsiderate, some instances of breadcrumbing enter into the realm of emotional abuse and can present serious mental health challenges. The experts at Horizon Counselling strive to raise awareness for relationship red flags such as breadcrumbing and are available for help and counselling for any who feel that they are struggling with its effects.  

Effects of breadcrumbing on your relationship

  • Loss of trust: Trust is built through actions over time, and when someone that you are close to continually violates that trust by feeding empty promises, the structure of the relationship begins to crumble. However, often individuals might not even realize what’s happening, as the breadcrumbing partner feeds them just enough affection and empty promises to make up for it and keep them coming back. This loss of trust is often pervasive and extends into future relationships. 
  • Toxic dependence: Everyone should strive for a relationship that they can depend on, but the abusive nature of breadcrumbing relationships takes these feelings to a toxic place. The victim feels that they are totally dependent on the other party and are constantly looking for the next breadcrumb of validation to be dropped. These pieces of phony acknowledgement or intimacy are calculated to keep the victim invested and dependent on the abuser, with little actual commitment to the relationship on the abuser’s part. 
  • Self-doubt and emptiness: constantly being manipulated and strung along in this manner takes an enormous toll on an individual. The most pervasive feeling that victims of breadcrumbing report is feeling incredible emptiness after interacting with the breadcrumber due to the lack of substance present in the relationship. Although the abuser has provided the victim with just enough phony breadcrumbs to make them feel as though the other cares about them, at its root these are insubstantial and carefully placed promises and attentions designed to manipulate. 

Can counselling help? 

Although some instances of breadcrumbing simply manifest as flaky friendships that can be easily cut off or resolved with little to no personal impact, oftentimes breadcrumbing can occur on a much larger scale within close family and intimate relationships. It is these instances where the effects of this phenomenon become highly toxic and difficult to move past. If you feel that you are struggling due to breadcrumbing within a close relationship, it will likely be beneficial to reach out to the experienced therapists at Horizon Counselling to seek help and clarity as you begin to deal with the effects of such long-term uncertainty. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation to discuss your experiences and the possibilities for healing. 

Leave a Reply