I deleted the original text that was in this post. Rather than put you through another post with me spinning out, I marked it private for a while until I felt better and could better express my thoughts in a different energy.
Out there in the world, we interact with other people. Every interaction is an energy exchange on some level… whether you are consciously aware of it or not. Most times people flow in and out of our energy field without serious consequences. Sometimes, you, on some level, instantly don’t really like someone – that is usually because they aren’t a compatible energy for your energy. Sometimes you like someone fine – can take them or leave them. Friends you tend to really like and have compatible energy with you. When you have a romantic connection with someone, often they are really compatible with your energy at that moment… but don’t always stay compatible – at which point, you move on. Thank them for what they taught you (everyone teaches us things) and let them go. Once in a while, the Universe puts you in the path of someone who has such a deep and powerful connection – on a soul level – it almost takes your breath away. This kind of connection is a feeling of alignment and intimacy between two people that goes beyond just physical attraction, having fun together, surface-level conversations, or even intellectual similarities. Instead, it feels like you’re connecting on a deeper soul level. I suspect those come along to teach us things as well.
When we are out interacting in the world, it sometimes feels like people have forgotten how to be honest and sensitive to other people. One thing people do these days, especially when it comes to personal relationships, is called “breadcrumbing”.
“Breadcrumbing” might be one of the most damaging things people do to each other these days. It’s when someone isn’t “in” with you – or “out” with you – they just keep a little string dangling… so they can come in and out as they please without opening up or committing to anything. They communicate once in a while, just to keep you “kind of” engaged. (They don’t let go of your energy either – they hang on to it a little, which in turn forces you to hang onto theirs a little. This long, drawn-out energy exchange doesn’t feel good.) If you don’t care for or about the other person, it doesn’t “hurt”. You just forget about them or ignore them when they occasionally interact. Some people… well… we just care about – which causes this breadcrumbing behavior to be painful. It makes you question yourself – “Why aren’t they “in”? Why aren’t they “out”? What does this mean? What is wrong with me?
Here is what Psychology Today says about it:
The Signs of Breadcrumbing
Breadcrumbing can be a confusing experience; learning to spot the signals can help people name the behavior and process it. The signs include:
Behaviors you can observe from the breadcrumber:
- Inconsistent and erratic communication
- Speaking via text or social media but not committing to spend time together in person
- Not following through on plans that are made
- Surface-level communication that lacks depth, vulnerability, or details about the person’s life
- An imbalanced relationship—they don’t reciprocate your level of interest
- Focusing on the physical side of the relationship rather than focusing on all sides of the relationship
Feelings you can observe in yourself
- Feeling confused and uncertain about the state of the relationship
- Feeling a roller coaster of emotion, such as sad, then hopeful, then disappointment once again
- Feeling self-doubt, such as questioning if you did something wrong
- Feeling anxious or dependent on the breadcrumber for the next point of contact
- Feeling used or manipulated
- Feeling badly about yourself after interacting with them
- Feeling lonely or hopeless about the relationship
Breadcrumbing generally refers to dating, but the behavior can also occur in familial relationships (infrequent and conditional love), friendships (connecting then breadcrumbing), and professional situations (dangling illusive opportunities).
The Emotional Consequences of Breadcrumbing
Breadcrumbing involves a sporadic, shallow pattern of communication. These occasional moments of connection keep the person hopeful that a relationship may yet be possible. This often prevents the breadcrumbee from ending the relationship, even though they may be struggling with confusion, frustration, or disappointment. The person is stuck on standby, leading to feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and invalidation.
Has breadcrumbing become more common over time? Technology and social media have made it easier for people to drop in with occasional contact, such as through likes or DMs; communicating in small, occasional doses is easier now. The world of online dating also presents unlimited options, which contributes to the tendency to designate some potential mates as backups to keep exploring one’s options.
Additionally, research on ghosting has found that people who were ghosted were more likely to ghost someone else. This finding suggests that the more these behaviors occur, the more they are normalized.
Is breadcrumbing intentional? The breadcrumber may or may not realize what they’re doing and the effect they’re having. For example, they may not realize that the person is interested in pursuing a relationship, or they may be overwhelmed and not able to commit to a relationship at the moment.
Others may be more manipulative and recognize that stringing someone along allows them to benefit from the relationship when they want to without investing further.
How can people cope with someone’s inability to commit? It can sometimes feel like society today struggles with commitment—when dating, in friendships, or at work. One way to handle flakiness is by acknowledging that it has affected you—rather than thinking that you “shouldn’t take it personally” or you should “just get over it.” Honor your moral integrity and the integrity of the reliable, committed people who surround you. Reflecting on your integrity and vowing to uphold it can help you recover your power after being treated disrespectfully. (I can attest to the serenity of living with integrity. When all else fails in a world full of noncommittal behavior, at least I have my character to hold onto.)
Because you cannot ever know someone’s absolute truth, you resort to making up explanations for what seems like the other person’s mixed messages and unavailability. And where will you get those explanations? You will get them from your past experiences and your understanding of the world. You will get them from your attachment style and the roadmaps of the world given to you by your parents when you were young. (I blogged about attachment styles here Attachments Styles and Dating Lexicon.)
Attachment styles are ways that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are organized to match your parents’ pattern of availability when you are a child (be they consistently available [secure attachment], consistently shut down [dismissing/avoidant attachment], unpredictable [preoccupied attachment], or volatile/scary [fearful attachment]).
If you have a secure attachment style, you are likely to be a bit disappointed and irritated by the dating situation. But you probably would not spend much time trying to figure it out. You might even keep dating them if they were interesting enough and you didn’t have anything else to do. In short, your reaction to the initial phase of a short dating (not committed) relationship would be well-calibrated in terms of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
If you have an avoidant style, you would probably tell yourself that this person is not that interesting and you really don’t care if they come or go anyway. Next! Your reaction would probably be under-calibrated or missing. You just wouldn’t deal with it and would let the person fade into black.
If you have an anxious/preoccupied attachment style, you might have a very strong emotional reaction and potentially feel abandoned, even after just a few dates. You would keep trying to figure it out. You would likely try to have more conversations, explanations, and understanding… but it wouldn’t help. You would stay activated for a long time and your activation would be intense… but you would probably hang in there and keep trying. Your emotional reaction would be over-calibrated.
If you have a fearful attachment style, you would do everything that the anxious/preoccupied person would do but you would probably blow things up quicker. You might become confrontational and ask for an explanation. You might accuse the other person of leading you on or ask if they are seeing someone else (which they might be if you aren’t committed). Or you might start picking on other faults that they have. You also might just tell them where to go and block them on your phone and social media.
And here is the key point… you don’t even know if you really like this person or would want to be in a relationship with them. What happens in these instances is that for anxious and fearful people, the attachment exploratory system—that part of our emotional architecture that leads us to venture forward and explore new relationships when we are feeling safe and secure—quickly switches to the fear-based attachment security system. That system calls on you to re-establish your security when you are under threat by seeking closeness with trusted attachment figures.
Because anxious/preoccupied and fearfully attached people had unpredictable parents (attachment figures) in childhood, their emotional systems identify the new dating partner as an attachment figure prematurely and try to get closeness/reassurance from them. But, this other person is already showing you that they are unpredictable and willing to feed you crumbs in terms of time and emotion… and this is exactly the type of parenting you probably had in childhood that created your attachment style in the first place. We call this “recapitulating your core conflict.”
So… before you start dating someone:
Have a trusted secure attachment figure lined up—a good friend, family member, or trusted therapist—not the person you are trying to date.
Practice interacting with dating partners without becoming attached too quickly. You need enough time to figure out who they really are. Go to other people for support.
Don’t blow off a dating partner too quickly… hang in there and practice the preceding two points.
Overall, don’t assume that the person you are dating is avoidant. There can be many reasons for being unavailable or unreliable. Who knows, maybe the person’s therapist told them to move slowly and not turn you into an attachment figure prematurely.
Through no fault of our own, too often, the bottom falls out of the commitments we strive to uphold. We’re left holding the bag, disappointed by the lack of commitment or follow-through from those we count on at home and at work. The demands of living in pandemic times could be making us more tentative and noncommittal while our reliance on smartphones allows us to easily back out at the last minute. Fast, flaky, and empty promises seem to come around and go around, making the world feel unsolid and unstable.
Research shows how our well-being and mental health can be damaged by noncommittal behaviors such as “disappearing acts” by others (ghosting), no-shows, unreturned voicemails, being strung along (breadcrumbing), or unfriending. This cold, transactional behavior is increasing everywhere and it’s tempting to just give up on human decency. Changing social norms at our workplaces and in our personal relationships are enabled on apps that invite us to treat each other badly with one-click solutions. We feel forced to lower our expectations of considerate correspondence. “Why bother?” “Who cares?”
“That employer just strung me along for months—and then hired someone in-house.” “Not even a simple thank you for all that time I gave them.” “She was one of my best friends, but for some strange reason, she just never called me back—never heard a word.” “Does anyone get back to you anymore?” In this world full of uncertainty, broken commitments, and erratic behaviors, we are starving for reliable people who live with integrity.
Given these ambiguous times, we might not always be able to count on others, but could we count on ourselves to hold on to our own reliability and integrity? When others have let us down, don’t we owe it to ourselves to show up for ourselves? Showing up, even if no one else does, that’s essentially what integrity means. C.S. Lewis may have said it best: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Merriam Webster defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”
We can begin to honor our own integrity by first acknowledging that we have truly been affected by ghosting, breadcrumbing, and other pitfalls of noncommittal behavior. Even though we’re supposed to believe that “not taking it personally” is the answer for any disrespectful act, the truth is that it does hurt when we are ghosted, played, or betrayed because human beings are hardwired for it to hurt, as neuroscience shows. It is important that we take a kind look at our grief, or the sense of disappointment and distress that comes with dashed hopes, a sense of betrayal, or the sting of rejection.
As a former rehabilitation counselor, relying on what is hailed in our field as a strengths-based approach, I encouraged my clients to recognize their integrity and moral courage when they had been let down by others or downright rejected. Even when they couldn’t count on others, they could count on their integrity by naming the ways they had done the right thing (“worn the big pants”) day in and day out, “even when no one was watching.” By validating their own character strengths that were put to action in their everyday accomplishments, they could attest to their integrity. This recognition of their own mettle gave them peace of mind at the end of the day, even if they had only muddled through.
Especially on days when we’ve been ghosted or breadcrumbed, we can give ourselves this guidance: Believe in your integrity and keep true to your word (even if no one else does). Why should you lose your standards, your values, and your character over people who don’t care? At the end of a tough day, we can find a sense of serenity by counting the times we did show up to our challenges, even in small, brave steps: returning a phone call, sending a belated birthday card to our aunt, clearing up a misunderstanding with a co-worker, following up with a sincere thank you note.
And on a deeper level, we can console ourselves by appreciating the truly reliable, committed people around us—the teachers, nurses, cousins, neighbors, friends, co-workers—who do show up, keep up, and hang in there when all else fails. They do the right thing almost every day, even when no one is watching. It’s high time we did watch them, notice, and recognize those unexciting qualities that don’t get attention on Instagram, Youtube, or Facebook. And more importantly, it’s well past time that we recognized these “boring” reliable qualities in ourselves, the grit of our integrity, our mettle. The stuff that might not get “likes” but holds us through the worst of times.
More than anything else, vowing to uphold our integrity is a rewarding way to get back our power after being treated disrespectfully. We can set our intentions not to ghost or breadcrumb anyone, nor thoughtlessly flake on others—no matter what everyone else does. We don’t need to cave and play along with the pressure of social media. Selfish behavior ends by doing what we believe is responsible.
Then there is the energetic side of things… When we are in a loving feeling or a deeply connected soul state, we feel a pleasurable openness… a receptivity that makes it so easy to feel the spirit of another through our own spirit. There is a deep energy exchange when you are open and energetically connected. It can be very powerful. (Side note: It is the connection to our own spirit that really is magnificent and if someone else helps us feel that, then that is a beautiful thing. As time goes by you can create a dependency for happiness if you don’t focus on your own connection to joy and beauty separate from your “partner”.)
When you open yourself to a deep soul connection, you energetically allow someone deep into your energy field. Connected at that level, you are much more susceptible to feeling each other’s emotions and energy. It is also hard to break those energetic cords… it’s almost like you are linked no matter what.
Relationships can be extremely tricky and difficult to navigate. There are so many mixed vibes that we have to attempt to process and act on. Do I focus my thoughts on this person, or do I not? Do I spend my energy on them, or do I not? Do I trust this person… or not? Luckily, as humans, we have animal-instincts that give us the power to feel whether or not a relationship aligns with our vibration.
Think about it this way — when your dog starts growling at someone as they approach, or your cat curls up on someone’s lap and falls into a relaxing sleep, that behavior comes from tuning into their instinctual vibes. We can learn a few things about approaching relationships from our pets. Just like animals can sense danger, our very cells instinctually know what relationships are healthy versus which ones are toxic through energetic vibrations — it’s our design by nature. Some relationships are constructive and energizing, while others are destructive and depleting. We can feel it. (You have to tune in and listen to your intuition)
Every single relationship you have — friendship, romantic, spouse, coworker, parent, sibling — is an energetic connection and cohesion of energy. You are contributing your personal energy to them, and in turn, you are absorbing energy from their field. Relationships, good or bad vibes, are an unavoidable energy exchange.
We can use our instincts to tune into these vibes if we listen to ourselves and trust our own intuition, just like our animal friends. These vibes are here to guide our relationship behaviors and how we interact with others. However, we humans don’t have simple minds like our pets. We’re balls of extremely complex energy. Our heads and hearts get clouded. We also tend to overthink and overcomplicate things. For example, sometimes we are wearing our rose-colored glasses and giving too many people the “benefit of the doubt”. Although their toxic behaviors scream to run the other way, we think they might just be going through a phase, or that we can fix them.
And of course, the kicker is that most people have a need to be liked or loved by everyone. Even if you don’t like someone and you know they’re not a good person, you want them to like you. You put more effort into winning the affection of others than you do respecting yourself and valuing your own self-worth. If anyone rejects you, you question your value. I know first-hand how all of the above works out, and trust me, it’s not worth it (love yourself and anyone who doesn’t like you can fuck off). Destructive relationships are a quick way to completely dishonor and disconnect from yourself. In our reality, sometimes we are forced to interact with people who are destructive to our field because of an obligation. Maybe you have a boss who thrives off belittling you, an entitled coworker who disrespects you, or an abusive family member who constantly causes you pain. The list goes on and on.
The reality of life is that we don’t always get to choose our relationships nor how they evolve. However, it’s important to understand that we do have a choice to set personal boundaries in order to protect our energy and well-being. It’s our duty to decide what our role in the relationship is, or if we should be giving someone any of our precious energy at all.
Most importantly, often an “obligation” is an illusion or false expectation that needs to be carefully measured. You should not feel obligated to anyone who causes you harm unless they are your own dependent children, or your life truly depends on it.
Find those relationships that feel like sunshine, so much so that you will want to curl up in their lap and take a catnap. When you spend most of your energy and physical existence with someone, there should be a vibrational match that feels undeniably good. Not sometimes, but always… or at least 95% of the time (because we all have those bad days).
Everyone is tuned into a certain frequency. The goal is to surround yourself with people who keep you balanced in your natural frequency or uplift you into a higher one. When your vibration aligns with someone else’s, they make you feel like the best version of yourself and you can be truly you around them, and vice versa. They don’t try to change you nor dim your inner light. You have soulful conversations, carry mutual respect, share deep compassion, honor open communication, and hold zero judgments. You look at life through similar lenses, and together, you see brightness.
There will be certain high-vibe people who come into your life and make you feel absolutely amazing just by being around their presence. They will bring you positive outlooks, inspire you to make big leaps, and bring enlightenment. They naturally bandage your wounds and help you heal. Of course, it’s important that positive energies also flow from you onto them, as healthy relationships are an exchange of balanced energy at similar wavelengths. The energy flows in and out, both ways.
On the other hand, some people who will make you feel drained, anxious, depressed, or uneasy — even when they don’t say a single word. That’s because you are feeling their energy field, which is vibrating at a lower frequency.
Ironically, these low vibration relationships can also bring enlightenment. You start learning to stop taking things personally when a low-vibe person attacks and disrespects you. You realize their problems have nothing to do with you, but only with their own resentments, insecurities, and unhappiness. You learn to honor yourself and shield your energy supply. You learn what not to be, and how to avoid others just like them in the future.
Feeling someone else’s energy versus recognizing your own: I need to stress that there is a big difference between feeling someone else’s energy and perceiving someone a certain way through your own internalizations. Your personal beliefs, resentments, insecurities, jealousies, and projections should not be confused as someone else’s energy. All those things belong to you and make up your own personal energy.
The unspoken and unseen feeling of energy is universally felt and not personal. When someone walks into a room, everyone at a certain level of consciousness – feels that person’s unique energy casting out from their field. It’s a vibe and cannot be denied. When people drop out of your life or you walk away, it’s because your vibrations are not complimentary. You live on different wavelengths, in which your perceptions and intentions just do not align. When you outgrow a relationship, that means you’re evolving. It’s a good thing. Always be evolving and honoring yourself. People will flow in and out of your reality, just like the energy within and around you. Some will love you, and others will resent you, no matter what you do. It’s not personal, it’s energetic. It’s as simple as that.
It’s so much easier when you don’t care about someone… or have some sort of “energetic connection”. I have reminded myself some people don’t know when they are hanging on to your energy… or breadcrumbing… no one is intentionally trying to hurt me. It’s up to me to shake it off and carry on.