Narcissists and Breadcrumbing

Narcissists and Breadcrumbing

My nine-year-old son hosted his first sleepover last night. As the hours ticked by (with the boys becoming evermore rambunctious and me evermore sleepy), I found myself scrolling through my Facebook feed. I am following a page called Narcissist Memes, where I often find inspiration and camaraderie. And, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I came across this meme on breadcrumbing.

Breadcrumbing refers to a narcissist engaging in highly manipulative behavior characterized by intermittently providing attention, affection, or validation to maintain their interest or control over you.

This behavior is most common when an individual seeks admiration and validation from others while lacking genuine empathy or concern for their feelings. The narcissist may use subtle cues or small gestures to keep someone hooked emotionally without fully committing to a relationship or fulfilling their emotional needs. This pattern can leave the other person feeling confused, insecure, and constantly seeking validation from the narcissist.

And, as the clock chimed 2:00 AM and the boys showed no signs of slowing down, my sleep-deprived mind (now about a year narcissist-free) thought of all the ways my narcissist had breadcrumbed me throughout our almost six-year relationship.

My narcissist was notorious for expecting me to spend thousands of dollars on him, and nothing on me. Gift-giving is not my love language – in fact, it ranks the lowest out of all five (which include: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and receiving gifts). So it never bothered me that my narcissist didn’t give any gifts, but it did hurt my feelings that I was expected to lavish him with monetary goods.

I remember about a year into our relationship, I was close to leaving my narcissist, and he could feel it. I had it with him.

By this point, he established the standard that if I wanted to do anything with him, I had to pay for both of us. Otherwise, we would sit at home and do nothing, even though he was a professor and made 2-3 times the local average salary. 

Anyway, he knew that I was just about to walk away. So, he called me up and said “I am getting the boys [his kids] some ice cream, can I bring you some?” I was shocked, flabbergasted. Most of the time he would show up at my house with his kids in tow lapping up ice cream while my kids watched them eat it. This time, he was offering to pick me up some – which was way out of character for him (my kids were with their dad, so it didn’t bother me that he didn’t offer them any although, in hindsight, I am not sure he knew that they were away). He even asked me what I wanted. I said “I would like a small turtle,” which is vanilla ice cream topped with caramel, chocolate, pecans, and a cherry.

I remember feeling so happy that he thought of me. Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at my house. He had my turtle ice cream, but the top was eaten, leaving only the vanilla half-melted ice cream at the bottom. He made a nonchalant comment like ‘I hope you don’t mind sharing.’ As I held the melted vanilla ice cream in my hand, I felt degraded and humiliated. 

Another time, I was just about done with him and ready to walk away. He knew it – he knew that I was at my wit’s end and was seriously thinking about ditching him, something that, in hindsight, I should have done years ago. What did he do? He bought my daughter a Minnie Mouse painting from his friend (whom he referred to as a narcissist and, based on the one time I met him, I think he was right). I came home and there was the painting, hanging in her bedroom. We had been together for four years at this point, and it was the only thing he had ever bought either of my kids, even though I had paid for his children to go on 4-5 vacations, bought them birthday presents, taken them on 50-60 day trips to museums, playgrounds, amusement parks, etc. 

I remember thinking that the painting he bought her was so thoughtful and wonderful. It showed that he had thought about us. This worked to reel me back in, but it did not last long. Within a week, he had picked a fight with me and demanded the painting back. I remember the hurt I felt taking the painting down from my daughter’s wall. He eventually gave it back to me as a ‘reward’ for good behavior.

Sometimes the crumbs he left me were a little bigger.

At one point, after more than four years of his abuse, I decided to end it – and this time I really did end it. I broke up with him, created an online dating profile, and started to date. I found a wonderful man who treated me well. What did my narcissist do? He called me crying, promising to do better this time. He admitted that he had treated me like garbage for years. He showed up in the middle of the night in a snowstorm to build an igloo for my children. He shoveled my car out. He did all of the things that he knew, for years, I wanted him to do. And what did I foolishly do? I believed he had changed and took him back. Within nine months, he was arrested for the first time for assaulting me, resulting in a major head injury.

In hindsight, my narcissist probably thought that I deserved everything I got for trusting him, forgiving him, and believing in him. I am sure he thought “If Ekho is this dumb, she deserves what she gets.” And for a while, I was very ashamed of myself. Maybe I did deserve it. I certainly acted dumb. Maybe I did get exactly what I had coming for putting up with his abuse and bullying and manipulation for years. And maybe you, my reader, find yourself similarly berating yourself.

Here is my advice – STOP. Just STOP.

Society has taught us over the years in nuanced and not-so-nuanced ways to victim-blame. And we have internalized those lessons. And you know what – it's all BS. We are not to blame for having a big heart. We are not to blame for wanting love and respect. We are not to blame for wanting someone to show us care and compassion. We are not to blame for holding out hope. And we are not to blame for wanting to think that people can change and for desiring to see the best in people.

We are NOT to blame – the narcissist is!

I have taught myself to reframe my thinking. I will no longer be victim-blamed and I will certainly no longer be the one victim-blaming myself.

Narcissus – you had a girlfriend and then a wife who loved and cared and respected and wanted you. You had a loyal partner. You breadcrumbed her – much like you manipulated, gaslit, future-faked, abused, and degraded her. YOU are the problem, not her.

Sincerely, Ekho.



Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive new blog posts from Ekho directly in your inbox.