11 Reasons Narcissists Will Breadcrumb and Manipulate You

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Anyone is capable of breadcrumbing and emotionally manipulating others. However, breadcrumbing is a tactic straight out of the narcissist’s playbook.

I’ve been breadcrumbed, gaslit, and deceived on more than one occasion by both overt and covert narcissists and lived to tell.

Perhaps you’ll relate as I break down what narcissist breadcrumbing is and why it's a popular way to psychologically manipulate someone.

Let’s begin by looking at the different types of narcissists and how they might show up. Next, we’ll take a deep dive into the narcissist’s mindset as we examine 11 reasons why narcissists breadcrumb in relationships.

The key takeaway is deciding how you will protect yourself from future manipulation. Setting and maintaining boundaries are two effective ways to communicate your limits and keep narcissistic predators away.

Check out the article at the end of this post on how to respond to breadcrumbing.

What Is a Narcissist?

The term ‘narcissist’ is generally used when speaking of someone who displays traits seen in individuals diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Called NPD for short by psychologists, the disorder causes people to persistently think, feel, and act in ways that create dysfunction in close relationships.

Since narcissists are preoccupied with satisfying their needs, this often leads to persistent lying and manipulative tactics, such as breadcrumbing, to fulfill those needs.

Narcissistic Personality Traits–DSM-V

The NINE primary NPD traits are laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychological Association. Below is a summary of the nine traits that show up in a narcissist’s behavioral pattern.

You may not see all in one person. However, someone diagnosed with at least FIVE traits by a clinical psychologist is said to have NPD.

  1. A deeply ingrained lack of empathy
  2. An over-the-top sense of self-importance (grandiosity) and self-entitlement
  3. A heightened need for attention and admiration (often leads to exaggerating stories or accomplishments to boost ego)
  4. A feeling of uniqueness or superiority over others
  5. A strong sense of jealousy and envy towards others and believing others feel the same way about them
  6. A higher tendency to lie to and manipulate others for personal gain
  7. preoccupation with gaining ultimate power, beauty, or success 

13 Narcissist Traits, Characteristics, & Warning Signs provide an in-depth look at the 9 traits and other features of NPD.

Some narcissists may also have traits that align with other personality disorders. The common ones include Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) also called sociopathy, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD).

Incidentally, these are all Cluster B personality disorders. A narcissist’s behavior can be more destructive if they are struggling with one of these co-existing mental illnesses.

Types of Narcissists

All narcissists aren’t created equal, even though they may have at least one common trait. The lack of empathy is the first one that comes to mind. Here is a list of the 5 basic types to help you spot when you encounter one:

  • The Covert Narcissist
  • The Overt Narcissist
  • The Communal Narcissist
  • The Antagonistic/Argumentative Narcissist
  • Malignant Narcissist

How to Spot Each Type of Narcissist by Traits

Take a glance at how each type of narcissist may show up in social settings. Remember, all adults are capable of displaying narcissistic characteristics. To be sure, look for a consistent pattern of behavior that aligns with the DSM-V traits.

  • The Covert Narcissist: This type hides their narcissistic traits. They will engage in subtle and passive-aggressive manipulation. For example, stonewalling, ignoring, or withdrawing communication.
  • The Overt Narcissist: The overt or ‘open’ narcissist is the direct opposite of the covert narc. They’re into grandstanding behavior. For example, saying things like, “I’m the best!” These attention-seekers tend to put others down in their bid to get the spotlight for admiration and praise.
  • The Communal Narcissist: They get their ego boost, also called narcissistic fuel, from posing as do-gooders. Communal narcissists also love to advertise their charitable endeavors on social media to fish for compliments, admiration, and praise,
  • The Antagonistic Narcissist: Also known as your average argumentative narcissist, they are prone to aggression. They tend to promote conflict in relationships due to their volatile characteristics.
  • Malignant Narcissists: Pathologically, they are more manipulative, cold and calculating, and capable of causing emotional and physical harm. Malignant types generally exhibit a greater lack of empathy. There is little to no feeling of remorse for harming others.

Take a deeper dive into the 5 Basic Types of Narcissists (and How to Identify Them).

What Is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is an emotionally distressing phenomenon commonly experienced within the dating population. It is a form of mind game that is considered psychological abuse. Unlike ‘ghosting,’ where the person completely disappears, breadcrumbing takes the form of someone offering minimal communication to keep you interested.

Narcissist breadcrumbing occurs mostly through text communication, but can also happen in a full-blown relationship.

Quick check-in or sudden flirty messages are examples of ‘crumbs’. The idea is to make you think they’re genuinely interested. In many cases, the person has no real intention of committing to anything more. This leaves you confused.

The person tends to suddenly and frequently disappear and reappear. Usually, this happens just as you stop giving a shit about them. The timing is strangely perfect!

Bethany Cook, a clinical psychologist, told thehealthy.com that not only is this person sending you mixed messages, but they’re leading you on.

How Narcissist Breadcrumbing Affects You

Recent research shows breadcrumbing is more common than initially thought. The issue is that it is harmful to your mental health and emotional stability. The act could reopen old emotional wounds surrounding rejection, abandonment, and personal insecurities.

Breadcrumbers aren’t always calculating or intend to cause emotional harm. The potentially damaging effects remain regardless of intention.

However, narcissists who are aware of the damaging mental health effects may drop provide bits and pieces of communication to maintain a connection. Keeping you hooked only serves their selfish goals and needs.

Some narcissists will intentionally breadcrumb to confuse you, cause self-doubt, and diminish your self-esteem. Calculating narcissists understand that confusing you makes you more vulnerable and susceptible to emotional abuse.

11 Reasons Why Narcissist Breadcrumbing Occurs

Before soaking up the main reasons narcissists practice breadcrumbing, keep one thing at the forefront of your mind.

The overarching reason is to manipulate someone they are dating or have a relationship with. The reasons below represent why they use the breadcrumbing tactic to achieve their goals.

1. To maintain control

They’re able to maintain a superficial form of control by giving you false hope of love, affection, or a relationship. The truth of the matter is these individuals aren’t innately capable of building genuine emotional connections.

They struggle to build healthy relationships and consistently show up for you in a loving way. To them, you’re an object to keep around to satisfy specific needs. Walk away from this one-way relationship which only leaves you feeling emotionally unsafe.

2. To prevent you from losing interest

If you’re the target of narcissist breadcrumbing, it’s likely because you serve a purpose. In other words, you’re simply a source of narcissistic fuel.

The fuel for the narcissist’s fragile ego includes attention, validation, admiration, money, or sex.

narcissistic behavior | breadcrumb meaning | breadcrumbing
Manipulative narcissists are aware we become an easier target when in distress and will use it to their advantage.

They will use breadcrumbing to stay in contact with you if they perceive they’re losing the connection with you.

Don’t be flattered by on-again, off-again texting or affection. They are not interested or in love! The self-serving individual doesn’t give a damn about your well-being.

3. To boost their fragile ego

You can be the perfect shot of stimulant for the narcissist when things aren’t going great for them. Let’s say one of their sources of narcissistic supply ignores them. They’ll look elsewhere to get access to narcissistic supply such as attention, sex, or companionship.

You will inevitably become a target at this point if you respond to their attempts to get validation through breadcrumbing. Your response makes them feel better about themselves.

4. To devalue you

Manipulative narcissists are aware we become an easier target when in distress and will use it to their advantage. Treating you to breadcrumbed communication when you’re feeling vulnerable is likely to leave you feeling more insecure.

Don’t be surprised if you start questioning whether you’re good enough for them. This can motivate you to do more for the narcissist to win their love, attention, or affection.

That only enables the narcissist to exploit you further, which can leave you feeling worthless.

5. To make you chase them

Narcissists, in particular, enjoy the thrill of the hunt. They think highly of themselves even though they may have nothing much going for them.

Their inflated sense of self-importance and self-entitlement cause them to withhold communication. They want you to seek them because they perceive you as inferior to them.

While you put in the effort to make the connection and build the relationship, they take pride in laying back and throwing you just enough attention to keep you hooked.

In actuality, narcissists lack the emotional maturity to understand this isn’t a healthy way to build relationships.

6. To ‘string’ you along

Those who are fearful, avoidant, or anxious in forming relationships are said to have an insecure attachment style vs secure attachment.

Fearful and avoidant styles tend to struggle to create emotional intimacy the most. They often appear hot and cold with communication and affection.

narcissism | breadcrumbing meaning | breadcrumbs meaning
While you put in the effort to make the connection and build the relationship, they take pride in laying back and throwing you just enough attention to keep you hooked.

fearful (disorganized) or avoidant narcissist may breadcrumb as a way of manipulating you to stay in the relationship.

At the same time, they won’t commit. In essence, they’re stringing you along. You may interpret it as being just their personality when, in fact, you’re getting breadcrumbed.

7. To see if you still like them

Narcissists are full of themselves and shallow. Grandiose or overt narcissists, in particular, think the world revolves around them. Despite their grand self-image and outward show of superiority, these individuals struggle with low self-worth.

As such, they may throw little nuggets of communication after a breakup to gauge your emotions. Responding with a simple, “Hi,” is enough to make them feel accepted and important

They’ll believe you still have the hots for them, even if you were simply being polite. After that, all you get is crickets!

8. To fill their void

Clinical psychologists, including the YouTube-famous, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, refer to narcissists as “empty shells.” 

Others say they have a “bottomless pit.” No amount of attention, validation, or other forms of ego boost fuel is ever enough for them. The narcissist is always left wanting more.

The chronic lack of satisfaction is linked to low self-esteem, trouble self-soothing, and difficulty satisfying their own emotional needs. This explains why they tend to have a barrage of people within reach to use as narcissist supply.

9. To future fake you

Future-faking, in this case, takes the form of giving you the right level of communication, using strategic language, to pretend they want a future with you.

They may say things like, “I can’t wait to see you again.” However, they haven’t set up a date. Here’s another example, “Once we get married, we will travel the world together.” Yet, they won’t commit.

They have zero intention of being with you. Believing their pathological lies automatically boosts their ego. They feel great they’ve tricked you. The longer you believe their fairy tales, the longer they’ll continue with narcissist breadcrumbing.

10. To get back into your life

Narcissistic personalities usually realize your worth after the relationship ends. The covert narcissist, for example, may ruminate about the relationship.

The person may want you back but is either ashamed, afraid, or lack the communication skills to express themselves.

narcissists | narcissistic meaning | narcissistic
Future-faking, in this case, takes the form of giving you the right level of communication, using strategic language, to pretend they want a future with you.

At this point, they could resort to narcissistic breadcrumbing as a way to ‘test the waters‘. Narcissists don’t change.

Responding only sets you up for a fresh round of emotional abuse and exploitation by this person.

11. To keep you on their ‘rotation' list

Many narcissists are non-monogamous and emotionally unavailableWaiting for them to commit can be emotionally risky.

In fact, you might be on their ‘rotation’ list whether you’re a current or ex-romantic partner. These exploitative individuals often drop breadcrumbs to those on their sexting list to see who will offer attention.

A person who hasn’t yet discovered their worth could become the target of a booty call as a result of responding to the narcissist’s ‘feelers‘. In this case, breadcrumbing is self-serving and intended only to keep you as a sexual partner.

9 Breadcrumbing Examples & How to Respond is a highly recommended article for shutting down narcissistic manipulation.

Final Thoughts on Narcissist Breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing by a narcissist is a game that keeps you guessing. You should never encourage it. By engaging with a breadcrumber, you’re communicating you are available to be used as narcissistic supply.

Ultimately, you may feel disrespected, hurt, or discarded once the person moves on to the next source of supply. Breadcrumbing can also take a toll on your self-esteem.

You’re unlikely to feel secure in whatever semblance of a relationship you manage to build with the person. Avoid getting sucked into their mind games by clearly communicating your relationship needs upfront.

Setting boundaries is another powerful way to counter this predatorial behavior. For more ways to cope, see 7 Effective Steps to Respond to Breadcrumbing.

And if you're looking for more resources about narcissists and manipulation, be sure to check out these blog posts:

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