Welcome to the post-breakup wasteland, where nothing is quite as it seems and intentions are masked with layers of emotional camouflage.
This article is my attempt at punching through the fragile defenses of a hand-picked selection of typical mind games. As always, if nothing else, I hope this serves as food for thought.
On with the show!
1. They suddenly can’t stand you
The thing that strikes me the most about irrational or impulsive displays of anger is that it betrays exactly the reverse of what it intends to display.
If you are angry, you care, you care deeply. If the message they intend to portray is that you are missing out, or suddenly without worth, pierce the insecurity and see the outburst for what it truly represents: They need you to suffer because they, in turn, are suffering. Bringing you down grants the illusion of evening the playing field.
While it may seem transparent and counter-productive to rail at an ex in this way, it does generally succeed in bringing you together. It is fundamentally a cry for attention, and if you decide to take the bait they will have temporarily succeeded in drawing you near. Bad press is better than no press to an ex who is starved of attention or validation.
2. Hot and cold behavior
This is a tricky one to decipher because it may be a mind game aimed at starving you of attention (forcing you to reach out for closure), or it may be the genuine result of mixed feelings (usually a sign of weighing ones options).
Admittedly, healing is not a linear process, and there’s a chance that both of those reasons can influence an ex’s actions. If your ex has no idea what they want, their communication will often reflect this. If they are looking for:
- Validation or comfort: They might take a step back for every step you take forward, and vice versa (because their emotional drought will have temporarily been filled).
- A way to keep their options open: They may send mixed messages (in the form of crumbs) in order to gauge your reaction and keep the connection alive.
- A path towards reconciling: They may attempt to escalate contact rather than just cling to the status-quo.
Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, and even the most convincing act crumbles when we force clarity by demanding a measure of commitment rather than just a war of words.
3. Weaponizing social networks
Social networks are a typical post-breakup cold-war battleground. While on the surface you both keep to yourselves, some exs will use social networks as a way to indirectly communicate and influence without needing to confront you directly (and thus fear rejection or hurt). Who’s that new guy/girl they’re hugging in a new photo? Ouch.
This is why I personally like to block exs from my Facebook, although I do realize there are scenarios when this isn’t the appropriate solution (an equal and amicable breakup). It allows me to move forwards and deal with absolutes, and not stomach the inevitable status update from an ex that will dent whatever progress I may have made.
4. Following a script
Defensiveness can cause a disgruntled ex to hide behind an informal script. For starters, the main advantage here is if an attempt by our ex to communicate or engage with us fails, it isn’t their fault, it’s the script’s fault.
It’s a great way of diluting responsibility for one’s actions by scapegoating the blame onto a third-party, making rejection a little less painful in the short-term.
Popular examples of post-breakup scripts are:
- An X (usually 30-60) day no contact rule routine (more on this later). If you get it wrong, the silent treatment promises just that — enduring silence.
- Any sort of breakup playbook that has, at its core, a series of “secret truths” that are nothing other than generalizations which may hold true for some, but absolutely not for others.
Desperation can fuel a temporarily state of credulity, and so we are more likely to cling to whatever promises to help. Even an ex who is notoriously level-headed can fall prey to following a script that was written by someone else, with the sole intention of profiting from that insecurity.
5. Playing the blame game
Emotional blackmail is another way of attempting to level the playing field. Although I don’t like saying it (due to the feelings involved), a breakup should be conducted as objectively as possible. Allowing insecurity to dictate the proceedings merely delays the inevitable and leads to resentment.
If we are dealing with an ex who is:
- Playing the victim card.
- Making an effort to bring you down.
- Making you feel rotten about your decisions.
- Turning your mutual acquaintances against you.
Remember that the end-goal of all these mind games is to manipulate you into backtracking, and that nothing of substance has changed. And certainly nothing that would improve the relationship itself. It really doesn’t matter whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, you have both the right and the duty to seek fulfillment as an individual.
6. The silent treatment
On a subconscious level, we all innately understand the concept of supply and demand. When it comes to negotiating with an ex, many of us adapt our strategies to reflect this truism whether we are conscious of it or not.
The silent treatment (an example would be using no contact as a get-them-back gimmick) aims to increase demand by lowering supply. However, it is also worth mentioning that if the product’s supply (that would be us) is reduced to the point of being forgotten or replaced, the entire game collapses in a pile of pain, and we have played ourselves.
Just like its economic counter part, manipulating supply and demand is inherently risky. Sure, there’s a chance our absence will promote longing, but there’s also the possibility that they simply get used to life without us. If we can’t handle the stakes, no contact is not a game we can afford to play.
N.B: Silence isn’t always a game, and it may be a genuine sign that an ex has moved on. As always, I would personally take contact at face value, and if there is none (despite our attempts to open the lines of communication), that is an answer too.
7. The rebound
Rebound relationships serve many short-term purposes. Among these purposes (comfort, moving on, etc) is the intention to make an ex miserable by virtue of making them second-guess their worth. Was replacing me that easy?
As a rule of thumb (generalization warning!), I find that the more flamboyant, public and impulsive a rebound relationship is, the higher the likelihood it’s going to end in tears for everyone involved.
If a relationship is born out of quelling insecurity, what happens once self-confidence begins to grow back? That’s right, it is discarded like a used rag. This is not only a mistake with regards to healing, but also a disservice to the unknowing partner who was used as a rebound.
What was once a good idea is now a new source of resentment and pain that has done little to further healing (and may well have driven off the ex whose attention was sought to begin with). Yikes.