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

mind gameEmotional 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.

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7 Comments

  • Emily
    Posted Jan 25, 2016 at 11:51 am 0Likes

    Hi there, I’m devastated because my boyfriend of a 4 years LDR just broke up with me recently. Everything was perfect even though we’re so far apart. He lives in the UK and I’m from Malaysia but we had an agreement of taking turn to visit each other every 3 months and we had never failed to do that in the past 4 years! We had a very healthy LDR (I think) as we talked to each other every single day either on text or calls. We even have a tracking app on both our phones so we know each other’s location whenever we want to. We took the opportunities to travel and explore many places together whenever we visited each other. We did have fights and arguments like every relationship does but that never stopped us from loving each other. Sometimes we said that we wanted to end the relationship when we argued but every time we got back together in less than a week because we missed each other so much if we weren’t communicating. We did discuss about our future plan like who is more likely to relocate and he said to me many times that he sees himself being together with me in the future. He never failed to tell me he loves me on a daily basis in the past 4 years.

    However, during his last trip here in mid December we had lots or arguments which involved physical and verbal abuses. The reason of our arguments were some silly matters but it was our attitudes and how we dealt with it that got us into big fights. I couldn’t stand how he liked to curse and swear calling me names (especially the C word) whenever he got mad. I cannot allowed myself to be called that name by anyone in any situation. It was so disrespectful and disgusting. I couldn’t take it and slap him on his face twice. I did apologize after that. Since then everything has changed

    After he got back to UK. I sort of sensed that things weren’t the same anymore between us. We talked less and he didn’t show as much affections as he used to. After that we had a few more arguments which drifted us apart even more. A few days before new year I asked him if he was going to break up with me. He said he didn’t know what he wanted and needed some time to think things through. A few days later I follow up with him about his thoughts and decision and again he didn’t give me an answer. Another week had past I told him I needed an answer from him because I felt that he didn’t treat me like his girlfriend anymore. He said if I couldn’t wait then he would tell me his decision is to end the relationship. He still said that he loves me and think about me everyday but he felt that this relationship will never work. I went no contact with him for a week and he contacted me asking me how my days were and some normal things. Even if I didn’t reply him he messaged me again the next day. When I replied him and talk about normal things he was very responsive. When I started to ask him if he still wants to break up with me and tried to talk about the relationship with him he went silent and ignored all my messages. It seems to me that he still wants to talk to me but refused to deal with the problems. I feel that I got abandoned in a cowardly way. Yesterday we started talking again and everything was nice we said we missed each other but again when I started asking him if he really wants to break up he went silent again and ignored all my messages. He still checks my location everyday in that app because when we talked he seemed to know where I went.

    I seriously don’t understand why he keeps refusing to talk. We had been in this relationship for so many years, should I accept that he dumped me by sending a text “if you can’t wait longer and want an answer now then yes my decision is to break up”. He had 2 weeks to think about it before sending that message. To be honest I feel that even if I gave him more time he wouldn’t give me an answer either because he is the type who likes to run away from problems. I’m still deeply in love with this man. Is there any way I can make him talk? I don’t want to behave like a doormat but I don’t want to lose him. I want to try to work things out with but if he refused to talk it will be a dead end. I don’t know what should I do. Should I stick to no contact? But I’m worried it will make things worse ?

    • James Nelmondo
      Posted Jan 25, 2016 at 12:54 pm 0Likes

      Hey there Emily, thanks for stopping by and sharing your story (there will be readers who will benefit from relating with you).

      No contact has the tendency to squeeze attention out of an ex because it inflates doubt by starving them of an important reference point (your affection), in that sense it does work, albeit in a superficial way because it does nothing to address the problems that the relationship had. It only serves to swell insecurity.

      But, as you say, this doesn’t necessarily mean change has occurred that would lead to successful reconciliation. Given the length and intensity of your bond, I feel it is natural to feel pangs of longing and to feel a little lost after the relationship, regardless of whether there is a will to reconcile, and also regardless of how unhealthy the relationship might have become. You’ve shared so much, and know each other so intimately that no matter what, separation is going to be a little traumatic.

      I can’t guess what his intentions are, other than his superficial attempts at contact are a manifestation of this insecurity. Given his tendency to backtrack away from a meaningful conversation about what the future holds, it is clear that he either doesn’t want to answer the question, or doesn’t know the answer to the question. Personally, those both mean the same to me. If you can’t say “yes”, then it’s a “no”. Perhaps, in time, he will be willing to be more direct, but until then, you clearly cannot count on his feelings magically turning around. That’s just me though.

      I wouldn’t try and make him talk, he knows that talking with him is conditional on your part because you revert to no contact when he refuses to address the important stuff. I’d keep doing that, and enforce it. Not as a way to open the insecurity flood-gates in him, but because it is beneficial to you to not have to overthink his mixed signals.

      If the only real condition to talking with him for you is about reconciliation, and not just accepting being a back seat driver in his life, then I would convey that. If he wants to talk about your relationship then he should feel free to contact you, however, if he’s just looking for some attention and affection, then he should have the integrity to let you heal. He shouldn’t be able to leech confidence and hope from you in order to appease his own insecurity.

      Yes, enforcing this communication make may things apparently worse (he may disappear off the radar), but if he is not actively looking to reconcile, then he would have disappeared eventually anyway, all you are doing is depriving him of an easy way out at your expense. At least this way you can begin to move forwards and deal with absolutes, and if the phone DOES ring, then you know that he’s looking for talk about something serious, and not playing games with your feelings.

      You can’t make him talk, but you can define the conditions of your contact and healing, today.

  • Tasha
    Posted Jan 27, 2016 at 12:58 am 0Likes

    Hi! I’m so lost! I will try to explain the best I can! Here goes…I have worked with this guy for a year now and recently gave into him. We were seeing each other for about 3 months. It came to the point I wanted more. He would just keep saying lets see where it goes. He would ask me to dinner, stay over…you get it. Then it seemed he started backing off and putting in no effort.

    I then told him I couldn’t do it anymore and that we were in different places, he was putting in no effort and I was done wasting my time. I asked him to leave me alone and he did for about 3 days. I then let him back in thinking it would be different but wasn’t.

    I then again told him I was done. I deleted him from my snapchat and his number. When he had realized I had deleted him he text me and said “you really deleted me?” I said yes and that we could still talk at work but was no reason for us to communicate outside of work.

    At work he made a remark about me deleted him off snapchat. So I said fine I’ll add you back (mostly just pics right what would it hurt) So I add him back and then he deletes me.

    He flirts with me at work all day there is no avoiding him. He knows how much I care about him and says we are done and he don’t like me anymore, Why is he doing this to me! I get so confused and so hurt! Help please!

    • James Nelmondo
      Posted Jan 27, 2016 at 1:31 am 0Likes

      Engaging in guilt games are not the actions of someone who has realized they genuinely made a mistake (in this case taking you for granted). To me, it sounds more like a child who has been deprived of his favorite toy and is throwing something of a tantrum (much like a child does when he argues with his mother and tells her he no longer loves her).

      Perhaps he feels that by bringing you down he will lower your defenses enough to resume the status quo, or perhaps he’s more hurt than he’s letting on and this is his way of restoring his self-esteem (by acting as if you’re less valuable).

      Either way, I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say next, and it isn’t pretty I’m afraid: Ignore it (not him as a whole, just the crap). Deprive him of whatever he’s getting out of this and he’ll have to find some other way to justify his ego.

      Sorry for the bleak tone, please remember this is just an opinion!

  • Anthony
    Posted Mar 8, 2016 at 6:38 am 0Likes

    hello again james, i don’t know if you still remember me but here i am again, it’s been four months after the break-up with my ex-girlfriend and the improvements that took place were we are back in communicating again, but I can’t say that in a very positive way because most of the time, I am the one who initiates contact but there are also times that she reaches out. our talks are very casual and friendly to say the least, there was also a point that she reached out to apologize for the way the break-up went and ended, and we both know i made mistakes that broke the relationship but she reached out to apologize that the way she acted right after the break-up was not a good thing even though I am the one to blame for the mistakes i made. she also admitted that she made actions that also added up to the break up as well, meaning, we both are accountable for the demise of our relationship. is this a good sign or not? the last time we talked was two weeks ago when she called me out of the blue and we talked over the phone for like an hour. then after that casual and fun conversation we had, i sent her a few text messages but apparently she did not reply to any of those up to this day, is this a classic case of her being hot and cold again, or somewhat confused with her emotions towards me?

    and one more thing james, as you might have known or not know yet, she is living and working in tokyo, japan right now and i am currently in manila, philippines right now but i just got an offer to study and work in tokyo, japan next month, so basically i will also be moving to tokyo for at least the next two years. my question is, should i tell her in advance that i will be going to tokyo or should i just surprise her when i get there? which move is better in terms of our relationship with each other? hope you can enlighten me on this, coz i am somewhat confused right now… thank you for the time in reading my message. have a nice day man!

    • James Nelmondo
      Posted Mar 8, 2016 at 2:50 pm 0Likes

      Hey again Anthony,

      Yes, that is a pretty good sign, in the sense that any kind of mutual approach to relationship issues shows a willingness to compromise. Although whether that it remorse borne out of empathy (guilt),or whether it is remorse stemming from longing (romance), I cannot say. Should you meet in Tokyo you’ll be able to getting a clearer picture in person.

      I’d tell her in advance (just my opinion), what may seem a surprise might actually be shocking in the reconciliation game, and you don’t want her to back out out of shock. Slow and steady wins the race.

  • Sandra
    Posted May 1, 2016 at 6:46 pm 0Likes

    Hi there James,

    Would really appreciate your opinion/advice here.

    My ex fiance is 34 and i am 30. We dated for 4 years before he broke up with me almost 2 months ago. We started off in a long distance relationship for a year after meeting at a biz trip, he then moved to Singapore to be with me for 2 years before we relocated to Denmark to be close to his family and friends.

    He dropped the bomb on me one night (i shld have seen it coming, he was acting distant 1-2 weeks prior but lied when i asked if anything was wrong). I was completely wrecked and we spent the entire night crying and getting really emotional – u know the drill. The next day he seemed to have a change of heart but stopped short at taking the breakup back – he wanted space instead and said he wld move out for a week to “think about things”. He said he wasn’t sure that what he felt for me was just “protectiveness” i.e afraid to hurt me or love.

    He never moved back. Over the course of the next 3 weeks we met up once or twice every week to talk and his reasons kept evolving – from blaming me for not being able to build a social life for myself in denmark and thus crowding him at home (he is the type that needs a fair bit of alone time), to maybe we are incompatible, to him possibly going through an early mid life crisis and questioning everything, to the spark had fizzled, then eventually landing on him being the problem – he had a fair bit of resentment and doubts built up over the past years due to his inability to voice his unhappiness over issues (about us), even with our impending wedding – he had been feeling doubtful for a long time now but did not want bring it up and hurt me. Now he is more confused than ever and couldn’t make a choice if he still wanted the relationship.

    After the 3 weeks, i couldn’t take it anymore and said that it is best we break up – with me pushing him for an answer we weren’t getting anywhere, and everytime we met up it always got emotional and we would both be crying, sometimes him more than me. He responded that he thought about that but was afraid that i wld shut him up and move on if he broke up with me. He then said that he is not looking to move on, wld take the time to do some proper thinking, fix his issues and MAYBE one day we can get back together. Ironically i felt that through the breakup i managed to get abit of the “old” him back . I felt hopeful that night and left the door open….

    I then left for a biz trip for a week and had the time to properly digest what happened… i eventually decided that i could not sit around and wait for someone who may or may not come back, i needed to move on. So when i got back, i asked to meet up and told him that. He looked a little sad and said that he needs more time to think, can’t promise anything and he wld be a terrible boyfriend if he came back now. I accepted it and we both cried again before saying goodbye.

    A week later i sent him an email for closure – said that it is not necessary to reply, but i want to let him know that i accept that he needs to be alone now and thanked him for the past 4 years. 2 weeks later i sent him another mail asking him to clear all his remaining stuff out of our apartment. He replied saying that he is sorry he didn’t reply my “closure” email, he didn’t really know what to say but will reply when he does. He will also pick up his stuff the following week. I feel that i cannot trust his words, he said he wld send me letters when we parted, but never did. And him apologising for not replying that email and saying he will – i don’t expect anything from him to be honest.

    Deep in my heart i know that i’m doing the right thing to set him free, but its been almost 2 months and i still love and miss him so much. Do you think we still have a chance?

    Sincerely
    Sandra

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