Most of you that are reading this article have had the experience of someone in your life suddenly ending their connection with you by cutting off all communication and contact without any warning or explanation. A person who does this tends to also ignore all of your attempts to reach out, communicate or get an explanation for the behavior. The commonly used term for this behavior is ‘ghosting’. Essentially, they pull a disappearing act, like a ghost. Ghosting isn’t a new thing; however, it is getting progressively more common in large part because of social media. The more that connection is taking place online or via text and the less mutual social connections two people share, the easier it is and the less consequences there are for pulling a disappearing act. Because of this, it is practically an epidemic in the modern dating world. And unfortunately, the more it happens (either to us or our friends and family) the more normalized it becomes within society.
There are two main reasons why someone might ghost you:
- Fear of engaging with you, especially in the case that any engagement with you would lead to pain or conflict.
- The use of it as a passive aggressive power move.
If the former is the case, it is an avoidance strategy. It is an avoidance of whatever scenario they imagine would come about as a result of engaging with you. For example, someone might feel that you will never see their point of view and will only turn things back on them, causing them to perceive you as ‘unworkable’. Perceiving there to be no way to create resolve with you, they simply avoid communicating with you and cut off all communication instead. Or for example, imagine that a guy you are talking to on a dating site or are actually dating realizes he isn’t really into you, he’s into someone else instead. But he doesn’t want to feel like the bad guy and hurt your feelings or get into any conflict with you. He wants a “no drama, no questions asked, no need to justify himself or deal with your emotions” ending. So, he simply avoids it all by suddenly ceasing to respond all together. It’s a convenient way to bypass a breakup. Seeing as how the root of ghosting is so often fear of conflict, it might be a good idea to watch my video titled: How to Overcome the Fear of Conflict. It is important to note that if someone is in a genuinely abusive relationship, ghosting may in fact be the only way to exit a relationship safely. So, it is important to distinguish between ghosting as a pure avoidance strategy and ghosting as a way to genuinely stay safe from someone.
If someone is ghosting as a passive aggressive power move, it is a control tactic. Usually a punishment. You are probably already familiar with the passive aggressive techniques of the silent treatment and stonewalling. Stonewalling is when one person disengages from the other and maybe even walks away so as to becomes unavailable and unreachable, as if erecting a stone wall between themselves and the other person. They become completely uncooperative. When ghosting is used this way, it is a form of emotional cruelty. And it is one of the most destructive relationship habits we can do. A relationship takes two. This unfortunately means that the power in the relationship belongs to the person who chooses to disconnect and withdraw. This is one reason why the person who simply walks out of the room during a conflict is the one with all the power in the relationship. We know this at our core. We also know how painful emotional withdrawal is and therefore how vulnerable it makes someone. Which is why when we feel the need to gain power over the other person in a relationship, ghosting is a strategy we may use. If we feel justified in doing so because we perceive ourselves to be victimized by the other person, we tend to not care how emotionally abusive this tactic is. No matter what the intent is behind ghosting, ghosting creates emotional and psychological wounds.
Why is ghosting so painful? Emotional withdrawal is a form of abandonment and it is emotionally abusive. The single most important need for a physical human is connection. Even more so than food or water or sleep, which is why someone in a bad breakup often can’t eat or sleep. To ghost is to break that connection and thus, it is a direct threat to a person’s primary need. On top of this, people must assign meaning to experiences. We need to understand why something has happened to really understand what to do about it. If no explanation is given, people become consumed with a dizzying mess of potential explanations and tend to vacillate between confusion and choosing whatever painful meaning is most believable to them. Lack of closure drives people crazy. Did I say or do something wrong? Did they lose their phone? Am I not pretty enough, so I just got rejected? Why didn’t I know this was going to happen, am I a social idiot? Did they get into a car wreck and die? Do they not care? It is the meaning we assign to the experience of ghosting that has the potential to do the most damage to us long term. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: Meaning, The Self Destruct Button.
When someone ghosts us, we go from feeling like someone cared about us to feeling like they don’t care about us at all. This causes immediate humiliation. It calls into question how ‘real’ the relationship was. It causes us to negatively question and doubt ourselves. We feel disrespected and disposable and therefore, it registers in our being as a rejection and as betrayal. And guess what? Social rejection registers in the body the same as physical pain. Only it is worse, because with physical pain you are not telling yourself self-esteem shattering stories on top of it. When we get rejected, we go to work trying to figure out what is bad or wrong about us or whatever we might have said or did. Deep down, we tend to take the blame for someone ghosting us.
Ghosting also makes you feel totally out of control and dysregulated because if you don’t know what happened, you don’t know how to react or respond. For example, if the truth is that someone ghosted you because someone else triangulated them against you, the reaction and response might be to be really upset and confront both them and the person triangulating. If the truth is that someone in their family died and they suddenly sank into a negative spiral so deep that they couldn’t talk to anyone, the reaction and response might be to be hurt, but to feel empathy for them, not put pressure on them and remind them you’re here for them when and if they need you. Because of the ambiguity, we have no clear social cues to guide our behavior and this makes us feel powerless and out of control and frozen in confusion about how to react. And this is what makes ghosting so hard to resolve. Without any information or explanation or reason given, it becomes very, very hard to emotionally process what happened and the trauma of the emotional abandonment so as to feel resolved and create closure.
So, what should you do if you are ghosted?
Give it one last shot to find the truth, gain info or closure. Roll out the red carpet for people to tell you the truth. Obviously, you should only do this if you are actually dedicated to self-awareness and awareness in general. When someone ghosts you, the highest likelihood is that they are conflict avoidant. Therefore, it can be helpful to roll out the red carpet to make it super safe and super easy for them to tell the truth. You still wont be able to guarantee that they will tell you the truth or even respond. But many people have luck creating closure by directly asking for the truth and promising that there will be no consequences (or strong emotional displays or defensiveness) for the answer. This being said, you can’t promise no consequences and then give consequences. For example, imagine that a person simply stops responding to your chats on a dating site. You could try to send a message like this: “Hey, I feel like all of a sudden you just stopped talking or responding to me. It really means a lot to me to be able to find a person to be with one day and so I could use all the honesty and all the help I can get. I promise I wont get upset or defensive, I just need some honest reflection rather than to keep guessing. Would you be willing to tell me the truth about why you stopped communicating with me?” You’d be surprised how many people will answer honestly if you set up a scenario that they perceive to be safe enough to be honest. While their answer does not justify ghosting (and it is perfectly sane to feel furious at even the idea of having to do this) the feedback you might get has the potential to not only help you to find resolve in the situation at hand, but also to get closer and closer to the truth of yourself and what you are really wanting. And if they don’t respond, don’t reach out to contact them no matter what. Don’t call, don’t text, don’t email them again. Don’t put yourself out there again. Keep your self respect. The rule is: If they want to create repair with you, they have to initiate it and demonstrate to you that this behavior has changed.
Regardless of what the actual reasons are for why a person ghosts you, differentiate between any of their reasons or excuses (which may or may not have to do with you) and their decision to ghost because of it. Many psychologists and self-help experts will tell you that ghosting has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person ghosting. This can’t actually be the case in a universe based on the law of mirroring. But to generalize, people who ghost do not know how to handle discomfort. The second that even the potential of discomfort arises, they go into avoidance mode. Many people who ghost are intimacy phobic, fear commitment, have huge issues with conflict or are passive aggressively trying to get power. The actual reality of ghosting is that you would gain a lot of self-awareness and awareness in general if the person ghosting you could tell you why they are ghosting you. But any reason for ghosting that the ghoster could possibly attribute to you, or even to themselves, is separate from the issue of ghosting in and of itself. To give you an aggressive example of what I mean, people have reasons to kill people too… But the killing of people as a response in and of itself is still a huge issue whose ownness belongs to the person doing the killing. Ghosting is the same. Ghosting is a dysfunctional relationship pattern. And that’s on them!
The biggest problem with ghosting is… you may never know the actual reason why someone has ghosted you. For this reason, you have to ask yourself, what would I do differently as of today and what would create the most resolve for me if it was a 100% guarantee that I will never know why? The answer to this question is how to take your power back in a situation like this where you are powerless to making someone engage with you.
Know that what someone is saying when they ghost you is this: I don’t have what it takes to have a mature healthy relationship with you. And for those of you who love to turn into rescuers (and therefore feel tempted to ‘heal them’ into a mature, healthy relationship and make excuses for people who ghost), yes all people have the potential to have what it takes, but just because they have the potential, doesn’t mean they will choose to actualize that potential. Free will trumps potential. It is also smart to remember that people who are capable of having and/or want to have a mature, healthy relationship with you, who are committed to you and to the connection with you will find ways to show up in the relationship. You can’t be responsible for 100% of the relationship. You can’t pull someone hard enough to compensate for the ½ of the relationship which they are not taking responsibility for. How they act towards you is an indication of their style of relationship. Therefore, ask yourself: Is this what I want to tell the universe that I say YES to?
Don’t chase ghosts… unless you want your relationships to be marked by the constant fear that something is wrong with you, intermittent reinforcement, avoidance, emotional abandonment and emotional starvation. Also, be aware that some people who ghost, are partial ghosts. And contrary to what you might think, this is even worse than a person who completely ghosts you, because it sets up one of the most abusive relationship dynamics of all time: Intermittent reinforcement. For more information about this, watch my video titled: Why You Can’t Leave the Relationship (Intermittent Reinforcement). Even though being ghosted is painful, consider that you might have dodged a bullet. If someone ghosts you, what they are saying is: I’m not good for you to be in a relationship with anyway. A person who could not be honest with you and take care of the connection, so they simply cut all communication, is not a person who you can build a safe relationship with.
- Put conscious energy into dealing with the emotional wound that being ghosted has caused as well as into ways to get the opposite experience. To heal is to experience the opposite. To understand more about this, watch my video titled: What Is Healing?. When you get ghosted, you might run into feelings of rejection and betrayal and abandonment. You might doubt yourself and even your worth. You might hear your mind telling you things like “there’s no way someone would just stop communicating with me if I was a good catch or if I didn’t say or do anything wrong”. People who get ghosted tend to either turn being ghosting against themselves and internalize it or begin to form universal beliefs about all people or all men or all women or all people on dating sites. Be aware that the emotional wounds caused by being ghosted make you vulnerable to telling a story that is simply not correct. And remember, being ghosted is not about your value. If you don’t believe me, watch my video titled: How to Handle Rejection.
Ghosting is a dysfunctional relationship behavior at best, severely emotionally abusive at worst. The fact that it is becoming normalized within society today is a tragedy. But believe it or not, many people who have been ghosted, go on to ghost others! If we want a healthy society and healthy relationships, we need to respect each other enough to refuse to perpetuate this pattern.