Ghosting – a cruel 21st-century phenomenon
Ghosting is one of the sad phenomena that has evolved out of our 21st-century technology. I’m sure some of you reading this are regrettably acquainted with it. For those who aren’t, essentially, if I’m ghosted by someone — without any explanation he/she shuts down all form of communication. The ultimate “silent treatment,” it’s as though I no longer exist. As a psychotherapist, I find myself working with a number of clients experiencing being ghosted—usually but not always in the context of romantic relationships. Client statements include: “The pain is tangible and overwhelming. I feel discarded. It’s hard to trust my judgment of people after this.”
Sadly, “ghosting” has become a trending passive-aggressive and emotionally abusive tactic to avoid sitting face-to-face with someone or even speaking with them by telephone to end a friendship or romantic relationship. In a society that is increasingly pain phobic, by refusing the other party a chance to express emotion and to be heard we have found yet another way to avoid discomfort.
Since today so many relationships are dependent on technology via texting, phone, and social media, to find oneself blocked from contact from a person one deeply cares for can be devastating. Imagine if you showed up as usual at your place of employment and the doors were locked, your entry card no longer functioned, and your boss wouldn’t talk to you or give you an explanation as to why you were fired. The powerlessness, humiliation, fear, grief, and outrage you would feel is understandable. Ghosting someone isn’t much different from that.
Ghosting vs. Boundaries
I’d like to make clear that I’m all for having good boundaries. If someone is treating us in a way that feels abusive, overwhelming, or causes us to fear for our safety, and we feel that the only way to set a boundary is to prevent them from communicating with us, such action is reasonable and justifiable and I don’t believe falls into the definition of ghosting.
Why it Hurts so Much
Essentially, the victim of ghosting most frequently is left to work through a psychological grieving process similar to how we experience the death of a loved one. If they are not supported to process their experience, the “loss” can leave victims with emotional scars, injured self-esteem, and may affect them in future relationships. Clients I see state they feel disrespected, shamed, powerless, and a sense of having being abandoned.
How to recover from being Ghosted
People’s actions are always a reflection of their own emotional scars. Someone who ghosts is afraid of emotions—theirs and yours; furthermore, either they don’t understand how their behavior impacts you or they just don’t care. Whichever it is, know that the ghoster doesn’t have the ability to have a mature healthy relationship and nothing you do can change that. Find help to support yourself as you navigate the difficult task of letting that person go and learn more about yourself from the experience. Most importantly, don’t let someone’s poor treatment of you rob you of your vulnerability and desire for loving connection. Focus on things that make you happy and recognize you may feel angry, sad, and afraid – all normal reflections of mourning. Keep your heart open, surround yourself with people you trust to care about you, and know you have a respect and integrity that person did not. Most importantly, as you move forward in life, be mindful that the conversations required to end relationships will always be difficult and may provoke considerable anxiety. However, speaking our truth builds important strengths that we as human beings can nurture—honor, self-respect, kindness, and courage—values we need now more than at any time in our history.