Ghosting – a relational haunting

In honour of this spooky time of year, I wanted to open up the can of emotional worms that is ghosting. Just in case you’ve not heard of this (lucky you), ghosting is when someone cuts off all forms of communication in a relationship, be it romantic, friendship or at work. It can vary from someone leaving an app chat without notice to someone walking out the door one day and never returning.

From the outset, I want to declare an unfortunate personal connection to this rather troublesome topic. Someone I care deeply about, performed their own vanishing act last year. It left me bothered and bewildered, to say the least. And I am not alone. Recent studies have shown around 25% of people have been ghosted at some point. 

What on earth is going on?

The reasons why someone might ghost can be varied and complex, but overall the general motivation is avoidance. Ghosters often hope that by slipping away they avoid being the bad guys and limit the amount of upset caused. Oh the irony! Of course their very actions make them the worst guy ever and leave the person left with the maximum levels of distress, not to mention confusion. Ghosting allows the ghoster to avoid any of the drama, conflict or mess caused when ending a relationship. 

People who struggle with issues around dependency and commitment may use ghosting as their preferred method of exit. There can be a real fear around forming a solid attachment with others, for that may leave them vulnerable to rejection. They might be scared of getting hurt, so they do the rejection first. Afterall this is always the risk when it comes to close relationships. We take a leap of faith into the unknown and accept the risk of being hurt in exchange for the potential of an intimate and long-lasting connection. 

As you’ve probably realised by now, this method of ending things is not healthy for anyone involved, but especially for the ghoster. Avoiding endings, only makes it more difficult the next time it happens. Finishing a relationship or confronting the difficult parts starts to become almost impossible to face. The more the conflict is avoided, the more the anxiety and fear builds up. A vicious cycle ensues.

The impact

Ghosting leaves the victim confused and clueless, holding so many questions with no answers. If there are old wounds around abandonment or self-esteem these can also be triggered.

Victims can often feel powerless and silenced as a result of ghosting. They’ve had no say and often no indication that the relationship was about to come to an abrupt and unexplained end. And with the person now in hiding, how can the victim step forward for their voice to be heard?

Often when faced with lots of unanswered questions, we can look inwards to find blame within ourselves, as a way of getting some kind of clarity and control. We can begin to beat ourselves up with notions that we did something wrong.  Maybe we were too boring, or too unattractive? Maybe we’re unloveable? Maybe we didn’t try hard enough?… the list can go on and on. Holding these types of statements can really wobble our self-esteem and confidence. This method of reasoning is all wrong and only serves to hurt the victim more. The issue wasn’t with you. It was with them. You are more than enough. You are plenty. It is them who is lacking.

Survival

The first and tricky bit of coping when you’ve been ghosted is acceptance. It’s very easy for us to find comfort in theories and excuses; they’ve lost their phone, they’ve been in an accident, they have a lot going on etc, but the sooner we face the fact that for whatever reason they’ve decided to disappear, the sooner we can start recovery.

Once we’ve accepted what’s happened, then the questions come thick and fast. Why did they do this? What’s wrong with me? Did I do something wrong? Why didn’t they speak to me? It’s natural for us to have these questions, but they are futile and a waste of our energy. We’ll never have the answers we want. So allow the questions to gather dust and to eventually seep away.

Tempting as it is, try to limit your haunting activities. These can include checking their social media, rereading old messages or visiting their favourite places. This only keeps the person at the forefront of your mind and further away from you letting them go and moving on.  I read recently that chasing a ghost is like trying to pin down a shadow. In other words it’s completely pointless. It’s time to get tough, so delete their number, unfollow them, hide away reminders etc. This is especially key in the early days of recovery, when we are at our most vulnerable.

It’s understandable that you might feel angry at the ghoster, but try to avoid a face to face confrontation (if you can find them that is)! This will most likely only end in you being rejected again and feeling more pain. It’s time to take care of yourself and your emotional wellbeing. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’re going to get hurt again.  

So instead of a confrontation, it’s time to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Ghosting can feel like we’ve been put on mute so to rediscover our voice is an important stage of healing.  Writer, and fellow ghost victim, Annie Lord says “…you can’t win respect through silence, you learn it through expressing what you are worth.” Get your journal out, write a letter, pick up a paintbrush etc to allow your voice to be heard in whichever way you find most comfortable. 

Writing (and sending) a letter to the ghoster could be a risky action as it might lead to further rejection, but I would recommend at least drafting something which allows you to express how you feel and maybe even to close the relationship your way. When someone ghosts we can often be left with a fair amount of emotional baggage which doesn’t always belong to us. Writing a letter is a powerful way of returning these emotions to their rightful owner. Another option is to write something which you never send. The important thing is to express your feelings and not collude with the ghoster by remaining silent. 

A good sign that you’ve reached the later stages of recovery is that you begin to develop empathy towards the ghoster. Instead of seeing them as the “bad guy”, you start seeing them as the “sad guy”. Their behaviour strongly indicates they have some troublesome emotional issues which makes having a mature, stable relationship impossible. Best you find this out now so that you can move on to someone who deserves you.

Funny enough, whilst drafting this piece, I bumped into my own ghost after a year of silence! This was a classic case of what Jung called synchronicity (a meaningful coincidence). No words were exchanged only a hurried awkward glance. For me, there is nothing to say. What’s done is done. Ironically my ghost looked terrified to see me. It made me wonder as I walked on by….. exactly whose been haunting who?

Photo- Natalie Bauer

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