We know this time of year brings out all the ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Ideally, we like seeing them stick to the graveyard on the TV screen and not our bedrooms. However, ‘Ghosting’ may be more nuanced than it seems. We cover key questions around identifying this phenomenon, what drives it, and times where it may be safest to do the ‘ghosting’ ourselves.
How do you know if you’ve been ghosted?
It’s tricky to understand what ‘ghosting’ truly is. Often there is ‘icing’ or ‘breadcrumbing’ which involves people leaving the door open to reconnect later or giving small bits of inconsistent attention to keep the person thinking of them. Ghosting, in this sense, tends to be used in a dating context. It means ending a personal relationship by suddenly withdrawing without explanation.
Being ghosted can feel intensely uncomfortable, saddening and isolating. This experience can taps into our primal fears of being judged as “undatable” and unworthy. These ideas of rejection can trigger similar neural networks in our brain associated with pain, even when there isn’t any romantic interest in the person. In many cases, when we experience ghosting, research shows we’re at risk of being less satisfied with our lives, feeling more helpless and lonelier in general.
What drives ghosting?
Interestingly, newest research shows that ghostees (people who were ghosted) and ghosters explain their understanding of why it happens with similar reasons. These were:
- Blaming the other person
- Blaming the self
- Affordances of apps
- No obligation to communicate
- Concern for the other person.
Ghosters on dating apps, in a recent study, showed their reasons for doing it was because they saw the other person as “boring, someone who falls in love easily, or someone with “issues” such as fear of commitment”.
Other reasons were behaviours on the date. Ghosters found the other person “pushy, disrespectful, racist” or didn’t want to argue with them or cause further pain about their reasons for leaving. Ultimately, there were also people who ghosted because they did not feel emotionally ready to start dating or were afraid they couldn’t meet the other’s expectations.
What can you do about it?
There may be circumstances, especially when anyone is concerned about their safety, or the safety of others and ghosting is the safest option. There may be physical or verbal abuse, or harassment causing fears that this person will continue sending nasty messages or unwanted content. In which case the first step is to not respond to them and seek support (i.e., calling 000, the police, a lawyer and domestic violence hotline, 1800 RESPECT).
Whilst some people had closure, most didn’t find peace from re-engaging with the ghosters to get a reason why. One participant in a recent study said, “He was very angry and clearly not happy that I called him. I apologized and promised I would not contact him again until he would reach out to me.”
So one of the most useful things we can do is reflect on what it teaches us and keep a growth mindset.
Research shows that people with stronger destiny beliefs felt better about ghosting, used it to end relationships and would likely do it again. However, those with a growth mindset, showed the opposite pattern. They would rather address things directly and learn from the experience to leave both people at peace.
What can it teach you?
Ghosting can often highlight a clash in values, communication ability and emotional regulation between people. Intentioned or not, one thing that can help is asking yourself – Would I want to be with someone who doesn’t communicate clearly or take responsibility for ending things? If the person is too anxious to respond to your message or clearly share their stance, how would they cope in a partnership where we need resilience and vulnerability daily?
Often, by letting ghosters float away to the graveyard, we make space and energy to build stronger, healthier relationships. This can take us much closer to a romantic partner that is right for us.
Nonetheless, there may be things that being ghosted can teach us about our own behaviour. Maybe there are ways we can improve in communicating warmth, being more responsive and mindful of providing space and learning who someone is, before we invest too much of ourselves. Ultimately, it can give us permission to let go of someone who may not align with what we want out of ourselves and step out of that graveyard into a brighter future.
Throughout October we will be diving into the topic ‘Despooking Mental Health’. We will be unmasking stigmas, discussing the psychology behind ghosting and encountering energy vampires.