“I know it’s Thanksgiving Day, but this is 911. Please call me ASAP!“ The text was alarming, so I called immediately. On the other end of the line, I heard frantic sobbing. Between the sobs I heard, “Something horrible has happened to him. He was supposed to be here at 9 AM to help me prepare the feast for friends and family. It’s almost noon and he’s not responding to my calls or my texts. What should I do?”
I had a sinking feeling deep in my gut, but did not want to speak the words that immediately came to my mind: “I think you have been ghosted.“
Ghosting. It’s very sad to know that we have come to the place where ghosting is not only common, but viewed by about 4-28% as an acceptable way of terminating a relationship. Research has declared it to be the worst possible, and unhealthiest manner in which to end a relationship.
According to the urban dictionary, the definition of ghosting is:
Because I deal with the consequences of ghosting in my office on a daily basis, I am very disturbed by the increase in this behavior. I would like to cover several things in this blog:
- The prevalence of ghosting
- What causes someone to ghost
- Collateral damage caused to the ghostee
- Collateral damage caused to the ghoster
- How to heal and move on if you’ve been ghosted
- How a ghoster can reconsider their ghosting choices
- My challenge to you
THE PREVALENCE OF GHOSTING
Researchers are just now coming to conclusions about ghosting.
One interesting research project indicated that only about 23% of women have not been ghosted in some form or fashion. About 37% of men had not been ghosted.
Although the numbers vary, it is clear that more men than women do ghosting.
Regardless of the numbers, surely one person being ghosted is one too many.
WHAT CAUSES SOMEONE TO GHOST
Whether male or female, extensive research on those who ghost reveal that they normally struggle with at least one of these three factors:
- Avoidant personality styles. People who struggle with avoidant personalities are very conflict intolerant. They will do most anything to avoid addressing or dealing with conflict of any kind.
- Narcissistic personality features. This is different then narcissistic personality disorder in that they may or may not have the diagnosis, but they have some features of the diagnosis. The primary feature identified when researching ghosters is that they lack empathy. They give little or no thought to how ghosting might affect their partner. And any thoughts of the affect it might have are easily justified in their quick minds. Regardless of contrary evidence, they believe they are right. In addition, they often rehearse and magnify the “wrongdoings, or mistakes” of their partner to justify themselves.
- Connection disorder. Connection Disorder is defined as “an emotional dysfunction that prevents the forming of caring or intimate bonds with another person.” It is a condition that leaves that person surrounded by a trail of devastation, and floods of tears … which the connection disordered person is blinded to. People with connections disorder have been wounded early on, usually by the loss of a parent either emotionally, physically, or to death. (To read more about this click on my blog about connection disorder).
Ghosters are not bad people, they just have personality traits and characteristics that leave them ill-equipped to deal with relationships in healthy ways. They can be helped! (Click here to read about their healing process). However, if you are the ghostee, you will likely not be the one to have the privilege of pointing them to help that they might need.
COLLATERAL DAMAGE CAUSED TO THE GHOSTEE
It might be easy to assume that the only person damaged in a ghosting situation is the ghostee. Certainly they do experience damage so we will address that first.
Being ghosted leaves one with a myriad of questions
Why did they leave?
Why didn’t we try to work through this?
What’s wrong with me?
The confusion and lack of closure is very disturbing. Research indicates that these are some of the damaging things that someone who has been ghosted is left to grapple with:
- Abandonment and/or rejection. Interesting that rejection results in brain activity that is closely aligned to the brain processes that occur with physical pain. Therefore the abandonment and/or rejection often results in:
- Physical pain
- Damaged self esteem
- Reduced self-confidence
- Trust issues
- Negative impact on future relationships
Being ghosted is the ultimate use of the “silent treatment.“ Research in the mental health field has labeled the “silent treatment” in ghosting as “emotional cruelty.“ That’s a pretty strong statement. But with the hundreds of people (both males and females) that I have worked with that have been ghosted, certainly all of the signs of emotional cruelty are present. The longer the term of the relationship and the stronger the commitment, the greater the destruction and damage that occurs.
COLLATERAL DAMAGE CAUSED TO (OR SELF INFLICTED BY) THE GHOSTER
If you’ve been ghosted, you probably don’t want to read this section, unless you have also been a ghoster yourself. It’s very difficult for people who have been ghosted to have any understanding whatsoever about the ghoster and their ghosting choices.
Often times, the ghoster has a real challenge with cognitive dissonance. That’s when there are two beliefs that are inconsistent with one another or in conflict. One example of cognitive dissonance, is knowing that running is not good for one who has had knee injuries, yet loving to run. I struggled with this one for years. I knew that after my tibia plateau fracture and ACL reconstruction that running was not my best friend. But I love to run. So I would run on the beach telling myself that the sand lessened the blow to my knee. Of course there was truth in that, but the discomfort after my runs would remind me that it was not a good idea. It took me a number of years before I convinced myself to make low impact my primary cardio. (And my love for dancing emerged from that!)
Ghosters want to avoid the conflict, but internally know that ghosting the relationship will have impact on the other. The dissonance of knowing both creates anxiety, which the ghoster alleviates with self-justification. Along with all of the justification, often involving “picking their partner apart” in their minds, they also convince their brains that they are right, even when evidence says otherwise.
This is what creates negative impact for the ghoster. Although they may not experience immediate consequences, these are the things that research shows they struggle with over the long term:
- Tremendous guilt. Although they may not attach the guilt to the ghosting experience, they find themselves feeling guilty and “less than” in many situations.
- Increased worry. Although they are great at their self-justification for the ghosting, the anxiety and worry about the future will increase dramatically. They likely will not attribute their increase in worry to the ghosting. But research says that their concerns for their future are dramatically affected.
- Increased anxiety. Although the ghoster will rarely attribute this to their ghosting behavior (without intervention), they know that there is a possibility of revenge from the ghostee. In addition, many research projects have revealed that avoiding conflict reinforces and increases anxiety.
- Reduced courage and extreme risk avoidance. Once again, the ghoster rarely attributes these things (without help), to their ghosting behavior. But they know deep down that they took the cowardice way out of the situation. This creates a cycle of reduced courage, and intolerance of even healthy risk.
HOW TO HEAL AND MOVE ON IF YOU’VE BEEN GHOSTED
Healing and moving on after being ghosted is truly more challenging than the end of a relationship, at least in the beginning.
I’ve helped hundreds of men and women recover from being ghosted. Perhaps one of the reasons I am as very effective is that I, too, have been ghosted.
The temptation after being ghosted is to chase down the ghoster. We want answers. We want reconciliation. We want to know what we did wrong so we can grow and be better.
However, as hard as it is, that is not the answer to the healing process.
Here are the steps for healing that I hope you will consider and implement if you’ve been ghosted:
1. Remind yourself regularly that it is not about you that you got ghosted. There is nothing that anyone can do that merits being ghosted, outside of abuse. Unless you were abusive in the relationship, let me say again, there is nothing that you did that merited being ghosted. Because we don’t have answers, we rehearse endlessly what we did wrong, along with every single one of our imperfections. And likely, the ghoster will have already made you quite aware of your imperfections along the way.
2. Review the relationship to learn ways to be better in your next relationship. None of our imperfections deserved being ghosted, but we can always learn and grow, and be even better prepared for the next relationship. I know if you have recently been ghosted, you have probably said “never again.“ But just this week I told someone, “When you decide to never love again because of what has been done to you, you give away your power to the ghoster.”
3. Remind yourself of the wonderful things you contributed to the relationship. You want to have a very balanced view of yourself. The balanced view is that you were imperfect in the relationship, but you contributed many wonderful things. Having that balanced view allows you to move forward without taking on the victims stance.
4. Claim your heart back. One of the things that we know from research is that ghosters likely did not put their heart into the relationship. Or if they did, they withdrew it at some point. Because they are not leaving their heart behind, and feel very little remorse about their ghosting, they never consider that they are running away with your heart.
So how on earth do you claim your heart back? I normally have my clients write a letter and then do an exercise in my office. I invite them to use the grief format for the letter. This is what I’m thankful for, this is what I’m angry about, this is what could’ve been/might’ve been. Then demand your heart back.
In my office I normally have them visualize a process where they go to the person who ghosted them, claim their heart back, and take off running.
(I never suggest or endorse reaching out to the ghoster. Although the temptation is great to do so. I reminded them that if they were somehow successful in reconnecting with the ghoster, the same thing would be likely to happen again, unless the ghoster had sought out some sort of help.
5. Remind yourself of who you are. Most people who have been ghosted lose so much of their self-esteem and self-confidence, that they forget who they really are. I often invite my clients who have been ghosted to make a list of the wonderful things about themselves. Their gifts, their talents, their positive characteristics. I remind them that they are a one of a kind, unique masterpiece. Are they perfect? Of course not! But what one person was willing to throw away, another person would gratefully find to be a valued gift.
HOW A GHOSTER CAN RECONSIDER THEIR GHOSTING CHOICES
If you are a ghoster, you are not a bad person. You are someone with challenges. I hope if you are reading this that you will reconsider ghosting. Here are the things that you can do in your reconsideration process:
1. Walk a mile in the other’s shoes. Clearly there were things in the relationship that made you uncomfortable. Yet your partner was likely devoting their heart and soul to you, and to the relationship, to the best of their ability. Imagine what it must have felt like to have their heart ripped.
2. If appropriate, send a note to anyone you have ghosted. Acknowledge that it was not a healthy way to end the relationship and offer a sincere apology.
3. Read some books to learn about dealing with conflict, making commitments and connecting. John Lynch’s book: When Anger Scares You: How to Overcome Your Fear of Conflict and Express Your Anger in Healthy Ways is very helpful for those who avoid dealing with conflict For addressing commitment issues, I recommend Steven Carter’s: Getting to Commitment. For connection challenges, I recommend: Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love. By Dr. Michael and Paula Regier.
4. Make a decision to discuss relationship challenges early on. Relationships will have challenges. And research has shown that the greater the conflict, the greater the potential for intimacy.
Learning to discuss relationship challenges in an effective way is one of the most bonding experiences possible.
Understand that relationships require work. Everything that “wins“ requires commitment, dedication, and work.
Robert L Howard did not end up as one of the most decorated American soldiers without commitment, dedication, and work. He was wounded 14 times in 54 months of service. In the Vietnam era, he was respected for his actions and bravery by many soldiers. He was awarded a medal of honor in a rescue mission for a missing American in Cambodia.
LeBron James has not been called “possibly the greatest player in NBA history” by sportscasters without incredible dedication and hard work. He was born to a mom who was 16 at the time of his birth. She struggled to keep a roof over their head, moving from apartment to apartment. She finally decided to allow him to move in with another family who introduced him to sports at age 9. He worked tirelessly and overcame great challenges to become a part of three NBA championships, winning three MVP awards and two Olympic gold medals.
Shannon Miller did not become one of the top decorated female gymnists in US history without great dedication and commitment. She holds nine World Championships and seven Olympic medals. She did not attend school like many elementary, middle school, and high school students. She trained over five hours daily and did her schooling on a flexible schedule. She suffered serious injuries, and yet is best known for leading the magnificent 7 to an American team gold medal.
Yes. Looking at these issues are hard. Successful relationships are hard. But they are only hard for a season, and lead to great victory and great intimacy.
5. Commit to zero tolerance for ghosting. I was working with someone recently about this decision and he said, “Oh Em Gee… That means I could never have a relationship again!“ We laughed together about that, but then in a serious moment in which he really “got it“… I said with great compassion, “I hope you don’t choose that, but you must if you’re not willing to stop the ghosting .” After a moment of silence, he looked up with “water-y” eyes, and with solemn conviction, nodded affirmatively.
MY CHALLENGE TO YOU
Ghosting. What has happened that we do not have the courage and courtesy to say goodbye?
Yes, my client was ghosted on Thanksgiving Day. Now, almost 6 months later, she is still reeling with questions, but becoming more steady and stable, following the steps outlined above.
Ghosting is destructive. If you have been ghosted, take charge and do the healing you need to do to move forward into abundant living.
If you are the ghoster, my hope is that you will develop a zero tolerance stance for that. You are better than that. Your partner deserves better, and so do you!
Let’s return to the stance of love, kindness and respect for one another. We all have hearts, we all need care and support. When we can no longer offer it to another, let’s extend them the courtesy and respect of being courageous enough to say goodbye, and wish one another well.
It’s the healthy and right thing to do. I believe you will!