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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Georgiou

Sympathy for a Ghoster…the recognition and impact of behaviour of people who disconnect.

I just want to clarify before continuing with this reflection, that my opinions on humanistic, trauma focused, person-centred approaches to understanding behaviours, is in no way excusing toxic behaviour traits that are emotionally abusive to others, which ghosting is. Ghosting is also not to be confused with avoiding, disconnecting, or blocking someone that has disrespected your personal boundaries, threatened, abused you in any way or made you feel unsafe.

As we approach the autumn season, one of my favourite seasons of the year, many people start getting excited around discussions of spooky activities, Halloween events, astronomical retrogrades, ghosts and ghouls etc. It invites imagination, creativity, thrills, and frights, for some businesses an increase in group activities of ghost investigations. This ignites imagery for me of watching old Scooby Doo cartoons (the best ones- not the weird remakes I have seen in recent years IMPO) and quoting “If it wasn’t for you pesky kids!” every time a rational conclusion is confirmed, ruining my spiritual narrative of why I can’t find something I just placed down 10 minutes before!


I embrace the cosier, darker nights, hot chocolates and comfy boots, jeans and jumper wearing weather and watching scary movies. But I mostly love autumn for the fresh changes it brings, the warm glow of spicy colours, as a result of nature doing what she does best by providing necessary transformations all around us. But what happens when this time of year, or any time, brings seemingly unwanted changes? What about the type of ghost experience that haunts you in an detrimental, emotional way? When ghosting is about the psychological wellbeing and behaviours of physical people that we connect with?


Ghosting…is no doubt a term most are familiar with, what with it being used frequently in the last decade, especially as a pseudo psychology terminology, that is embracing our social media with force. In its simplicity it means when someone you were in a connection with, whether that is a friend, common acquaintance, someone you are/were romantically involved with or dating, a family member, professional or business, just suddenly withdraws contact and communication from you with no explanation. Although there are no hard-set rules of ghosting, it is apparently enough to categorise that after three days or longer of no response/contact, you have been ghosted. Obviously, it is good to be mindful and consider that there will be genuine situations, where communication has become difficult- people are unexpectedly busy, emergencies occur, and distractions happen etc.


Despite being familiar with the term ghosting, I wondered how many people have an in-depth understanding of the perceptions of being the ghoster, as well contemplating the experiences of the impact of their behaviour may have on the ghostees? With research showing that 80% of the population have experience of being ghosted, is this challenging behaviour trait become a socially accepted modern day normality of something one should just expect and accept at some point in their lives? Or is it something as a society we should be taking more responsibility for?

Some studies have discussed how ghosting often has a more negative impact on mental health than open rejection. Frequently, the victims of being ghosted must endure a hurtful and unpleasant experience, leaving them feeling powerless and confused. Being ignored unexpectedly potentially establishes feelings of abandonment, rejection, despair, and anxiety inducing thoughts of being manipulated, leading to mistrust of others. When people feel deceived, this can also lead to them questioning their self-worth and personality traits. Focusing on a longing need for closure and seeking enlightenment to what it is they may have said or done to be treated so cruelly. In their state of confusion, this may have repercussions on their daily lives, sleeping and eating habits, leading to states of depression and ill health. They may withdraw from social interactions and gain a lack of confidence and trust in their own instincts when creating connections with people. If people are reliant on specific coping mechanisms that involve alcohol or substances, this may be increased, leaving them in a vulnerable position that can be very triggering in remembering child or adulthood traumas, resulting in personality adaptations such as people pleasing, minimising toxic behaviour or even ghosting others.


So why do people ghost, especially when there was love, affection and connection for many to begin with?


Unless it is a genuine safety issue to escape a form of abuse, there is no winner in the ghosting dynamics. The implications of negative impacts to the ghosters’ wellbeing are also nuanced, often leading to realisations of trauma, abandonment issues and questioning personal belief systems. It may be that they were feeling unsafe, have a lack of confidence, self-worth and stunted emotional intelligence and growth. This may result in isolation, feelings of guilt and shame without a safe space to express how they feel. They don’t want to disappoint people or are aware that at that time in their lives they are unable to meet others personal needs, so manage their own shame by withdrawing. This can result in emotional unfulfillment in relationships, often lacking in trust, empathy and general dissatisfaction in life.


Many ghosters often feel overwhelmed when confronted with genuine feelings for someone, especially if this is something that has been previously lacking in their lives and they are unaware of what a healthy, balanced relationship looks or feels like. Avoidant in expressing feelings, and when they do, fear kicks in. It may be that fear of intimacy activates childhood attachment wounds, triggering memories of emotional neglect, unprocessed fears of abandonment, where they could have experienced not being seen or heard and had their own boundaries violated. So, despite what they feel towards the person they are ghosting, which doesn’t always indicate a dislike or no care for them, they allow their pain to navigate their actions.


They may be ignorant to their own needs, failing to grasp the concept of consistency in actions and words and how this builds trust, loyalty, sustainability, and alignment with others. Confrontation is difficult if there has been a difference in views and many struggle with the idea of judgment, therefore avoiding accountability for their behaviour seems like an easier option.


Engagement may be lacking if they have an egotistical, stubborn mindset that encourages themselves to self-sabotage safe connections, because they need to be in control of the situation and have an inability to compromise, creating manipulation techniques or passive aggressiveness when they are in contact. This impedes the ability to emotionally process the experience with another person, advancing a lack of maturity and respect in how to effectively communicate. They may be struggling with understanding the impact of neglecting responsibilities, minimising their own self-worth.


Arguably, these are still choices that ghosters make, but they are considered as natural responses to trauma. For people to explore their behaviours, with the intention of not carrying on hurting others, there needs to be an element of empathy in understanding what happened to the ghosters, to enable responsive emotional development and minimise future harm.


It is not uncommon in romantic relationships, that a trauma bond is formed. This is created when a strong connection is developed, and one constructs a pattern of disappearing regularly or providing minimal contact. This leaves the other party with extreme feelings of pain, panic, anxiety and self-doubt. They may also feel responsibility to try and reassure this person that they are safe, loved and want to guide them to change these behaviours for fear of being rejected again. In response the ghoster frequently follows their disconnections with initiating contact, kindness, flirting, leaving breadcrumbs of emotions, with general love bombing. This creates an addictive high and sense of relief for the receiver. But then they endure the come down of the high when the cycle of trauma continues, until eventually they are permanently ghosted, left feeling depleted and emotionally exhausted.


Interestingly, some recent research in America, has shown associations with how strong, romantic beliefs around the idea of destiny concepts, including notions of soulmates, the ideology that relationships that are meant to be and will work out regardless of external factors, related with feelings more positively towards ghosting, exhibited stronger ghosting intentions or used ghosting to terminate relationships.


Ghosting also highlights gender issues within society, with one example being as form of protection from unsolicited attention. Many women and girls often feel pressured to give their contact details to people, and may be in an environment where they feel to remain safe, they have to appease and co-operate with others. This can then become a ghosting situation if unwanted contact is made after personal details are exchanged.


Whilst much of the advice for victims of ghosting is to accept that no response is a response, find strength and move on, don’t reengage, focus on self-care, and keep reminding yourself it is not about you but them –which is arguably acceptable advice for the majority…but everyone’s individual situation of being a ghoster or a ghostee is unique. Sometimes from their perspective, because of some of the issues mentioned, it is someone’s approach to their own self-care.


Could it be worth considering that there may be exceptions to the rules? If an opportunity arises to heal or reconcile a relationship that is important to you, and is not abusive and safe, then people shouldn’t feel pressured to maintain a set stance, unless they want too of course. Victims shouldn’t feel like they are weak, have failed themselves, let others down, or harbour any guilt over allowing themselves to embrace an opportunity to meet an emotional need that they require. This should of course be done with caution and setting healthy boundaries, discussing your expectations of them contacting you again. Many ghosters may use this as an opportunity to deliver explanations that often pave the way for themselves to feel exonerated, but the difference will be notably in their follow up behaviour and response to follow up questions or conversations. They genuinely may have had circumstances that have since changed or took the time to understand and reflect how their behaviour towards you was inappropriate, with the possibility of making amends that consoles all parties involved. How this is received is entirely the choice of the ghosted individual, it may give them a sense of empowerment to be given a choice to engage or decline further communication. Everyone learns and understands their life lessons at their own pace, there should be no room for victim-blaming, if people do not respond to ghosting in a common or socially expected way.


Having experienced the phenomenon of ghosting myself, I found writing this reflection piece equally therapeutic and jarring. The realisation that the people I love and respected, have chosen behaviours to impact me negatively, is quite a heart-breaking admission to myself. But also, it has given me insight to different perspectives and given me a temporary distraction from overwhelming emotions. As always when trying to understand people and their behaviours, some of the best advice I would give everyone, whether the ghoster or the ghostee, is to focus on honesty, self-care and love, to promote understanding and healing from traumas you have been subjected to. Continue to seek safe support networks that make you feel secure and respected. Maybe then as a society we can change the painful cycle of ghosting. We may even call ourselves modern age ghostbusters-see what I did there 😉.

Credit: cocoparisienne. Woman feeling abandoned on a train

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