The Psychological impacts of Ghosting- Why does it hurt so much?
Nobody likes being ignored, especially by someone they adore.
Do you remember as a child when you had misbehaved all day, and your mother had reached the end of her patience, but instead of continuing to shout she gave you the silent treatment? She would give you a disappointed look and shake her head at you. You would feel so terribly guilty and disgusted with yourself that you would immediately go and tidy up all of your Barbies.
For those of us involved in the dating game, there is a phenomenon known as ‘ghosting’ which can evoke some of those same emotions. Ghosting refers to an act of breaking off a relationship by disappearing without warning or justification, avoiding or ignoring and refusing to respond in any way to your former partner’s attempts to communicate. Being ghosted can leave you feeling so desperate to please your former partner and fix the situation you that you would do anything.
My friend, Sarah recently was in a relationship, and she thought everything was great, in fact, it was so great she convinced herself he was the one! They sent their last good night messages to each other confessing their undying love for one another and couldn’t wait to speak the next day. She went to sleep in a romantic haze, humming “dreams can come true” by Gabrielle. But, as she woke, everything in her social media was gone. He had deleted every single photo of them together; he had removed his WhatsApp and his messenger. She tried calling him but no answer, she spoke with his friends who refused to tell her anything about what had happened. Sarah called me to ask was he ever real? She convinced herself that she must have done something terrible to be punished so harshly.
It’s the ultimate incarnation of the silent treatment.
The online dating site Plenty of Fish conducted a survey which found that 80% of the daters between aged between 18-33 had been ghosted.
With so much online communication these days, the effects of ghosting are heightened. If someone upsets you, it is possible to block them from contacting you in all ways; social media; chat apps; phone. The only way I haven’t yet figured out how to block someone is by email, but I’m sure there is a way to do it.
Majority of people now communicate online with social media or chat apps, this makes it easier to forget that the person you’re in a relationship with is a real human being with feelings that can be hurt by your actions.
But why would you Ghost someone? Here are some reasons:-
+ It could be they’re in multiple relationships but couldn’t face telling you weren’t the one, or face up to the guilt of their betrayal so decided to leave instead.
+ Perhaps they are suffering from mental health condition themselves and are finding it difficult to communicate about their feelings. Maybe they are suffering with anxiety about a situation and decided to shut the world out.
+They are fearful of confrontation and lack the communication skills to maturely get out of the situation they have found themselves in.
Many people see ghosting as an easy way out of the relationship. Why go through a difficult conversation when you can avoid it? People who ghost often try to justify their behaviour by suggesting it is less hurtful than highlighting the traits you no longer find attractive in them. In reality, it’s cowardly and immature.
So why does it feel so bad?
According to research being rejected can activate the same pathways in the brain as physical pain, therefore, rejection does actually hurt. There is a medicine that can be taken to reduce the emotional pain of rejection, such as Tylenol. But there is the psychological distress that you have to deal with it too.
The immediate reaction is should you be worried; are they lying in a hospital bed somewhere? Maybe they are busy and will call you any minute. You don’t know how to react to a situation when you don’t know what has happened.
Being ghosted doesn’t make you question the validity of the relationship. But it makes a person doubt themself, leaving lasting effects on the individual’s confidence. There isn’t a prompt that tells you how you should react, resulting in your self-esteem is at rock bottom, wondering what has been so wrong. Were you not attractive enough? Were you too fat or too thin? Were you not intellectually stimulating enough? Perhaps you have halitosis which no one ever told you about?
As there are so many unanswered questions; you are left with residual feelings of anxiety and confusion. You are left powerless to the situation and denied a way of gaining information on how to emotionally process the experience. Not having the closure from a relationship can leave heavy emotional scars.
So how do you move forward?
Six months later Sarah has learnt he is ok, nothing happened to him, his words to her were, “I knew you would cry and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I thought was easier just to leave”. Sarah finally got her answers, but he could have saved her six months of distress. It’s the unanswered questions that affect us the most.
Just remember they do not have the courage to deal with the discomfort of your feelings, they don’t understand the impact of their behaviour, or maybe they just don’t care. They are unable to have a mature, healthy and loving relationship with you. Promise to not be unkind to yourself and to love yourself. Try to remember it has nothing to do with your self-worth; it’s not based on how you look or your personality. Talk to friends and family about how you are feeling, a strong support system can make a world of difference. Try to remember that you didn’t do anything wrong, that you are enough.
If you are the one who ghosted someone it is important to understand you are not responsible for other people’s response but just try to remember that you liked them enough to date them in the first place, so have a little respect and have that slightly awkward conversation with them.