The Era of Rejection: The Strange Psychology of Ghosting

Last year, a friend from school reconnected with me after seven long years. I did not know her very well, we’d been out of touch for years, but, all of a sudden, none of that seemed to matter. We were talking every day, going on trips together, meeting as often as possible, having sleepovers, and if social media was a reliable source it was evident that we were very close. I was there for her when she was going through a rough patch. She was there to comfort me in my time of pain. Life was fun. And then one day, she disappeared. She stopped replying to messages. She stopped answering calls. She wasn’t even home when my friend and I landed at her house to check on her. As far as I knew, she could be dead somewhere, and as horrible as it is to admit, a part of me wished that were true. At least, there would be a reasonable explanation behind why we never heard from her again.

This was my first experience of being ghosted, and while I was in shock and disbelief, a part of me just resigned to the way things turned out to be because, to be honest, ghosting is no more a rare occurrence, it has become a widespread cultural phenomenon.

shutterstock_627623021Ghosting is the act of ending a relationship without saying goodbye – without saying anything at all. The person just vanishes without a trace. No phone calls. No texts. No explanations. Nothing. No matter how many times you call or text, there is absolutely no response. What hurts the most is the fact that until the ghosting happens, you actually believe that it’s going very well and the other person actually cares for you.

As a mental health professional, I see at least four clients a month who have been victims of ghosting. Even though ghosting is very common these days, the emotional effects can be devastating, and especially damaging to those with already a fragile sense of self-esteem.

I pride myself to be a strong person. I’ve never been a person who needs long and fond farewells. As someone who has been constantly on the move, never really settling down in one place or one group for long, I was surprised by the extent to which the ghosting bothered me. I wondered for days and weeks what I had done wrong. Had I become so busy with my life that she felt ignored? Did she not like the way I’d “rescued” her from her abusive relationship? Had I played rescuer to someone who didn’t want to be rescued? I had to tell myself something, otherwise, I knew I’d go crazy wondering what happened.

And as much as I hate to admit, despite having a somewhat acceptable explanation for why she did what she did, it still bothers me – and it’s been months, over a year…And if I am having such a difficult time with ghosting, I can only imagine what someone already battling issues like anxiety and depression will feel like if they fall prey to being ghosted. I remember apologizing to my friend a number of times asking her if I’d done something that ticked her off. I tried reaching out to her in a million different ways. But the emails, texts, and messages – they all went unanswered. I was upset with the way it ended because it made me question very basic things: had we even been friends in the first place? Who are my real friends? Who can I trust? What if someone else ghosts me in the same manner? I know I was being silly but this is what ghosting does to you – it makes you think crazy things. For a long time, I thought that I had lost my mind. I wish we’d had some fight and ended things – at least I would have got closure and moved on. I spent a long time analyzing what exactly happened, but to be honest, even now, I am not really sure.

A lot of my clients ask me: What kind of people ghost? As much as I would like to say that people who ghost are only concerned about their own emotional discomfort rather than thinking about how it makes the other person feel, and they are cowards, the truth is that in today’s era, everyone ghosts. We live at a time where instant gratification is the norm, and immediacy over intimacy is valued. Thanks to dating apps like Tinder and TrulyMadly, we live in a world governed by left and right swipes, and the moment things don’t seem to be going in a favourable manner, we just swipe left and unmatch, instead of talking things over and trying to make things work, because there are so many more fish still in the sea.

The person who has been ghosted does feel a huge amount of pain because at some level they feel used. The experience can also be traumatic for many people, and the reason behind why people feel so bad when they are ghosted is that social rejection activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain. It also leaves you in an ambiguous territory. You do not know how to react because you have no idea what happened. On one hand, you are so mad and upset, on the other hand, you are wondering if the other person had some freak accident and is lying in a hospital somewhere. In my case, my friend had been unwell for a long time and was busy frequenting doctors until she completely disappeared. Ghosting disrupts a person emotionally, and one of the most sinister aspects of ghosting is that it does not just cause you to question your relationship with that person and its validity, it makes you question yourself. How could I not see this coming? I’ve seen her do this to others; how could I be such a poor judge of character? How did I cause this? What can I do to ensure this never happens to me again? All these questions going on in the head are evidence that ghosting just shakes our self-worth and self-esteem.

This form of emotional cruelty is nothing more than a passive-aggressive tactic that leaves psychological bruises and scars. But, if you’ve been a victim of ghosting, remember that it has nothing to do with your worthiness for love, and everything to do with the person doing the ghosting. They don’t have the courage to deal with the discomfort of their own feelings and yours, and they lack the maturity to understand the impact of their behaviour, or worse, they just do not care. No matter what the reason, the message they end up conveying through this act of ghosting is that they are not ready to have a real, meaningful, healthy relationship and because you deserve better, you should move on. Easier said than done but do not shut down to other relationships. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, do what makes you happy, keep your heart open and focus forward.

And if you are a ghoster reading this post, do remember that accountability is a very important aspect of every relationship; and if you’ve had the courtesy of saying ‘hello’, it isn’t too difficult to say ‘good-bye’.

Have you been ghosted? How did it feel? Leave your comments below: I would love for you to be a part of this conversation…

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