It’s officially the best month of the year! I might be biased because I’m born in October. But objectively speaking, most people love this month even if their birthday isn’t in it. For one, October comes with beautiful fall foliage, pumpkin spiced lattes if you’re into that kind of thing, and all the fall-scented candles your heart desires. It’s also homecoming season, despite the pandemic robbing us of tailgates for the past two years. But most importantly, Halloween is in October and that comes with watching all your fave scary movies and fun costumes to dress up in. It’s the time of the year where witches, goblins, ghosts, and any other mythical creatures we enjoy, get their shine. But unfortunately, ghosts are not only coming out in October, they’re becoming an all-year-round occurrence.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in online dating. During the lockdown, when everything was closed and restricted, online dating was the safest option to meet new people and still have a dating life. Even though people are back outside, online dating is still popular. With the surge of online dating has also come an increase in “ghosting” as well. The phrase refers to someone who cuts all ties and contact with someone, without any explanation of why, essentially “vanishing like a ghost.” While ghosting isn’t a new term, it has definitely become more popular, since more people have been doing it. Odds are if you’re reading this, you’ve either been ghosted yourself, ghosted someone else, or know someone who has experienced it. Just because it’s becoming increasingly more common, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, or healthy for that matter. As a therapist witnessing the dating scene through my clients’ experiences, as well as my own, I often worry about how this current dating culture is impacting our mental health. Of course this is not to say that ghosting is only limited to romantic relationships. Friends, family members, and co-workers can all experience ghosting in their relationships as well. Regardless of the context of the relationship, ghosting can be hurtful and detrimental to the person being ghosted, as well as the ghoster. So what are these psychological factors that come into play? Glad you asked, let’s take a look.
Impact on The Ghosted
When we think of the impacts of ghosting, we usually think of the person on the receiving end. Being ghosted can be a really traumatic experience, depending on the nature of the relationship. For one, it typically happens suddenly and without any communication or explanation. So you’re left without any closure or understanding of what happened. This sudden loss can bring up feelings of abandonment or mistrust. Not to mention, since ghosting doesn’t come with any explanations, it’s easy to blame yourself for what happened. You may begin to wonder if there was something you did wrong or anything you could have done differently. On a deeper level, you may question if there is something innately wrong with you, or why you’re not enough. Self esteem can be heavily impacted by this experience and cause you to doubt yourself, and what you bring to the table. Another emotion that being ghosted can evoke is anger. As humans, we like to be able to make sense of our circumstances. So when something is unknown, it can be difficult for us to handle. We become angry and frustrated when we don’t have the answers. It is also completely understandable to be angry at whoever ghosted you. Since they couldn’t communicate their emotions, you’re left trying to put the pieces together, which can feel frustrating and unfair.
My biggest concern around ghosting is how it can impact someone’s attachment style. As someone who wrote their undergrad thesis on attachment styles, and absolutely loves the book Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, attachment styles are my JAM. Given all of the examples I gave on how ghosting can impact our mental health, such as bringing up feelings of mistrust, abandonment, anxiety, it’s also likely to make you either anxious or avoidant in your relationships. If the person that ghosted you was someone you have known for a while, made memories with and trusted, their sudden departure from your life can make you wary of letting anyone else in on that level. Thus leading you to avoid intimacy and closeness with others altogether, or be anxious about the other interpersonal relationships you currently have. It may be difficult to trust that others in your life will not ghost you as well, so you’re constantly preoccupied with the relationship, people-pleasing, or how others may perceive you. On the other hand, it may make you decide to avoid intimacy or cut people off before they get a chance to hurt you. Either way, ghosting does not create a secure base for relationships.
Tips for the Ghosted
Ghosting is hurtful, regardless of the type of relationship. When it’s a romantic person of interest, it can be a little easier to brush off if you were just casually dating. But if the person who ghosted you is a friend, family, or co-worker, that can be even more difficult to wrap your mind around. Odds are, you will be around them or run into them again eventually. If you have been ghosted, I want to remind you that most times, how people treat you is not a reflection of you or your worth, but more about their internal struggles. Getting ghosted means that person lacked communication skills or the ability to express their emotions to you before making a decision that would impact both of you. If they had expressed boundaries or concerns in the past, but they were left ignored then that may give you an idea of the reasons behind their actions. I would advise you to reflect on the relationship, and if there was anything that you could have done to make the relationship better, take note of it. Don’t blame yourself or beat yourself up, but just take note of ways to improve your relationships with others. If you never received any complaints or concerns, hopefully, you can find peace that the relationship ended for a reason. Eventually, this experience can be a lesson learned and a reminder of what you do not deserve.
Impact on the Ghoster
It may be difficult to consider that the ghoster’s mental health can also be impacted by ghosting, since they’re the ones making the decision to do so. The assumption is that they get to walk away from the relationship without any explanation, and go on to be carefree and untouched by the ending of the relationship, but that is not always the case. One of the main mental health factors that play a role in ghosting someone is that they have poor communication skills. This can be due to never seeing healthy communication modeled for them. The ghoster is not emotionless, just does a poor job of expressing whatever emotions they do have. Or, similar to the people that get ghosted, they could also experience anxiety and low self esteem, it just presents differently. Instead of feeling anxious that their partner will leave, they may feel anxious for someone to get too close. Or they may have low self esteem, and difficulty setting boundaries. So instead of communicating, or believing that their needs are valid, they believe it would be easier to not say anything at all and just disappear. They may assume their needs won’t be met, or they would prefer to avoid confrontation and not be the bad guy. However, by not providing any insight into their emotions, they leave whoever they did ghost, left to blame them anyways.
Tips for the Ghoster
My biggest suggestion for the ghoster is to communicate. While ghosting may seem like the easier and less dramatic way out of a relationship, it does nothing for you. You don’t learn how to problem solve, or communicate effectively by leaving relationships without any explanation. It may be difficult to express your emotions or confront someone, but it will be better for you in the long run, if you want to have successful interpersonal relationships. I think it’s also important to remind you that your feelings and boundaries are important. Don’t assume they will just be dismissed, and therefore you shouldn’t speak on them. Speak upon how you’re feeling so that at least people can know what they do that upsets or hurts you. Now if you have expressed these emotions before, and they have been ignored then I can understand that ghosting or cutting someone off feels like the best thing to do. We live in a generation where cutting off people to protect our peace is glorified. As long as you express that you have reached your boiling point, and are choosing to no longer interact with the person in order to save your peace. Setting boundaries can also be a helpful way to protect your peace without cutting off everyone who does something you don’t like. If you continue to ghost people, you may begin to feel alone or isolate yourself. Isolation can breed negative thoughts, sadness, and more. So instead of continuing the pattern of isolating or running away, find a healthy way to express yourself.