Ghosting refers to when someone dating an individual cuts off all communication without any reason or explanation. It can occur between friends or a partner.
What Is Ghosting?
Ghosting is a colloquial term that originated in the early 2000s, which occurs when an individual cuts off all communication with someone without any justification or for no apparent reason at all. In recent times, ghosting has become quite common. According to a recent 2020 study1, ghosting can be defined as a strategy to end a relationship by ceasing all communication with the person. The study explains that the phenomenon refers to “unilaterally access to individual(s) prompting relationship dissolution (suddenly or gradually) commonly enacted via one or multiple technological medium(s).” A report offered various explanations and was found to blame social media, dating apps, or any other relative anonymity medium which makes it easier to sever contact with the individual concerned with little to no social repercussions. There were many psychological reasons why someone resorts to ghosting as a means to end relationships.
It usually arises out of avoidance and usually stems from fear of conflict. At its core, it is a desperate attempt of avoiding confrontations, difficult conversations, and hurting someone’s feelings. Studies found the prevalence rates of ghosting to range between 13% and 23% for those adults who have been ghosted by a romantic partner.
Ghosting on the receiving end can be quite hurtful and can cause intense feelings of rejection. It may also contribute to developing certain mental health conditions such as anxiety which may deflect the ghosted individual to “get back out there” or engage socially. For many people, ghosting is seen as being disrespectful. The ghostee often feels used or unwanted. If the two people have been engaging beyond a few dates, it can be even more traumatic for the ghostee. No one really deserves to be just “blown off” without a goodbye.
Research2 was conducted to understand the types of attachment personalities and choices of breaking up strategies. It was found that people with avoidant type personalities or those who hesitate to form attachments to others, trust, and dependency issues often use these methods to end relationships. People who are believers of destiny or who believe that the relationship is either meant to be or not are more likely to lean towards cutting off relationships without explanations than people who believe that relationships require patience and work. One 2019 study3 also found that some individuals that ghost other people, have often been ghosted themselves. Although they know how it feels to be on the receiving end, they seem to show no empathy towards the other person. According to a 2018 study4, almost 25% of people have been ghosted at some point in their lives. A scientific research5 found that relationships that start online are more common and being ghosted by someone they have been engaging with can make them feel alienated or isolated from their digital communities.
Ghoster vs. Ghostee
Ghosting is not limited to long term relationships. Sometimes informal dating relationships, friendships, or even work relationships may end abruptly without any justification or explanations. The ghoster finds it extremely easy to walk away from a relationship or a potential relationship. The primary intention of conducting this act is that they want no drama, no questions asked, no explanations, no providing answers for justification, or no dealing with the other person’s emotions. It is inevitable that the ghoster may benefit from avoiding an uncomfortable circumstance or drama. But it also confirms the fact they haven’t done anything to improve their own conversations or relationships skills for their future. Scientific studies show that ghosting is emotionally draining for both parties. Research6 shows that it’s the worst way to end a relationship. It can actually lead to even bigger confrontations down the line. Surprisingly enough ghosters pay the price in the long run because frustrated recipients tend to track down and confront ghosters often in social settings such as at work or in front of family and friends.
The person who is ghosted i.e ghostee finds themselves developing feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. Initially, they wonder what’s going on and tend to scrutinize every event associated with that person that leads to being ghosted. They question themselves on what went wrong, why it went wrong, or what’s wrong with them which later develops into feelings of rejection. Self-questioning is also associated with feelings of “how you didn’t see it coming?”. A study conducted in 1970 on understanding the preferred relationship ending strategies found that when a person ends relationships through avoidance is likely to trigger more anger and hurt for the recipient.
Why Do People Resort To Ghosting?
The reason why people ghost can vary depending on the complexity of the relationship and on the individual concerned. However, some of the reasons can be:
Fear of not knowing is a default setting in humans. Some people just decide to end it since they are afraid of getting to know someone new or giving an insight into their life. They may also be scared of what their reaction might be if they break up. A scientific review7 found that this method was adopted as a strategy to dissolve undesired relationships without ever having to break them up.
2. Avoiding conflict and confrontations
Humans are quite sensitive whether they admit it or not. A 2012 study8 found that disrupting a social relationship of any sort can have some effects on their quality of life. Due to this, the individual would rather choose not seeing someone than facing the potential conflict or confrontations that can happen during a breakup.
3. Lack of Connection
If the individual feels like they don’t have as much connection with the other person and there isn’t anything at stake they can resort to ghosting. It may feel like it is not a big deal to walk out of someone’s life they barely know.
4. An attempt to protect themselves
If the individual feels like the relationship has a negative effect on their quality of life, cutting off all ties may seem like a means to protect themselves from further heartbreak. Hence it becomes an attempt of ensuring their own well-being without the drama that comes with breaking up. A 2015 study9 found that it is more likely for those who have invested more time and emotional resources in a relationship may suffer more emotional distress especially if they did not expect the breakup.
5. Lack of Romantic Spark
Sometimes when an individual goes on a couple of dates and suddenly vanishes, it can happen that they feel no romantic spark or it just didn’t feel right. It may also happen that they just weren’t ready to take the next steps and so they decided that ghosting is the easier option to convey the message. A research10 conducted to understand the relationship between experiencing ghosting and commitment towards the online dating app Tinder found that it was due to lack of commitment that they experience after only chatting with the person.
6. Quirks of online dating
Some individuals feel that it is one of the quirks of online dating. Since they don’t have friends in common or weren’t introduced to the other person through some common link, they feel it’s totally okay if they cut all ties. Research1 found that being ignored over the internet is related to:
The Emotional Pain Of Ghosting
A 2013 study15 stated that social rejection activates the same brain chemicals that physical pain activates. In a 2010 study16, it was found that emotional pain can feel like physical pain even when you are not physically hurt. In fact, an individual can reduce emotional pain by taking pain medications like Tylenol. In addition to biological links between emotional and psychological pain, there may be other psychological reasons that may cause distress. Ghosting doesn’t give room to react. The individual can’t decide whether they should be worried, angry, or upset. Staying connected is an important survival instinct that humans live by. Our brain has some set social cues that regulate our behavior. In this case, ghosting deprives the ghostee of such social cues and creates emotional dysregulation where they feel out of control.
The ghostee may also question the validity of the relationship they had. They tend to question their poor judgement of character or why didn’t they see it coming. They may even build up strategies so they may ensure that this kind of thing never happens to them again.
Recovery From Ghosting
For some people, ghosting can be extremely hurtful since there are no explanations, no goodbyes, or no closure, just questions. In case someone suffers from self-esteem issues or abandonment issues, being ghosted further triggers these feelings. A 1998 study17 found that ghosting can affect a person’s self-esteem and can have a negative impact on their current and future relationships. With technological advances, social media has made it possible to view the ghoster’s whereabouts even if they are physically gone from the ghostee’s life.
So how do you move forward when there is a constant reminder right in front of you. It is important to understand that there is no specific guide to get over your ghosted broken heart. But some of these tips may help:
1. Avoid any reminders of your ex/ghoster
They will only aggravate and resurface all the hurtful emotions. Keeping reminders around won’t help you get the closure you need
2. Find a new distraction
Ghosting can be draining so a new distraction can help you to focus on more important things.
3. Avoid blaming yourself
Realize that using ghosting strategies to end relationships says a lot about the other person and not about your shortcomings. Don’t blame yourself and try to analyze why it ended. Blaming yourself will only make things worse. It can even cost your self esteem and confidence.
4. Set boundaries
Lay out exactly what you want before getting into the relationship. Let your partner know if you just want a fling or whether you are interested in something more. Honesty and transparency will help both to plan the relationship accordingly.
5. Set a time limit
You’ve been ghosted. Well, you need some kind of closure. Give them an ultimatum stating via texts that if they don’t return your calls by next week you will assume that it’s over. This will restore feelings of control.
6. Spend time with family and friends
Seek companionship from a trusted friend or a family member who can comfort you.
7. Avoid substance abuse
Don’t try to numb your feelings of pain with alcohol or substance abuse. It is only a temporary fix and if you don’t deal with the feelings you may find yourself dealing with them in your next relationship.
8. Seek help
Don’t be hesitant to seek out a mental health professional who can help you deal with your difficult feelings of rejection and insecurities
Ghosting Is Not A Trend
It is not a trend although technological advances may make someone feel that it’s acceptable to resort to such extreme and hurtful measures. The primary thing to keep in mind is to treat others how you would want to be treated. Cutting off ties without explanation may seem easier but treating people with kindness and respect can go a long way to building better relationships.
- Navarro, R., Larrañaga, E., Yubero, S., & Víllora, B. (2020). Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(3), 1116. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031116
- Marshall, T. C., Bejanyan, K., & Ferenczi, N. (2013). Attachment styles and personal growth following romantic breakups: the mediating roles of distress, rumination, and tendency to rebound. PloS one, 8(9), e75161. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0075161
- Rebecca B. Koessler, Taylor Kohut, Lorne Campbell; When Your Boo Becomes a Ghost: The Association Between Breakup Strategy and Breakup Role in Experiences of Relationship Dissolution. Collabra: Psychology 1 January 2019; 5 (1): 29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.230
- Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting – Gili Freedman, Darcey N. Powell, Benjamin Le, Kipling D. Williams, 2019. (2018, January 12). SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0265407517748791
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- Koessler, Rebecca B., “When Your Boo Becomes a Ghost: The Association Between Breakup Strategy and
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- Ghosting in emerging adults’ romantic relationships: The digital dissolution disappearance strategy – Leah E. LeFebvre, Mike Allen, Ryan D. Rasner, Shelby Garstad, Aleksander Wilms, Callie Parrish, 2019. (2019). SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0276236618820519
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- Van den Berg, E.A.J.L. (478808), Pronk, T., & Nelissen, R. M. A. (2018-2019). Running head: GHOSTING AND COMMITMENT TOWARD TINDER. arno.uvt.nl. https://arno.uvt.nl/show.cgi?fid=148484
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