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How to Recover from Being Ghosted, Breadcrumbed, or Played

Maintaining integrity and regaining power.

Key points

  • Reclaiming our integrity helps us heal after being played, ghosted, or breadcrumbed in our careers as well as relationships.
  • Understanding our own integrity and character strengths can be gained by observing how we keep our commitments to others and ourselves.
  • Taking a strengths-based approach to healing from the distress of ghosting or breadcrumbing restores our integrity and helps us set intentions.
Pexels, Evelina Zhu
Source: Pexels, Evelina Zhu

Through no fault of our own, too often, the bottom falls out of the commitments we strive to uphold. We’re left holding the bag, disappointed by the lack of commitment or follow-through from those we count on at home and at work. The demands of living in pandemic times could be making us more tentative and noncommittal while our reliance on smartphones allows us to easily back out at the last minute. Fast, flaky, and empty promises seem to come around and go around, making the world feel unsolid and unstable.

Research shows how our well-being and mental health can be damaged by noncommittal behaviors such as “disappearing acts” by others (ghosting), no-shows, unreturned voicemails, being strung along (breadcrumbing), or unfriending. This cold, transactional behavior is increasing everywhere and it’s tempting to just give up on human decency. Changing social norms at our workplaces and in our personal relationships are enabled on apps that invite us to treat each other badly with one-click solutions. We feel forced to lower our expectations of considerate correspondence. “Why bother?” “Who cares?”

“That employer just strung me along for months—and then hired someone in-house.” “Not even a simple thank you for all that time I gave them.” “She was one of my best friends, but for some strange reason, she just never called me back—never heard a word.”

“Does anyone get back to you anymore?”

In this world full of uncertainty, broken commitments, and erratic behaviors, we are starving for reliable people who live with integrity. Given these ambiguous times, we might not always be able to count on others, but could we count on ourselves to hold on to our own reliability and integrity? When others have let us down, don’t we owe it to ourselves to show up for ourselves? Showing up, even if no one else does, that’s essentially what integrity means. C.S. Lewis may have said it best: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” (This quote is widely attributed to Lewis, although some scholars disagree about whether he said these exact words.)

Merriam Webster defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”

We can begin to honor our own integrity by first acknowledging that we have truly been affected by ghosting, breadcrumbing, and other pitfalls of noncommittal behavior. Even though we’re supposed to believe that “not taking it personally” is the answer for any disrespectful act, the truth is that it does hurt when we are ghosted, played, or betrayed because human beings are hardwired for it to hurt, as neuroscience shows. It is important that we take a kind look at our grief, or the sense of disappointment and distress that comes with dashed hopes, a sense of betrayal, or the sting of rejection.

As a former rehabilitation counselor, relying on what is hailed in our field as a strengths-based approach, I encouraged my clients to recognize their integrity and moral courage when they had been let down by others or downright rejected. Even when they couldn’t count on others, they could count on their integrity by naming the ways they had done the right thing (“worn the big pants”) day in and day out, “even when no one was watching.” By validating their own character strengths that were put to action in their everyday accomplishments, they could attest to their integrity. This recognition of their own mettle gave them peace of mind at the end of the day, even if they had only muddled through.

Especially on days when we’ve been ghosted or breadcrumbed, we can give ourselves this guidance: Believe in your integrity and keep true to your word (even if no one else does). Why should you lose your standards, your values, and your character over people who don’t care? At the end of a tough day, we can find a sense of serenity by counting the times we did show up to our challenges, even in small, brave steps: returning a phone call, sending a belated birthday card to our aunt, clearing up a misunderstanding with a co-worker, following up with a sincere thank you note.

And on a deeper level, we can console ourselves by appreciating the truly reliable, committed people around us—the teachers, nurses, cousins, neighbors, friends, co-workers—who do show up, keep up, and hang in there when all else fails. They do the right thing almost every day, even when no one is watching. It’s high time we did watch them, notice, and recognize those unexciting qualities that don’t get attention on Instagram, Youtube, or Facebook. And more importantly, it’s well past time that we recognized these “boring” reliable qualities in ourselves, the grit of our integrity, our mettle. The stuff that might not get “likes” but holds us through the worst of times.

More than anything else, vowing to uphold our integrity is a rewarding way to get back our power after being treated disrespectfully. We can set our intentions not to ghost or breadcrumb anyone, nor thoughtlessly flake on others—no matter what everyone else does. We don’t need to cave and play along with the pressure of social media. Selfish behavior ends by doing what we believe is responsible. (On rare occasions, we may need to ghost someone for our own protection when we are unsafe or being abused. For more, see this post.)

Recognize Your Integrity in Action

When facing your daily commitments and challenges, you frequently put your integrity into action. Below are a few ways you can recognize your integrity.

Fill in the blanks with your first thought or response:

1. You recently muddled through an awkward and confusing situation, but you still held on to your ____.

2. This week someone flaked on you, but you came up with a quick alternative because you are ____.

3. Let’s hear it for making sure the “show must go on” even when you had to ____.

4. Every day you wear the “big pants” (even if no one else does) because you’re ____.

5. You could have lost your temper in a tense moment with someone but kept true to your belief in ____.

All five of your answers indicate behaviors and reliable traits that reflect your own integrity. Understanding and appreciating the integrity of your character can help you move forward after someone has let you down, played, or betrayed you.

    Conclusion: A Tiny True Story

    Perhaps we might be able to thoughtfully confront a person who has ghosted us (with no expectations of a response, of course). Indeed, I recently confronted an old friend on Messenger who appeared to have ghosted me. I had sent her messages for four weeks about visiting her 650 miles away. I was worried and hurt, but kindly asked the big question: “Did you ghost me by any chance?” Sadly, I didn’t hear back from her and fretted that I didn’t have her number or email address. Left hanging and rattled, I soon arrived in her town to see my relatives. Then, to my great relief, she called the next morning. Alas, her old Messenger app didn’t work any longer, she explained in exasperation, so we’d completely lost contact. Fortunately, she had tracked down my cell number while I was in town. She was shocked that I thought she had ghosted me. We had a good laugh and she agreed that I had real reasons these days to give up and assume I’d been ghosted. “But I’d never do that to anyone,” she reassured me. “You know I’m not that kind of person.”

    I chimed in, “And neither am I.

    By honoring our integrity, we give the world our own solid ground to build strong relationships. In short, we feel good, right down to our bones, when we make good on our word.

    Facebook image: Chanintorn.v/Shutterstock

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