- Ghosting — the abrupt end of communication with someone — can cause emotional pain akin to physical pain.
- Often, ghosting can actually be predicted, and the eventual pain lessened, if one is paying attention to the other's words.
- A person who ghosts is likely to have been abandoned themselves and to have a hard time not feeling in control of their feelings.
Ghosting is a phenomenon in which, after closeness or intensity in a relationship, the other person blocks all communication and ends the relationship without a formal explanation or a goodbye.
This can be inherently painful, because it is usually unexpected and there is no offer of closure. It’s likely to trigger a myriad of negative feelings as well as experiences of abandonment and ruptures in attachment, leading to feelings of insecurity, low self-worth, anxiety and depression, and even guilt, regret, and shame. It can lead to questioning yourself and what you might have done to contribute to the breakdown of that relationship. Perhaps, we think, we are damaged goods?
Neuroscientists have shown that the areas of the brain involved in perceiving pain are activated just as intensely by emotional pain as by physical injury (Kross et al 2011). Loss and grief of all kinds induce pain and ghosting is no exception.
Whilst being ghosted is painful, and it can be reassuring to believe that it says nothing about your inherent self-worth (Vilhauer, 2015), I’ve learned the hard way — even by close family members — that I could have predicted it. I believe that predicting ghosting will bring us closer to protecting ourselves from its negative consequences. Predicting it will also enable healing, grieving, acceptance, and eventual closure.
The chances are you were already told — either consciously or subconsciously — that there were conditions within your relationship that would increase the probability of being ghosted. If you look back and read between the lines you might see these five common factors:-
- They themselves experienced abandonment abandoned, likely as a child. They told you they didn’t want a serious relationship or commitment. Or they said they just wanted casual sex. They may even have stated the opposite by love bombing you and telling you that you were the love of their life. However, when describing their past relationships, with friends or romantic partners, you'd detect a pattern of them leaving or disconnecting without an explanation, or a pattern of casual sex. Intimacy is more difficult for people who have had early attachment difficulties, such as absent parents, or who have experienced abuse or trauma from the people they were supposed to be able to trust growing up.
- They are avoidant of expressing their feelings. Some people’s feelings are overwhelming for them, or it is difficult for them to give language to the complex emotions they hold. If they weren’t used to an environment in which sharing their emotions was safe, and modeled as acceptable, it could simply be easier to shut down.
- They do not feel accountable for their behaviour. Often people who are ghosting feel justified in their behaviour and are not focused on the impact it might have on you. They are more concerned with getting their immediate need met, which is to cope — through avoidance, distance and space — and so feel justified in ghosting. They may even feel they have been harmed by other more severe behaviours in the past, and do not consider this to be particularly damaging, or at least they underestimate the impact on you.
- You have very different views. You have tried to come to an agreement on a range of issues but clearly differ on fundamental values, thoughts, or hopes for the future. People tend to prefer to be in the company of others who are in agreement or alignment with their own worldview. This helps maintain psychological safety and security. They would rather block you than admit that you might have some valid points or a worldview that may contradict or challenge their own, because this poses a threat.
- They need to be in control of the situation. The impact of the above is that they somehow feel that continuing a relationship with you will disempower them, or create a power dynamic in which they are no longer in control or on top. You didn’t fit within their view of how they saw their own life, or how they saw the relationship going, and they could no longer control your part in their life. If they can’t control it, they would rather be in a relationship in which they can have that control.
When a person ghosts you, it is painful at first. However, if you look back and see any of these five predictors, the ghosting may actually be a positive sign that you have drawn a line and mapped out your own boundaries. For a time — or perhaps forever — you have indirectly filtered them out of your life in their current form through your boundaries and deciding what a healthy relationship means for you. This is likely to have protected you from falling into the trap of seeking love and intimacy from someone who ultimately isn’t able to provide what you need or communicate maturely with the person you have evolved into.
For all the children and adults who experience pain from parents abruptly ending communication with them, and feeling unloved and damaged as a consequence: Doesn’t this say more about them than you, as their son or daughter?