Ghosting: Reasons and effects psychologically

Bella Smith

Note from the author:

This material is founded on reliable news and medical information. I should note that I am not a medical professional. In this article, I will share my knowledge but refrain from making any recommendations.

The theories and information discussed in this article are all entirely attributable to their respective sources, including Wikipedia.org, psychologytoday.com, thehealthy.com and verywellmind.com.

Ghosting, also known as "simmering" or "icing," is a slang term for the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all forms of contact with another person and then refusing to respond to that person's attempts to get in touch. Although "ghosting" is typically associated with the digital realm, where a friend or romantic interest ceases responding to messages, it can occur in any social setting.

If someone you're seeing or close with suddenly stops communicating with you, they've "ghosted" you. This could take place in the early stages of a relationship, midway through an existing one, or even in virtual space. It's quite tough to deal with being ghosted, especially when you usually have no idea what caused it or how to act in response.

People have been known to engage in disappearing acts for a long time, but many years ago, this kind of behavior was thought to be limited to a specific type of scoundrel. Today, ghosting is not a new phenomenon. Around half of today's single men and women have been on the receiving end of the "ghosting" phenomenon at some point during their dating lives, and almost as many people have been on the other side of the situation. Despite how prevalent ghosting is, the emotional ramifications can be devastating; people who already have a fragile sense of self-esteem are particularly susceptible to the damage it can cause.

“One day we were fine, texting about the next movie we wanted to watch together, the next day I never heard from him again,” says Lyla Pratt, 24, of Minneapolis.
“Not only did he stop texting, but he blocked me on social media too.” she added.

Her boyfriend of six months is the "he" she is talking about. The two people met through a dating app and hit it off right away, so they quickly stopped seeing anyone else.

“We talked or hung out nearly every day, even through Covid, so it was a huge shock when he ghosted me in November [2020],” she says
“He just stopped answering my texts and calls.”

After giving her a ring with their initials on it for her birthday and regularly sleeping with her, why would he abruptly cut off all contact?

“I have literally not a single clue,” she says.

Adding that there had been no fights or disagreements between the couple before he vanished.

“That’s the worst part, I will never have any closure, I’ll never know why he left me and that really hurts,” she says.

According to Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, author, and expert on abusive relationships, as stated in the article "Thinking of Ghosting Someone? Why You Should Think Again," written by Charlotte Hilton Andersen and medically reviewed by Ashley Matskevich, MD, "ghosting is exactly what it sounds like, it's quietly disappearing from someone's life, like a ghost." As she puts it, "and it can be incredibly hurtful." According to Claire Postl, a licensed professional clinical counselor and certified sex therapist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, "the ghosting" is a term that has gained popularity in online and digital dating to describe when a person you are dating or regularly communicating with disappears without warning or explanation. Ghosting typically refers to the end of a romantic relationship, but it can also refer to the end of a platonic friendship or other relationship.

One-third of U.S. adults admitted to having engaged in ghosting in a 2019 survey conducted by YouGov, an international online market research and data company.

Why do people ghost?

Why would someone opt to cut off all communication rather than just ending the relationship? The simple response is that it is not difficult. According to Postl, many of us are so terrified of confrontation that we will do anything to avoid it. After all, it is a lot simpler to just stop communicating than it is to have a real conversation and get into all of the messy and complicated sentiments that come with being in a relationship, particularly if you have already mentally moved on from the situation.

“Many people weren’t taught what healthy adult communication looks like in relationships so they default to the easiest way out—ghosting,” Durvasula says.
“For some people, it becomes a dysfunctional pattern,” she explains.

According to Postl, it could also be a consequence of the culture surrounding online dating today. Swiping your screen is all that's required to meet new people or start a new relationship. Then, she goes on to say, it stands to reason that people would want the process of breaking up to be as uncomplicated as possible. The practice of disappearing without a trace after a first or second date, or even after simply chatting or texting online, is so widespread that it has become the standard way to bring an interaction to a close. However, the mere fact that it is prevalent does not mean that it is acceptable, particularly when it is used to abruptly end longer-term relationships without providing an explanation, as Durvasula explains.

An article from psychologytoday explains that people who ghost others do so primarily with the intention of minimizing the emotional distress they feel in their own lives; they are not concerned with how their behavior affects the other person. People who have met online are less likely to have mutual social connections, which means that if they break up with one another, it will have less of an impact on their social lives. The more often it occurs, whether to the person themselves or to their friends, the more desensitized people become to it, which in turn makes it more likely that they will do it to someone else.

“I didn't understand exactly how I actually felt at the time, so instead of trying to talk it out, I ghosted.”
“I used to disappear when it was all I thought it was [a fling], or I got scared of finding what I wanted… Or some kind of fear factor from a past relationship kicks in.”
“Looking through the lens of a coward, passive withdrawal from dating seems like the easiest and nicest route… until it’s done to you.”
“I kind of think that it's part of what makes the online dating scene so appealing. Since you don't have friends in common or weren't introduced through some other channel, it's not the end of the world if you just drop off the face of the earth.”
“I, for one, consider myself to be an honest and straightforward person. And yet I’ve ghosted... And I’ve told myself, time and time again, that it’s all the fault of the toxic dating culture we’ve created. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all telling ourselves.”

Effects of being ghosted

It can be extremely hurtful to be ghosted, even by someone you've only interacted with a couple of times. If you were in a long-term relationship with this person and developed real feelings for them, then being ghosted can be excruciatingly painful and leave scars that will last for a long time.

The act of "ghosting" another person according to psychologytoday can leave many people with the impression that they are disrespected, used, and expendable. It can be even more traumatic if you have known the person for longer than just a few dates, especially if you have been intimate with them. When someone we care about and trust breaks off contact with us, it can feel like a severe betrayal on their part.

  • Makes you doubt your self-worth. You are likely to experience feelings of bewilderment, self-consciousness, and concern if you are ghosted. At its worst, it causes you to second-guess and question your sense of self-worth, and it leaves you with a great deal of unanswered questions, which you may then ruminate over. Postl says.
“It can feel like you’re being ‘discarded’ or thrown out and that’s one of the most painful things a person can experience,” Durvasula says.
  • Triggers negative feelings. In addition, when someone ghosts you, it sets off a chain reaction of unpleasant emotions. Ghosting may bring out all of the insecurities that we all have, which is something that affects all of us equally. If you suffer from insufficiency anxiety and someone stops talking to you, for instance, you can conclude that they no longer want to interact with you because you don't measure up. Obviously, there are a plethora of additional reasons why someone would not want to keep dating. However, if you are ghosted, you have no idea what really happened and may end up blaming yourself.
“It’s those unanswered questions that do the damage,” Postl says. “People wonder, ‘What did I do wrong?’ ‘Did something happen to them, are they in trouble?’ ‘Do I need to do something different for someone to like me?’ ‘Are they angry at me?’ which increases self-doubt.”

Effects of ghosting someone else

According to Durvasula, the people who are ghosted aren't the only ones who suffer negative repercussions; the one who does the ghosting also has negative impacts, even if they aren't as visible.

  • Feeling emotionally stunted. As a result of their emotional immaturity, people who have a tendency to "ghost" others often find themselves difficult to form meaningful relationships with others.
  • Lack of empathy and understanding. Moreover, when you ghost someone, you don't get to witness their responses or understand their emotions. In reality, you're just telling yourself a lie by pretending that someone is okay when they're clearly hurting. Sitting with someone who is hurting or in emotional anguish is a powerful thing to do since feelings are what make us human. The good and the bad are equally important in relationships. When you've been with someone for a long enough time that you really care about them, and they do the same for you, it is part of your job to be there for them when they're upset or furious in addition to being there for them when they're happy.
“If this is something you don’t feel you can do, then you need to ask yourself, ‘Should I be in a relationship right now?'” Durvasula says.

Final words

In a world of social media and online dating, we are seeing more and more people ghosting people. We think this is a trend that needs to stop. If you’re tired of dealing with an annoying or clingy person, you may have considered ghosting them. But before you do, you should know that you could be in for a lot of hurt feelings, awkwardness, and disappointment. If you’re thinking of ghosting someone, please reconsider.

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Bella Smith is a Psychology & Human Behaviour enthusiast. She is a freelance writer and has had her written pieces published on a few Wikis and popular sites. People connect with her because of the way she writes, her thoughts and her stories.

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