The Psychology Behind Ghosting in Relationships

Synthia Stark

Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash — Sometimes we wish we didn’t have to face a ghoster, but we end up meeting them anyway.

Ghosting occurs when a person disappears out of nowhere, with no warning.

You could be in a romantic attachment with a swell guy. This guy has got it all — the looks, the intelligence, and the chemistry. You get together a few times. You splurge and devote time to this person.

They also spend time with you.

You have a few intimate moments. Sparks fly, and there’s no one in the world to stop you. One thing leads to another…and you’re now texting or calling each other every single day.

You share intimate moments. You’re bursting at the brim for the chance to get to know him better. He’s equally excited, too.

But then one day, you will text him. One day, this person may stop responding. Any requests to see this person go unnoticed, even after many pleas from you. Even attempts from his own immediate friends or family are met with nothingness.

It was as if he never existed. 

Immediate family check out his house — he’s not there. His classmates can’t find him in their class. His social media profiles seemingly don’t exist anymore. Any references to the guy are met with confusion.

Dear friend, this individual has ghosted you, and the entire community, including his own friends, coworkers, classmates, and family. With such masterful skill, he’s done the evilest thing ever.

If only this person used their big brain for the purposes of good.

Photo by Alexis Mora Angulo on Unsplash — Even she’s confused.

While pop culture has tied ghosting to romantic relationships, it could happen to anyone across any sort of relationship. For example, ghosting could happen between two close friends or even between a prospective employee and the company that is about the hire the person. 

These days, more and more human resources professionals are finding themselves in situations where an employee shows up for the first day, just to seemingly never show up, ever again.

Calls to the prospective employee yield nothing and the frustrated hiring manager end up hiring someone else instead, paranoid of a repeat incident, costing the company lots of time, money, effort, and resources. 

Ghosting is not a new phenomenon, despite it being quite a frustrating experience. In one study in 2018, it turned out that over a quarter of all participants had been ghosted by someone at least once or more in their entire lives, while one-fifth had actually ghosted someone themselves.

It’s quite surprising to think that so many people have considered being the ghoster on their end. 

As the current digital communication culture evolves, so will the likelihood of ghosting. It seems easier for others to ghost when all communication is online, but when the ghosting involves real-life parameters, you’re left to wonder: 

  • Is this person still physically around? 
  • Did they go missing? 
  • What happened to them?

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash — Rumor has it that she’s still searching for you.

Why Ghosting Hurts

When you’re in a relationship, you’re committed and you hope that the person on the other end is also equally committed. I mean, it’s a relationship and trust is an important part of that.

When people go through the social rejection associated with ghosting, it can be just as painful as physical pain, meaning that there are deep ties between our emotions, our brains, and our bodies. 

Treating your emotional injuries in a relationship as seriously as a physical injury may help you get a better sense of the pain that you are feeling.

As humans, we like to stay connected to each other and belong to something much greater than ourselves, such as a family, a union, or even a collective fandom. 

We also have our social monitoring systems to help us respond to conversations across various contexts, depending on the environment and the people surrounding it.

As social learners, we get no sense of closure when there’s ghosting, kind of like an infinite version of the dreaded silent treatment. Instead, we end up questioning ourselves and our sense of overall judgement. When this happens, we undermine our self-worth and our self-esteem.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash — The confusion is weighing on her mind.

Examining the Ghoster’s Motives

Sometimes, people may ghost because they are uncomfortable with something. Perhaps this person grew up in an environment where they didn’t properly learn the right skills in their formative years.

Perhaps this person has the right social skills but has had a series of terrible relationships in the past, causing them to flee before the other person can potentially harm them first. 

In response, ghosters simply flee, instead of confronting and facing problems as most people do. However, as adults, avoiding all of our problems by fleeing every single time is really unreasonable. For example, a person shouldn’t be leaving their partner on the altar.

If you find yourself in a situation where you flee all or any relationships, consider the following:

  • Why am I fleeing? 
  • What’s the purpose of fleeing? 
  • How will this other person feel if I fled?
  • Can I communicate my fears to this person?

On the other hand, there may be ghosters who don’t feel any accountability for their actions, either. For example, it’s easier for a bad person to ghost someone under the cloak of online anonymity.

Consider situations where two people are chatting while playing a videogame. Intimate feelings do not have to be shared; both parties are basically playing characters in the videogame. 

Hidden behind the videogame character, it might be easier for the bad guys to get away with ghosting versus someone blatantly not showing up during a fancy dinner date. 

Perhaps this ghoster has become desensitized to the situation, where they tried it out once and have somehow gotten used to wasting people’s time. Either way, it’s not cool and not considerate of others’ feelings.

Photo by Katie Drazdauskaite on Unsplash — She’s really mad at you.

Moving Forward Against the Ghoster 

When a ghoster hurts us, we have to remember that it’s not a reflection of us. Instead, ghosting is a reflection of the person who didn’t know how to react to normal social situations, such as dating and friendships. 

Since they didn’t know how to deal with their feelings, it’s better to have learned about a ghoster’s conniving ways before the first date rather than after marriage. 

Instead, it’s best to keep your focus on the present situation and take some very small steps forward, applauding the fact that you dodged a very scary situation.

Treating your emotional pain as physical pain might make it easier to create a plan for healing, where you can rest and take it easy. In the meantime, distract yourself with lots of activities until you feel ready to move on from the bad relationship. 

Eventually, you will find the right person.

For now, surrounding yourself with close allies, including support groups, online supports, and many more can keep you grounded, especially when you get to focus on your healthy social interactions with friends and family, and work on improving the situation for a better tomorrow. 

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Mental Health Professional | Crisis Responder | Science Writer


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