Updated: Apr 6, 2020
In 2011 Wikkipedia brought the term ‘Ghosting’ to the attention of people who were not actively dating, explaining it as withdrawing very suddenly from a relationship with no explanation and no form of contact. By 2015, 50 % of people who were actively dating had either Ghosted or been the victim of this practice and in 2019 there didn’t seem to be any sign that this practice was on the decline.
In my therapy room I’ve found that being Ghosted can leave feelings of confusion and self doubt about the ability to read a situation and to be able to judge character. Just like other forms of passive aggressive behaviour, Ghosting feels like a punitive and emotionally damaging action. Our need to stay connected to others is so vital for our survival that we have developed a system for monitoring the social environment around us by picking up clues and regulate our behaviour accordingly. Ghosting denies us the opportunity for understanding and self regulation, leaving feelings of confusion and out of control. For someone with low self esteem or a difficult attachment history it can feel devastating. Because knowing we exist in another’s mind is a vital part of the attachment system and early years development for those people with a fragile sense of self esteem it can be crushing. It silences us, denying the opportunity to be heard considered and acknowledged. Clients have spoken about feeling used, of feeling like an object, of not existing in any real way. “ the only thing worse than breaking up was the knowledge that someone didn’t even consider me worth breaking up with” . There is sound psychological research which helps explain why being rejected in this way can feel so painful. Jennifer Vilhauer explains in Psychology Today ( why Ghosting hurts so much’, Psychology Today.com/blog ) explains that there is a biological link between rejection and pain. Social rejection activated the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain. Someone with low self esteem produces less natural opioids, a natural pain killer so the rejection will be experienced more deeply and take longer to recover.
'If you have been through multiple ghostings or if your self-esteem is already low, you are likely to experience the rejection as even more painful, and it may take you longer to get over it as people with lower-self-esteem have less natural opioid (pain-killer) released into the brain after a rejection when compared with those whose self-esteem is higher.'
Is the internet to blame for this lapse in dating etiquette ? Historical romantic fiction suggests that this isn’t a new behaviour but perhaps dating apps make it more frequent . Moving on with dignity would be sound advise for those who can shrug it off, but that might not be enough for others who find it difficult to process the affect it's had on them. If it’s not possible to do this alone or find it difficult to get unbiased opinions from friends it might be the right to to find a good counselling service. It won’t change the past but careful non judgemental questions from an experienced therapist will open up and strengthen new ways of thinking. In time and with a new found awareness and confidence, looking back the experience should feel just what it should - a lucky escape.