A few years ago, I met a young woman who needed help moving on from a relationship which had ended two years previously. As Leanne began to tell her story, I learnt that she’d met a man through a colleague and they’d began dating soon after. What followed was, as she described, one of the most romantic, intimate relationships she’d ever experienced. One morning, six months later, he left her apartment to go to work and that was the last she ever saw of him. After calling and messaging him numerous times and receiving no reply, she was sent into a tailspin of thoughts and fears – ‘Did he have a serious accident? Did I hurt him in some way? What did I do wrong? Was the relationship not as special as I thought it was? Did I mean nothing to him?’ Two years later, whilst she’d dated a few men since, she was too scared to enter into a serious relationship and these same questions still lingered, unanswered.
Ghosting is a term which emerged in the early 2000’s and refers to the act of disappearing from someone’s life without explanation. Whilst the term tends to be associated with romantic relationships, ghosting may occur with friends, family members and colleagues. If you’ve ever been ghosted by someone you cared about and whom you thought cared about you, its emotional and psychological impact needs no explaining. However, knowing how damaging ghosting can be, I’m going to do so anyway, in the hope that anyone reading this who’s been ghosted can start moving towards closure.
At the risk of sounding rather dramatic, I like to describe ghosting as a form of emotional or psychological torture simply because its impact can be deeply damaging and traumatic. What we see in ghosting is someone being abandoned or rejected without the benefit of an explanation to help them begin the emotional work involved in grieving and eventually moving on. Instead, the person is left with a myriad of unanswered questions, many of which involve self-blame, self-doubt and confusion. It’s particularly damaging for people with low self-esteem or those who’ve experienced abandonment and rejection as children. Ghosting can, in fact, trigger old wounds and previous traumatic experiences.
If you’ve been ghosted, I’d like to offer you the following guidance:
Go easy on yourself
Whilst the natural tendency after being ghosted is to blame yourself, I can assure you that this person’s behaviour says a lot more about them than it does about you. Ghosting is a means of protecting oneself at the expense of the other person’s emotions and well-being. It allows someone the chance to avoid the discomfort of explaining why they wish to end the relationship as well as facing the reaction of the other person. You may have many wonderful, shared memories. However, you may want to think about whether someone who’s shown a blatant disregard for your feelings is really worth your time and energy.
Allow yourself to grieve
As much as I’d like you to get out there and enjoy life again, don’t forget that, as with any loss, you also need to grieve. This means allowing yourself to feel whatever comes up – disappointment, betrayal, anger, sadness, emptiness, loss. You may find writing a journal may help. A useful tool is to write a letter to the person who ghosted you, telling them everything you’re feeling and thinking. Once finished, tear it up into tiny pieces and throw it away. You may need to complete this exercise a number of times, using it as a ritual towards moving on.
Avoid the temptation to message or ‘stalk’ through social media
Since you weren’t given any indication that something was wrong, getting your head around why someone would just vanish without explanation isn’t easy. Quite understandably, you may want answers so as to make sense of what’s happened and why. However, if you’ve already sent numerous messages and not received a reply, chances are that this person has no intention of ever providing you with an explanation. Whenever you’re tempted to send a message or follow the person who ghosted you on social media, remind yourself that you deserve better and then distract yourself with something you enjoy – call a friend, watch your favourite series, read a book, go for a jog, and so on.
Take your power back
When we’re mistreated or rejected, it can be quite a blow to our self-esteem and we may question our worth. Whilst this is a natural immediate response, you need to remember that no-one has the power to decide another person’s worth. Everyone is unique and special in their own way. Nevertheless, there will always be people who don’t like you or choose not to have a relationship with you. This is no reflection of your worth as a person, it is simply their opinion of you. If you notice yourself questioning your worth or beating yourself up, be aware that this experience may have triggered earlier experiences of feeling worthless. Remind yourself that you are enough just as you are and try to be kind and compassionate with yourself. Try repeating these mantras – ‘I am good enough; I love and accept myself just as I am; Not everyone will like me and that’s okay’.
Reach out for support
This is not a time to isolate yourself, particularly if you tend to over-think. Call someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. Spend time with people who care about you and who remind you of your worth. If the experience of being ghosted has left you feeling particularly bereft and struggling with painful emotions, it may be wise to seek the support of a psychotherapist. Psychotherapy can give you the space to talk about whatever it is you’re feeling and support you in slowly finding closure and moving on.