When I say the word ghosted, what is your first reaction? Did you cringe for a minute? Did a flash of anger bubble up inside as you are reminded of a time when this happened to you? Are you scratching your head trying to recall a Halloween prank involving sheets? For those who are unfamiliar with the term, let me paint a picture.
Let’s say you meet someone, maybe on a dating app or at a local wine bar. You hit it off and exchange numbers. After a few successful phone conversations, you make plans for that first date. You arrive at the restaurant, but your date is nowhere to be found. After a few minutes, you start texting, making sure they are ok, confirming the address and time you were supposed to meet- and nothing. No response.
You take a couple of breaths and decide to give your date a 30-minute window. As you sip on a glass of wine, you begin creating fake scenarios in your mind- maybe he got into a car accident, locked himself out of the house (with the phone inside of course), maybe I completely fabricated this date in my imagination.
After your second glass of wine, you embarrassingly ask for the check and walk to your car defeated. By this time, the fake scenarios have turned to rage and that second glass of wine has given you a little bit of liquid courage. You call your date to ask, “What the hell happened?” but it goes straight to voicemail. You drive home blasting some cheesy 80’s love ballads as you think about what you could have done wrong. You decide to give it a night and you expect to see a returned text message or call with an explanation. But days go by, with no messages or calls.
This, my friends, is a classic example of ghosting. But beware- ghosting is not limited to romance. Ghosting can happen in the workplace, with family and friends, in partnerships, and even with clients and prospects!
We can all think of a time when things were going along perfectly, and then poof, the person goes ghost and disappears! Communication is abruptly cut off, with no explanation or reasoning. I’m sure you can still feel the sting just thinking about it. Ghosting is a scary, hurtful, anxiety provoking experience that can completely shatter the confidence of the person on the receiving end.
Ghosting happens for a variety of reasons, but the most important takeaway here is, the ghosting is never about you! When people ghost, it’s always about them. Ghosting is a strategy engaged by people who lack emotional maturity and therefore don’t know how to have difficult conversations. Let’s refer back to our earlier example.
Your date could struggle with feelings of shame and inadequacy which propel a fear of rejection. Your date could have unresolved trauma inflicted by someone close to him, and the idea of connection and vulnerability stirs up a deep rooted fear of abandonment. Or maybe your date simply was no longer interested, maybe he even met someone new. Regardless of the root cause, your date was not emotionally evolved enough to overcome the discomfort of communicating his feelings, so he was left with one alternative: avoidance.
Being able to identify one’s emotions, and choosing to express them for the sake of living with integrity, is a skillset that is honed throughout one’s life. Sometimes in a romantic relationship, with friends and family, or in the office, there are times when authenticity feels too difficult and too uncomfortable, leaving ghosting, or avoidance, as an alternative solution.
This pattern of behavior is also referred to as avoidant or anxious attachment style. If you want a good read on this subject, I highly recommend the book, Attached. By: Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S.F. Heller M.A for a broader perspective on attachment styles and how they show up in all of our relationships both personal and professional.
Of course, understanding why ghosting occurs doesn’t completely remove the sting, so... what can you do to heal from ghosting?
Take an old shoe box or a mason jar and put everything that reminds you of the ghost inside- pictures, momentos, etc.- and store it out of sight. This applies to your professional life as well. Create a file and remove the emails, notes, and documents from everyday sight.
If this experience of ghosting was extremely painful, you’ll want to avoid any triggers during your healing process. BLOCK, BLOCK, BLOCK their number, detox your social media of this person, and consider going the extra mile of distancing yourself from any mutual friends and connections.
Allow yourself space and time to process what happened. You are allowed to feel all the “feels” about this. Resisting those feelings will only make it harder for you to move on from it.
Get all your feelings out in a letter to the person- but don’t send it. This is a Free Association exercise. Put a timer on and for ten minutes just write non-stop about everything you’re feeling, everything you wanted to say, and everything you didn’t get to say. Purge it out of you. Then put it in the jar and store it away or destroy it.
It’s important that you stay connected to people during the healing process and not lock yourself in the haunted house of your mind. When we feel connected to people and engage in meaningful activities, we are less likely to allow the ghosts to haunt us.
Try to meditate daily. Focus on what you want in your life and in your relationships. Create daily affirmations to manifest your dreams into reality. Follow your passions and embrace the things that you love. Change the sheets or flip the mattress, put on your favorite music, dance around your living room, eat the piece of cake, take a risk, try something new, and do more of whatever makes you feel empowered.
You can ghost yourself when you too avoid confronting what is difficult, painful and uncomfortable. This can prevent you from setting and maintaining healthy boundaries or taking care of yourself physically or emotionally. For some, this can lead to toxic behavior such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs, excessive spending and indulgent money habits, or allowing chronic abuse- including letting the ghosts back in time after time. If you find yourself in this space, you can start asking questions like:
The most important relationship you will have in life is the one you have with yourself. Continue to nurture it. And when you encounter a ghost, remember that it’s not about you- some people are just not ready to confront uncomfortable feelings, or have dialogue on difficult subjects. Try not to ruminate over it too much and instead focus your energy on your own healing process.