What is ghosting ?
Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal or professional relationship with someone suddenly ; and without explanation ; by withdrawing from all forms of communication and interaction.1
The term originated in the early 2000s, typically referring to dating and romantic relationships. In the following decade, media reported a rise in ghosting, which has been attributed to the increasing use of social media and online dating apps.2
Ghosting as a term may be seen as a new term within our culture and digital age, however it has been round for several years. Almost seem as a form of silent treatment, a form of behaviour of suddenly disappearing from someone’s life without so much as an explanation, call, email, or text. A common phenomenon in the modern dating world, and also in other social and professional settings.3
The first use of Silent treatment as a form of torture, was used in prison reforms around 1835, the silent treatment was used in prisons as an alternative to physical punishment, as it was believed that forbidding prisoners from speaking, calling them by a number rather than their name4
Ghosting is by no means limited to romantic relationships. Informal dating relationships, friendships, even work relationships may end with a form of ghosting.
Ghosting in personal relationships
People primarily ghost in relationships as a way of avoiding emotional discomfort they are having in a relationship, and are generally not thinking of how it will make the person they are ghosting feel.
Ghosting in employment
Ghosting in employment often refers to a person who interviews for a job and is led to believe there is a chance of getting the job, then no acknowledgement of the position being filled is ever conveyed to the interviewee5
The term has also been used in reference to people accepting job offers and cutting off contact with the potential employer, as well as employees leaving their jobs without any notice.6
Ghosting is emotional abuse
If you or someone you love has been emotionally abused by someone, you’ll recognise the terms of ghosting , silent treatment or even gaslighting. These are terms used for how we are treated by people who reject or ignore us, and then make it seem like we’re overreacting. Ghosting is been termed a real form of emotional abuse7
Ghosting can cause you emotional distress. It can causes you to question yourself, which can be devastating to your confidence and self-esteem. Despite how common ghosting is, the emotional effects can be devastating, and particularly damaging to those who already have fragile self-esteem or history of emotional abuse or trauma.
Ghosting deprives you of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship and makes you over think and experience further negative emotions , as you try identify why you have been ghosted in the first place. It makes you second guess yourself & cause you to feel terrible about yourself and diminish yourself worth.8
Why Do People Ghost?
According to results from two 2018 studies, around 25 percent of people have been ghosted at some point.9
The most common cause of ghosting in a personal relationship is to avoid emotional discomfort in a relationship. A person ghosting typically has little acknowledgement of how it will make the other person feel. Ghosting is associated with negative mental health effects on the person on the receiving end, and has been described by some mental health professionals as a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.10
People ghost for a variety of reasons. Relationship experts and psychologists agree that people who ghost are avoiding an uncomfortable situation. This evasion, while perceived as a lack of regard, is often because they feel & believe it’s the best way to handle their own distress or inability to clearly communicate11
Ghosters themselves may admit they don’t want to hurt you ;or they don’t know what to do – and avoid communication as they find it very difficult to discuss their true feelings or may in fact feel hurt or betrayed by you. Sometimes they don’t think discussing a situation was necessary or they became scared avoiding interaction all together . Ghosting can be seen as a passive way to withdraw.12
For the person who does the ghosting, simply walking away from a relationship, or even a potential relationship, is a quick and easy way out. No drama, no hysterics, no questions asked, no need to provide answers or justify any of their behaviour, no need to deal with someone else’s feelings. Certainly, while the ‘ghoster’ may benefit from avoiding an uncomfortable situation and any potential drama, they’ve done nothing to improve their own conversation and relationships skills for the future13
Your brain suffers when you are ghosted .
Physical and emotional pain are on the same neural pathway in the brain.
Studies have shown that social rejection of any kind activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain, meaning there’s a biological link between rejection and pain.14
According to research studies, social rejection can cause the same level of pain that an injury to the body would cause because the pain is activated in the same region of the brain.
Staying connected to others has evolved as a human survival skill. Our brains have what’s called a social monitoring system that uses mood, people and environmental cues to coach us how to respond situationally. But when you get ghosted, there’s no closure, so you question yourself and choices which sabotages self-worth and self-esteem.
This may help explain why many people try to numb the hurt they’re feeling by drinking alcohol or taking other drugs or medications. What they’re doing is really just numbing the part of the brain that is creating feelings of emotional distress.15
When you get ghosted, it immediately triggers a stress response. You immediately go to worst case scenarios & jump to conclusions that you might jump to without sufficient evidence. Since stress decreases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of your brain, where rational thought occurs, it might even feel like you’re having trouble thinking clearly. So if you quite literally don’t know how to process the sudden lack of contact.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is the fact ghosting can also trigger feelings similar to fear. 16
How to Cope When You’ve Been Ghosted
Below are some suggestions/tips on how to cope. If you find that you are unable to do cope on your own and you need assistance to deal with the negative emotional effects of being ghosted , please reach out to a professional who can help you articulate the complex feelings you may have; providing you with coping strategies.
Below are some tips :
- Set personal and professional boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries is about teaching people how to treat you and what you deem unacceptable behaviour, so clearly being able to communicate how you expect to be treated ( and treating the other person the same way)
- Give the other person a time limit to come back to you
Take time to really consider if you have been in deed been ghosted or not. Have you jumped to conclusion? Perhaps they are truly busy and really have not had the time or chance to get back to you as yet)
- Don’t automatically blame yourself
So often we are quick to blame ourselves for something that we may or may not have done. Be rational about what occurred and the reason you may think someone is ‘ghosting you’.
- Don’t “treat” your feelings with substance abuse ( drugs/alcohol)
- Sometimes the other person is unsure of how to communicate , act or behave .
- Try be empathetic and understand why they are behaving in this manner, this doesn’t mean you condone the behaviour but helps you to see things from a different light
- Spend time with friends or family and those that uplift you.
- Take some time to reflect and journal how you feel / working through the trauma of being ghosted
No doubt that being ghosted by someone you care about/ or work with is really upsetting.
Don’t let their actions make you doubt yourself, the fault lies entirely with them for cutting ties with you in such a traumatic way.
If you are guilty of unacceptable behaviour that caused them to ghost you, then accept responsibility , no one is perfect . Allow yourself to heal and find a space where you can speak about your feelings and emotions from the experience without feeling judged.
How to deal with being ghosted in a professional perspective.
Obviously a professional setting will differ greatly when it comes to being ghosted. However it does happen that a colleagues, customer , prospect recruiter, or even boss totally ‘ignores’ you and cuts off communication with you. The below are some suggestions ( however situational dependant).
- Follow up
Call or Reach out via email ( no more than 3 times max and give a day in-between when following up) . Use phrases on email like “I hate to be a pest” or “so sorry to bother you.” Don’t sound desperate though.
2. Remember, rejection is protection
From a recruitment perspective. Perhaps rejection means someone wasn’t the best fit for you, and someone or something else out there is. Also would you want to be working for a company or with a client who is inconsiderate, and doesn’t respond to you. Embrace the situation of being ignored after your two follow-ups as a blessing of sorts.
3. Set up a formal meeting, to talk things out (if possible)
If your boss or colleague is the one whose been avoiding you, try booking time on their calendar to discuss the matter openly and honestly to work things through.
4. Involve HR or a manager
Being ghosted at work by team members or your boss can be devastating experience , it can hinder productivity and lowers collaboration when your team just doesn’t want to work with you. If you are unable to deal with the matter alone involve your Human Resources department or someone senior to help iron out the issue ( with an outsider present it can help the communication process and work with the issue that caused the person to ghost you)
5. Send a proffesional goodbye email
In the case of it being a client who’s ignoring you, though, send a professional goodbye email that won’t burn any future bridges. Write an email stating how you’re disappointed you won’t be working together but that you are always willing to pick up where you left off if they have a change of heart in the future. Show appreciation for the opportunity, and don’t burn professional bridges ( ever).
6. Keep your cool to protect your reputation
Don’t lose your temper or cool, protect your reputation ALWAYS.
7. know when to Walk Away
Sometimes it may be best to wake away from a professional setting ( if possible) if it is not working and where you are experiencing being ghosted/not respected professionally. Take the leap to go elsewhere where you might be appreciated more ( all within reasonable means ; have a plan of action , before you just go quit your job/fire a supplier/customer)
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- Wikipedia , Ghosting behaviour article link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghosting_(behavior)
- Wikipedia , Ghosting behaviour article link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghosting_(behavior)
- Health line , article ghosting link: https://www.healthline.com/health/ghosting
- Wikipedia silent treatment link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_treatment#:~:text=In%20use%20since%20the%20prison,see%20each%20other%20would%20encourage
- The star, Employer ghosting a reality after a job interview link: https://www.thestar.com/life/2015/09/25/employer-ghosting-a-reality-after-a-job-interview-ethically-speaking.html
- CNBC , Employees are ghosting their job offers gen Z is leading the charge, article link: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/24/employees-are-ghosting-their-job-offers-gen-z-is-leading-the-charge.html
- Baby Yum Yum , ghosting and gaslighting extreme forms of rejection , article link: https://babyyumyum.co.za/ghosting-gaslighting-extreme-forms-of-rejection/
- Psychologytoday.com article, Essential psychological truths about ghosting , article link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/i-hear-you/201902/7-essential-psychological-truths-about-ghosting
- Freedman G, Powell DN, Le B, Williams KD. Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2019;36(3):905-924. doi:10.1177/0265407517748791 link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0265407517748791
- Psychologytoday.com , why ghosting hurts so much , link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/living-forward/201511/why-ghosting-hurts-so-much
- Very well Mind, How do I get over my fear of conflict with others, link https://www.verywellmind.com/how-do-i-get-over-my-fear-of-conflict-with-others-3024828
- Very well minds, how to cope wth being ghosted , link: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-being-ghosted-5101153
- psycom.net , what is ghosting , link : https://www.psycom.net/what-is-ghosting
- Smarter living, why people get ghosted, article link: nytimes.com/2019/01/22/smarter-living/why-people-ghost-and-how-to-get-over-it.html
- Medicinet what does it mean to be ghosted.com https://www.medicinenet.com/what_does_it_mean_to_be_ghosted/article.htm
- Bustle.com what happens to your brain when you get ghosted, article link: https://www.bustle.com/p/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-get-ghosted-19308659