The very first time I heard the term “Ghosting” was when I worked part time at our local Boutique last year (2018). One of our employees never showed for her shift. She was a part time worker in her early 20’s. No effort to call-in sick, no communication whatsoever. We who worked there were concerned for her safety and well being and reached out several times via phone and social media, with no response. I remember our Manager saying, “Ghosted again”. I thought what the heck does that mean. Since that time, I have not only learned the meaning, I have been ghosted personally and experienced this phenomenon.
On August 29th, 2006 and later updated in 2013 as the phenomena grew, Urban Dictionary user pfidr34 submitted an entry for “Ghosting”, defining it as “the act of disappearing on your friends without notice”. In other words, if one party in a relationship does not wish to continue in that relationship, they will just cease all communication with the other party. This would include “blocking” them on all forms of social media, blocking them from being able to send text messages or phone calls to you, and ceasing all further physical interaction with you whatsoever. It is as though the relationship never existed. Many blame online dating websites as being responsible for the growing phenomenon of ghosting. Since its induction into the Urban Dictionary in 2013, ghosting has been well on the rise. What it equates to now, is not just a way to leave or abandon a bad dating relationship, but also as a way to handle exiting, any type of relationship, whether personal or work. Businesses are taking on the action with their clients as well! The problem is that ghosting can be especially hurtful for those on the receiving end, as it causes serious feelings of ostracism and rejection. In the mental health world, it is seen as being a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse. It acts as a type of silent treatment makes it a potential to trigger major abandonment issues for the recipient and thus considered emotional cruelty.
I have since found that the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone, as opposed to the person simply telling the other they do not wish to continue a relationship with them, is not specific to gender or age. The truth is ghosting is an incredibly heartless and emotionally immature way to end a relationship. It is a true picture of a person’s lack of maturity and communication skills. Many who ghost, justify it as a way to end a relationship without having to hurt the other person. On the contrary, it is received as a very hurtful and emotionally damaging experience when the ghosting is against you. When a person suddenly cuts off ALL communication with you, with zero warning or notice beforehand, it can hurt like hell. I have been the recipient of ghosting and as I live with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I already suffer greatly from serious abandonment issues as one of my biggest triggers/symptoms. It can “take me out” for a couple of weeks or longer as I ruminate as to the cause or nature of the act. “What did I do wrong to deserve this treatment? Is there no fixing this? Can we not talk it out anymore?” WHY has this become a socially acceptable behavior? Let’s examine that question.
In today’s society, we seem to have lost the art of true friendship. Although we may have our family and some acquaintances, close friends are few and hard to come by. We often find ourselves separated by great distances from the people we care about. Meaningful connections take time and effort to grow and develop. It seems social media has taken over the “time” and “effort” department needed to the extent for true connections with people has fallen by the wayside. Ghosting is nothing new. People have been showing up and then disappearing from other people’s lives since the beginning of time. Recently however it has become far more prevalent as we utilize social media more than ever for our “connections”. It has become “normal” for people to feel they can discard another person just by “deleting” them out of their life.
To find a connection with someone with whom we share something special so we can love and be loved by as a close friend no longer “fits” within the confines of our busy lives. The truth is that ghosting can happen with someone we’ve just met or one who has been a part of our lives for a long time. We may meet someone and form a connection, convinced we have found a new friend. We conversate easily, have the same likes and dislikes and the relationship seems effortless, as if you have known them for years. You exchange contact info and make plans for future follow-up. Then, when you reach out...they never respond back.
An examination of the generations coming up that have literally been raised on social media finds that they tend to run away from their problems, especially if it involves social skills. In essence, ghosting acts as a way to delete or run from a person, rather than having to confront, cope with, or resolve feelings and issues they would rather not deal with. The emotional immaturity that has grown out of a social media generation is severe. Ghosting is actually a form of avoidance coping. It is a way for those unwilling or unable to face relationship issues or true feelings. Honest, open communication has become an exercise of extreme feelings of dread and anxiety when a person thinks of having to confront or tell a person that they want “out” of the relationship. The ghost would rather delete the person out of their life without having to see the hurt or rejection in the eyes of the person with whom they are severing relationship. They do not want to admit that their own fears, insecurities, and immaturity are behind the reason for cutting out on the relationship. After all, if the ghoster is unable to deal with their own feelings, how could they possibly deal with someone else’s?
What ends up happening is the ghost causes much greater emotional/psychological damage than if they had just faced the open communication with the person they are ghosting. There is guilt and shame felt by the person doing the ghosting that they may not want to face, in addition to unresolved conflict issues they are refusing to communicate about. We are talking about people who have never truly learned to work out their own emotions or feelings. After all, much of what is shown on social media is not the “real” them. They are so used to hiding behind a fake persona, a fake and precisely constructed picture of happiness and bliss in their lives, that they are incapable of facing the reality of true personal relationships. The unfortunate consequence is that this generation is not learning the skills of how to work through conflict, fears, and anxieties that exist in real life relationships. They are not reaching the level of emotional maturity that would enable them to face their feelings and have difficult conversations that is part of becoming a functional grown adult.
We can label it “social anxiety”, “immaturity”, “ghosting”, call it what you will. What it boils down to is these social media babies are using this repetitive behavior, as an easy out where no one is holding them accountable for it! They are escaping having to process deep level emotions and they remain stunted in their emotional development.
Lacking knowledge in how to develop a true connectivity and relationship with a person, believing it is acceptable to ghost, leaves this generation stunted in their emotional development. Some may ghost out of a need for revenge. If their partner has cheated or hurt them in some way, the ghosting, gives them a sense of vindication and power from the wrongs they feel occurred to them. What is missing is the lack of closure. Think about when we lose a loved one. Our society has a wake first and then a funeral service after. The family surrounds the casket of the family member who has passed on. It is their time for final goodbyes and tears of reflection. They typically have a reunion with refreshments conducted back at the home of the deceased to reminisce and process emotions and memories from losing their loved one. There is much emotional ruminating that goes on as they adjust to the fact this person will no longer be a part of their life. It is often vitally important for a loved one to have the remains of their deceased family member brought back to them, for closure in cases of war and such. Often times, if there is no body to mourn over, there is a feeling of desperation and lack of closure for the remaining survivors. We can see that the lack of closure resulting from ghosting in some instances is very damaging for everyone involved.
This avoidance behavior leaves the ghoster with the reputation of being unreliable. They may display a tendency to commit to a project or effort, only to “flake out” at the last minute. This attitude of “flaking out” has become so ingrained in the fabric of our society that it now seems to be the expected norm. Especially in the work environment, the boss has the attitude today that they anticipate employees to “flake out” or “ghost”, never to be seen or heard of again. The problem is the employee is flaking out with no accountability. There is no apology for cancelling or not showing, no admission of wrongdoing, and there seems to be no remorse on behalf of the ghoster. There is a complete lack of consistency or integrity. If the ghoster happens to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, they are already self-absorbed with no care for the needs of the other person. There is no consideration for the wellbeing of others. It’s nothing for them to simply disappear, because they were never that attached to begin with. (Mayo Clinic: Narcissistic Personality Disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others).
Have we come to a point in our culture where people are not willing to make any kind of emotional investment or commit themselves to a relationship or much of anything else? It seems we have a new pathological avoidance mentality when it comes to true attachment in a relationship. Perhaps there is a feeling of suffocation that comes with the responsibility of attachment, whether it is parenting a child, staying with a marriage, or having a close friendship. Is there really no feeling or sense of obligation, responsibility or commitment anymore? Should we just assume that people will do whatever feels good for them in that moment? Are we to delete people or discard them like weekly trash today? It would seem true, as we are far more likely to just cut a person off, rather than stay and face the music of working out a relationship issue. Healthy relationships built on long-term durability are not just based on lust or romance. There was once a fundamental relationship built friendship formed in the beginning that acts as the base structure for longevity.
When it comes to relationships, I am typically in for the long haul. My husband and I have lived through a marriage of over 30 years that has had extreme hardship and emotional turmoil, mostly caused by my mental illness. The fact that he has not bailed on me is somewhat of a mystery at times, HOWEVER, we were both raised in a generation absent of cell phones or social media. We have the skill set to work through the difficult times and we use that skill set! We have a strong bond of friendship and loyalty that was cultivated throughout the years. We take our marriage vows, “for better or worse”, “in sickness and in health”, seriously. We are perhaps the last generation that grew up learning how to maneuver through tough times and emotions in a relationship. My fear is that if WE don’t pass those skills on to this generation, they will not possess them. We did pass them on to our only daughter and she has excelled because of having that skill set. Thankfully, her husband also had those skills passed on by his parents.
Let’s not throw away a very viable, extremely valuable part of growing up because we are too lazy or just don’t want to take the time or effort to work through things anymore. I am all for social media, but not to the extent that it empties an entire generation of people from learning how to cope with relationship skills. The next time you think about ghosting someone, pick up the phone, go to the person...talk it out. You will not only feel better about it, you will be better for it!
With you on the Journey,