Ghosting: Is it a cruel avoidance tactic or misunderstood act of kindness or self-preservation? A psychologist weighs in

Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

But when is it ghosting and when is it child abandonment? Read our story below about this irrepressible topic.

It's no secret that some women's partners (and family members in some cases) pull a disappearing act over the festive season, we take a look at the effects of this sort of behaviour. 

While it has largely become associated with romantic interactions, ghosting is experienced in all types of relationships from family and friendships to business interactions. 

When you google the word ghosting, two definitions are given. The first relates to the appearance of a ‘ghost’ or secondary image on a television screen.

The second describes the phenomenon that has become widely used as an easy way out of communicating with someone in a fast paced, instant gratification and at times cut throat digital world. 

This is a world in which meeting someone is as easy as ordering a pizza and ending a relationship is as easy as ignoring a message or phone call.

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It is a world in which there is little accountability and people can get away with minimal social etiquette. The concept of ‘no strings attached’ thrives. The term ghosting dates back to the mid 2000’s and evolved with the growing prevalence of online dating, social media and instant messaging.  

Ghosting occurs when someone suddenly disappears from your life and cuts off all forms of communication abruptly and without any explanation or warning. It is a cruel form of silent treatment.

Ghosting is the ultimate avoidance tactic: it enables the individual doing the ghosting to withdraw from a person without having to deal with the situation or face any consequences.  

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Psychologist Jennice Vilhauer explains why people who ghost choose this behavior. She says, “People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel.”  

This lack of compassion and empathy speaks to a new kind of norm in the world of online dating. It has become socially acceptable to ghost someone without having the decency or respect to communicate your intentions.

There are rarely social consequences due to a lack of mutual social connections between people concerned and so people get away with it all the time.

As a consequence, many have become desensitised to this behavior and it has become much more common. It has spilled over into our everyday lives and interactions, whether they be over whatsapp, instant messenger, email or on dating sites.

Some of us experience being the ‘ghostee’ at some point, but many of us are guilty of being the ‘ghoster’ too.

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Some see ghosting as a way to avoid the awkwardness and hurtful nature of directly rejecting someone, and thus believe that their cowardice is an act of kindness. But ultimately, ghosting is an act of indifference and therein lies its sting. 

While it might be difficult to hear directly that someone no longer wants to date you, continue a friendship or hire you for a job, it is even more difficult and arguably more hurtful to deal with the ambiguity of being ignored by someone who exits your life with no explanation.

It speaks to a lack of care, concern and respect. The indifference cuts deep.

Despite the fact that ghosting is common, its emotional effects can be devastating. The ghostee is left with a confusing array of unanswered questions and is not given the opportunity to understand the situation.

Ghostees might typically ask or think: Did I do something wrong? Why am I being ignored?, Maybe he/she is just busy right now- maybe I’ll get a call soon, I hope he/she is okay, Why didn’t I see this coming?

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According to Dr Vilhauer, “Ghosting gives you no cue for how to react. It creates the ultimate scenario of ambiguity.”

Not knowing what has happened in a situation leads to a sense of powerlessness. It deprives us of the social cues which enable us to know how to react to situations and to regulate our behavior.

It also robs the individual of the chance to get closure on a situation and to process it. 

Dr Vilhauer also explains that “ghosting can result in feelings of being disrespected, used and disposable”. 

Ghosting is a symptom of a technologically advanced society where narcissism and selfishness can breed easily. We can all challenge the impulse to shut off empathy by realizing that the person on the other side of the line is a human being just like us. We all deserve an explanation. We all deserve compassion. 

Have you ever been a victim of ghosting or ghosted someone? Share your story with us here.

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