Disclaimer: In this article, I am not referring to the act of cutting off ties with abusive, dangerous or stalky-types of people. I am addressing the act of ghosting in situations in which shared intimacy is abruptly cut off with no warning. That is all. Carry on.
A quick Google search of ‘What is ghosting?’ reveals 3,470,000,000 results. I wonder if this topic is trending? I asked Thesaurus Online what ghosting was and it returned with:
I couldn’t have said it better myself Thesaurus, but it’s Merriam Webster who finally takes us to school:
Ghosting: the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone (such as a former romantic partner) usually without explanation by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.
Unfortunately, in our age of convenient but disembodied communication, having difficult conversations is no longer, um…convenient. We form relationships, either professional or personal, but when an obstacle comes along, we simply tap that “block” button with our unconscionable pointer fingers and poof, like magic, the problem has vanished! The weeks, months or even years of intimacy, friendship, and trust that was built between two people is gone in the blink of an indifferent eye. We block, then avert the inner gaze with no thought to how it impacts the other person. The unraveling that follows is no problem of ours. But what exactly does that unraveling feel like?
In Simon Sinek’s video about ghosting, he describes the emotional impact of ghosting akin to being in a car crash, creating a feeling of panic in the person being ghosted, like having your innards destroyed. The ghosted, full of disbelief and high on the adrenaline of shock, spins into a vortex of denial, assuming that something must be dreadfully wrong with the ghoster. They might be in need of help, and We’re Going to be the One to Save Them. This feeling is reserved for those uninitiated to ghosting.
Amidst the turmoil of being abruptly cut off, our beautiful, amazing brains frantically riffle through a rolodex of amazing ideas to breach the icy chasm, win our love back and gain safety and acceptance, again. To the outside, unaffected eye, the reaction of the ghosted might seem overly dramatic or self-indulgent. They might even roll their eyes when you say you’ve only known the person for a short while. Get over it. Hrmph. But even getting ghosted after short exchanges of professional engagements or personal intimacy can wreak havoc if they were intense and meaningful enough.
Wounded Inner Child
That is why ghosting hurts so much, because it abruptly forces our perfectly mature, experienced, self-contained adult brain, raw and naked back into the shadow lands of the vulnerable, wounded inner child. Two key childhood issues that most of the planet faces are sitting, neglected in our psyches: abandonment and lack of self-worth.
When we are ghosted, we subtly and unconsciously enter the primal murky depths of needing to prove our worth again, needing to earn mother’s or father’s love again. Sinek is not being dramatic about that car crash simile. He goes on to say that once the ghosted realizes that the ghoster is continuing to live a normal life, it destroys their self-worth, “all because one person was too afraid to have an uncomfortable, difficult conversation.”
An exacerbating factor to the disease of ghosting is the lack of communication skills around difficult conversations in general. Unless we are studying a BA degree (“bugger-all degree,” my parents say), majoring in performance arts, most of us are not actually learning conflict resolution skills or the absolutely cathartic, expansive and intimate exercise of conscious confrontation where one gives space to anger, discomfort, and pain. I mean, we got graded on how well we disseminated our feelings with words and actions in front of audiences…or how well we meshed them out through interpretive dance. No, there are no pictures. I’ve burned them all.
Onwards We Go
Since we have seen time and time again that those difficult but necessary conversations are not going to happen, how do we begin to heal ourselves from this awful experience? Russell Brand offers this brilliant insight that might make your hackles rise but it’s 100% the path to self-realized healing:
We cannot project onto another person a set of requirements because people live in the privacy of their own experience and indeed their own neurosis….I have over-calculated my significance to that person and I’ve misunderstood their perception of our relationship. I’m therefore going to have to either alter MY perception of this relationship or I’m going to try to cling on to that reality in the certain knowledge that they see it in the same way and in that direction my dear friend, lies sadness, frustration, anxiety and madness. You’ve got to be willing to relinquish and let go.
Of course, Brand’s crystalline logic doesn’t include the narcissist-empathic dynamic of ghosting. I’ll leave that fairytale to the pros, like Dr. Ramani. But, In this sense, “letting go” looks like accepting that we can’t place expectations on someone else, no matter how painful the realization is, and also not trying to make sense of it. That is just a mind trap that keeps us stuck in pain. Feel the pain and let it course through the body without numbing it or giving it a timeline. As we feel it more and more deeply, we are experiencing ourselves with love, patience, and no judgement. Better yet, we are entering the fairground of old, neglected wounds that the ghoster has triggered. Whoo. Hoo.
Dr. Reginald A. Ray, a Buddhist academic teacher says that “strong emotion carries the transcendent.” These buried traumas come to light when they are ready to be released, not a moment sooner, not a moment later. So, as hard as it sounds:
FEELING = LETTING GO
This might sound crazy but make time to cry. Make time to sit and do nothing. Carve out a space to journal to your inner child and tell them how much YOU love them and how YOU will never abandon them because in these moments of sadness, we do tend to neglect ourselves, don’t we? We suppress our sadness with work addictions, meaningless trysts and sensorial compulsions because it’s too difficult to connect with pain. But, the ability to sit still in pain is the key to getting through it. Larger life benefits of sitting with our pain include feeling accepted by ourselves, feeling more comfortable in our own skins, developing intuitive skill that perhaps allows us to sense an inauthentic personality more quickly and react more instinctively.
Now that we have touched our sadness, it’s time to have a conversation with ourselves. Mel Robbins holds our hands through it with these necessary truths.
Your heart, body and mind are accurate: Don’t ignore the red flags that are so clearly there. because, let’s be honest…we knew that he wasn’t kosher before he ghosted us.
If we are really, truly honest with ourselves, we will know this to be true. It might be hard to acknowledge this but when we do, we start to give power to our atrophied intuition, the key guiding force in navigating life. It’s okay that we admit that we knew and failed to pay attention. It just shines the light on our conditioning, our desperate need for acceptance and love and invites us to ask critical questions and to become more embodied. Self-awareness doesn’t come effortlessly to us. We have to go through the fire over and over again until we hone that skill.
Now, to leave you with some real life skills with relational expert, Ester Perel:
Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society—the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.
I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This allows both people to enter into his/her next relationship with more experience and a clear head, rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.
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