What to do when you've been ghosted

  • Mind
  • Saturday, 29 Jan 2022

Just as someone can enter your life with a swipe, they can also disappear again without trace. — dpa

Therapists say that those who abandon a partner or love interest without a single word of farewell often do so because they’re worried about a complicated backlash and conflict.

But these abandoners probably also have little idea – or don’t want to think about – the kind of heartache “ghosting” causes.

Ghosting, an Oxford dictionary definition says, is “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication”.

Its victims are left feeling helpless and impotent.

And it’s a phenomenon that’s facilitated by social media and online dating apps.

“What quickly begins by swiping a touchscreen can end just as fast,” says couples therapist Eric Hegmann.

“Never before has it been so easy to initiate contacts with other people.

“And never before have people been strung along for so long and dumped without a word.”

While the internet enables people to come together who otherwise would never have met, contacts made there can quickly vanish without a trace – like a ghost, he notes.

Is the internet to blame then?

“No, it’s never the medium that ghosts someone – people do,” Hegmann says.

Couples therapist Sharon Brehm agrees that the anonymity of the internet isn’t the reason for ghosting.

“It actually existed before the emergence of dating apps,” she says.

“Just picture someone saying they’re going to step out for a minute to get cigarettes and then never returning.”

But why do people end relationships without explanation?

Brehm believes it’s to avoid conflict, “along the lines of ‘my truthfulness would hurt you, and so I’m protecting you with my silence’”.

Another possible reason, she says, is that the ghoster simply forgot to respond or get back in touch.

In that case, ghosting isn’t a strategic ploy, but is nonetheless hurtful as it demonstrates indifference.

“Ghosting is a conscious or unconscious decision by another person, and says more about the ghoster than the person who’s been ghosted,” she says.

Don’t blame yourself

Couples and sex therapist Carsten Mueller urges ghosting victims not to blame themselves.

“If you internalise this, you’ve taken an important step,” he says.

It can take a while though, because, as the saying goes: once bitten, twice shy.

“When we’ve been hurt, but don’t know why, our protective mechanisms go a bit haywire,” remarks Hegmann.

“They may even baselessly protect us from new encounters.”

People who already were afraid of loss may try even harder to be deserving of love.

And those afraid of commitment feel validated in not trusting anyone.

But dating anew, and perhaps even starting a new relationship, can be enormously important in the healing process of someone who’s been wordlessly ditched.

“It’s not time that heals all wounds, but new experiences,” says Brehm, adding that you can’t really protect yourself from being ghosted again in future.

She also offers another piece of advice: “If you’ve often been ghosted, it’s a good idea to reflect on your own behaviour.

“Do you fall in love too quickly?

“Do you sufficiently consider whether you and the other person want the same thing?

“Do you ignore it when the other person draws the line?”

In his practice, Hegmann often hears ghosting victims warn that singles should be especially wary if the other person says from the start that they don’t really want a relationship.

For one thing, it’s a harbinger of trouble ahead.

And it’s an advance excuse they’ll often point to if they later break off contact: “Well, I told you I didn’t want a relationship!”

“You can be mindful of mixed signals like these, of course, but then you’ll act out of fear and mistrust,” he says.

“And that turns encounters into job interviews of sorts.”

This typically results, he says, in too few areas of emotional contact to fall in love.

So if you’re bent on protecting yourself from potential emotional distress, you’re sabotaging your chances in your search for a partner. – dpa

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Mental health , relationships


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