Heather Stillufsen

Heather Stillufsen

England is all about community, having a chat over a cup of tea or a natter down the pub. Back in the 40s, problems were always solved over a boiled kettle, a problem shared was a problem shared etc. Obviously many people are very shy and find it difficult to talk, and that’s perfectly okay (in fact, the more loudmouth of a country that England becomes, the more stressful it is). A few decades ago, you would never know if Jim Bowen’s contestants on Bullseye had won the car (or speedboat) or not, they would shrug or gently smile either way. Today if someone wins a pen on a TV game show, they scream and whoop enough to make you turn off, to protect your eardrums.

But unfortunately, the modern phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ is now quite common, ironic in an age of non-stop communication with social media, What’s App and mobile phones. Almost unheard of back in the day, to ‘be ghosted’ simply means when a former friend (or sometimes partner) simply cuts off contact for no reason whatsoever, with no explanation. You may call to find out why (or call because you are concerned for someone’s mental health). But to no effect. It’s like that person cuts you off as dead (sometimes you may wonder if that person is dead or ill, and continue to reach out). But absolutely no effort made to return any calls or emails or texts.

Obviously there are underlying reasons for why people ghost other people. They may have issues in finding it difficult to talk about certain subjects, they may have problems of their own that override their need to reach out to people they wish to move on from (and it would likely be a good idea to ‘ghost’ if you are in abusive relationship if the police are involved etc, or are being stalked). But overall people who ghost possibly have no idea of the devastating consequences that being ghosted does to someone else. Not just crashing their self-esteem, but all psychologists will tell you that ghosting causes immense suffering to the mental health of those involved. Fancy being treated as if you and your feelings are of no consequence whatsoever to someone else, especially if that person was a former friend?

Ghosting is humilitating to the person being ghosted, not just for them but due to having to try to explain to others why they have been ghosted. Others may ask why a friend has not been in contact, and they may try to create stories to protect the ghoster (if concerned for them as a friend) while trying to not let on that someone feels they are not worthy of even a simple explanation or ‘short goodbye’. That is not to say that people who ghost are bad people, but they are often people who need therapy. To just ‘cut people off’ causing such deep emotional pain is not the action of someone who considers the feelings of others. Perhaps they are going through deep hurt themselves, but hurting someone else is not going to make anything better, it just makes the problem worse for everyone involved.

Psychologist Noel Bell says the main impact of being ghosted is that you don’t know how to react, as you are never given any closure. Does that person hate you, love you, fear you, want revenge, wish you were dead? Any requests for clarity fall on dead ears as that person does not respond to any attempt to reach out, for weeks, months or years. Modern digital techology makes this easier to try (it’s quicker to send a text or What’s App message or email over writing a long letter asking for an explanation).

But when met with silence, this contributes to further anxiety, due to a passive-aggressive nature to avoid confrontation (and to leave someone in suspense like this, is officially according to psychologists, a form of emotional abuse). No matter what the reason, there is no harm done, by just sending a friendly simple message of ‘I’m sorry due to personal reasons, I wish no longer for us to be in contact. I am sorry for how I acted, but wish you all the best’. It takes 10 seconds and avoids similar after-effects to the person being ghosted, that can happen from children being bullied at school (which often leaves years of mental health issues, due to feeling unworthy).

what should you do if you’ve been ghosted?

Obviously if you’re abusive or a stalker etc, then just accept it, that person is never going to contact you, and rightly so. But actually the advice from all psychologists if you’ve been ghosted is exactly the same. Don’t contact them. There is zero point reaching out to try to contact someone, who has no intention of ever getting back in touch with you. And the advice remains the same for someone who perhaps ‘intends to contact you at a later date’, when they are ready. Meanwhile you are suffering the after-effects of ghosting, because you are not given clarity of whether that person is ever going to contact you.

And the longer it goes on, it becomes clear that concern for your mental health is non-existent, that person is only thinking about their own life (and those close to them). Your feelings are obviously not on their radar, otherwise they would not ghost you. If they feel guilty at having ghosted you, they don’t have to get back in contact. But they could as said above, write a simple note or even send a quick email or text message, to at least give some closure. But the hard truth is they probably won’t. So bless them with love, forgive them – then move on with your life. Don’t look backwards (Lot’s wife did this in the Bible, and turned into a pillar of salt). Don’t keep going over situations when that person was kind to you.

The truth is, that person is not being kind now. No matter what they’re going through (anxiety, guilt, depression etc), ghosting is always about that person, never about you. And no matter what mistakes you made, no-one deserves to be ghosted. Vex King writes that if someone treats you badly (or does something to hurt you), then you as their friend have a duty to try to make amends and reach out. But if months and years go by with no contact, then the issue is for sure about them. If they can’t reach out, open up, forgive or at least let you know what’s going on in their lives, then your energy will be so scattered that you won’t be able to make use of your life, and that’s not good.

Authentic love means caring without trying to control. You deserve a relationship where you are seen, heard, understood and accepted for who you really are. Vex King

why ghosting is a ‘red flag

All psychologists say ghosting is a red flag to how someone may act in the future. If you have a small argument and then get ghosted for a long while, what would happen in the future if that person came back into your life? What if you had a major disagreement? Is that person then going to go off and ghost you again in the future, and cause the same hurt all over again? They say treat ghosting as a warning sign that there is obviously a lack of empathy and conscience, and that person possibly tells lies (and hides secrets) with ease, as they obviously don’t have qualms about betraying people’s trust.

If they are willing to change and undergo therapy or open up, that’s one thing. But if they continue to ghost, then it’s a good sign to wish them well, and then move on to find friendships where you are treated well. And don’t have to spend your life having inner conversations with yourself on what you did wrong, what you could have done different, or what you should do now, when you are ‘talking to a brick wall’.

up your self-care routine

Self-care is not about narcissism (if anything, people who ghost are more like narcissists with little empathy for others, imagining their problems being of more importance, and not caring of the hurt they cause to others by ghosting). But giving yourself some love and self-care can help you to move on.

For instance, many people who are ghosted may resort to alcohol or over-eating, as emotional crutches to cope with the effects of being ghosted. So pull out those gym shoes, switch to alcohol-free beer and make a salad! Go for quiet walks on your own, take up meditation and importantly – find a few good kind friends to ‘replace the ghosting ones’, so gradually your self-esteem returns. If you like yoga, take a yoga class. If you like the seaside or countryside, sign up with a volunteer organisation to meet like-minded new friends. If you like the theatre, join an acting class. If you like singing, join a choir. If you are religious, seek out services at your local church. There are good people out there to love and support you, to create a better life for yourself. If things get really bad, then find a counsellor to talk things through confidentially.

set some personal boundaries in the future

If making new friendships, remember the feelings of being ghosted. You never want that to happen again. So the second that someone shuts down and won’t offer explanations for treating you badly, exit far left. Often people who are ghosted are so-called ‘people-pleasers’ who stick around for too long in situations where they are not treated well. If you were hurt and tried to talk, were you shut down?

It’s difficult for so-called ’empaths’ or highly-sensitive people to set boundaries, as they tend to emotionally feel the pain of whatever someone else is going through. This means that when others say ‘oh just ignore him or her, and move on’, you tend to think ‘but perhaps they are hurting about something, and need me as a good friend to share information, so I can help them’. This is a very good idea. But if that person has ghosted for you, then the goalposts must change for your own mental health, and to send a ‘gentle message’ that such behaviour will not be tolerated anymore. In fact, setting boundaries is being kind, as you encourage ghosters to never do the same to someone else. You nip things in the bud right away, to prevent months or years of confusion and hurt.

Self-care is basically about treating yourself well, so others learn how to treat you. If you are a good kind person, you obviously treat others well and expect to be treated the same. The difference between this and a ‘doormat’ is when you treat others well, get treated rubbish by others, and continue to go back for more.

Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you, by deciding what you will and won’t accept. Anna Taylor

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. Jack Kornfield

what should you do if you’ve already ghosted someone?

So say you are the ghoster. What should you say or do, if you have spent weeks, months or years ghosting someone? As mentioned above, if that person is dangerous (abusive, a stalker etc) then obviously there are good reasons for no contact. And all psychologists say that if possible, go ‘no contact’ with people that have narcissistic personality disorder (completely mess with your head due to manipulating situations). For instance, someone with NPD will take anything you tell them to ‘gaslight’ you into thinking you’re in the wrong, gone mad, do exactly what they want to benefit themselves, even if it leaves your life in tatters.

If you’ve ever had your life destroyed by someone who belittles you, steals your friends, tells you that ‘you’re too sensitive’ if they make you cry, plays the victim, makes you feel guilty about yourself or even seeks revenge, that’s likely a narcissist, so avoid like the plague. Because people with NPD tend to never think they’ve done anything wrong, it’s a very difficult condition to cure, as they likely would never set foot in a therapist’s office.

But what if you’ve ghosted someone and now feel guilty? Anyone with self-worth will know that after so long that there is no point trying to contact you, and give up. If you decide that you do want to reconcile a friendship, you’re going to have your work cut out, as the longer it goes out, the more the truth will dissipate, and the more likely that person is going to move on with life. No matter what has been happening in your life, to not give some kind of reason or explanation (even in the form of a short text or email) means you’re going to have to answer a lot of questions, if you wish to reappear in someone’s life and be trusted.

If you’ve ghosted someone due to not being kind or bothering, then don’t bother to get back in touch. The only real reason to get back in touch with someone after ghosting them is if there has been other stuff going on in your life, and you simply ‘took your eye off the ball’ and now realise that you should have reached out or been there for someone, and now wish to make amends. In this case, reconciling a friendship may be worth a shot, but don’t hold out your hopes. Unless you are willing to act immediately, and be open to talking through the issues, to resolve them.

If you wish to ‘come back from the dead’, ensure your reasons and intentions are kind and genuine, or they will likely fall on deaf ears. The person who has been ghosted (especially if for a long time) is going to be very hurt and find it difficult to trust, so you are going to have to give good explanations of why you ghosted someone, promise not to do so again and own up to making a mistake that caused immense emotional hurt and pain, because you were likely only thinking of yourself. But likewise, the other person should take time to listen (perhaps that person was going through very difficult situations and even had mental health problems). But if you want to repair any friendship, it’s never going to work (especially after ghosting) if you say ‘Well, sorry I did that, let’s never talk of it again and move on’. That’s a one-sided approach that won’t work, and the ‘ghostee’ is likely to run off into the night.

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