When we need to break up with someone, there’s a temptation when we are faced not just with the prospect of acknowledging a partner’s position and how we might be impacting them, but also with the prospect of seeing and hearing them, to dodge the conversation. Some people feel this way but face it down. Some people drop hints in the hopes that by hinting at issues or behaving badly, that the other person will do their dirty work. And some people disappear or what is commonly referred to as ‘ghosting’.
Ghosting is when a person disappears because they would rather do that than 1) be honest and direct, 2) face their partner’s feelings and reactions or 3) be open to recognising either their part in things or that they can’t be Mr or Miss Comes Up Smelling of Roses.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard from an increasing number of readers referring to ‘ghosting’ or being ‘ghosted’ and it’s important to get something clarified right off the bat:
Ghosting is not a form of breaking up nor is it the same as No Contact.
Ghosting is disappearing. Breaking up is when a person ends the relationship and No Contact is for after a breakup when it becomes apparent that healthy boundaries are not possible and that remaining in contact is destroying sense of self and the ability to process the loss and move forward. The only exception to No Contact happening post-breakup is if it’s an abusive relationship.
Disappearing isn’t exactly a display of courage and we are most likely to do it if we’re not emotionally mature or available.
Sure, it’s uncomfortable to let someone down, to admit that this isn’t what we want anymore or that our feelings have changed or whatever our reason is, but it’s also necessary. It’s how we not only build up our being human muscles but it’s also how we develop our relationships.
People who disappear / ‘ghost’ learn nothing because they edit and erase themselves out of relationships so that they don’t have to confront anything. It’s not even necessarily about doing things from a ‘bad’ place (although there are some incredibly shady people who employ ‘ghosting’ so that they never face consequences and instead press the reset button); it’s about doing things from a place where fear, cowardice or excessive concern about how we look or our discomfort, trumps integrity and compassion.
I’ve talked to a number of ghosters and all reason that they didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. Really? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that granted, feelings do get hurt in a breakup but disappearing sucks.
What a ghoster fails to acknowledge is that they are motivated to cut and run because they don’t want to hurt their own feelings. They end up throwing their partner under a proverbial bus all so that they can box away their feelings and draw a line under things, on their terms.
It’s about control, as in attempting to feel in control of the situation in their head rather than having to deal with an unpredictable foreign object like another human who they’ve made plans, promises, exchanged bodily fluids with, and inferred all manner of things via the interaction. They’re in control of the story because disappearing means that the ghostee can’t talk back and offer up their version of events, plus it also means that they don’t have to be interacted with.
Things to note about ghosters:
- They tell you what they think you want to hear, which in their world means “Don’t tell me anything bad”, forgetting that you’ll take the truth over the lie or disappearing, any day.
- They often think that they’re communicating an issue when really they’ve been hinting.
- They keep things to themselves and store it up, all while giving you their show face and then next thing, boom–they’re gone. In their head, the ‘issues’ have been going on for a long time and couldn’t be resolved, but you found out at the end and didn’t get a chance to resolve.
- They might set tests that you don’t even know you’re taking. e.g. I’ll know I should stay if they _______ today or they say _____. If they ________, then that seals it for me. I’m off. If you pass, they set another test.
- They have negative associations with conflict and criticism and so either don’t argue or discuss, or they do but it’s limited because they’re not in the present.
- It’s often important that both of you think that things are “perfect”, setting themselves up for failure because neither of you can live up to this expectation.
- They often reason that not talking about feelings or what’s bothering them means that no feelings are being hurt in the running or breakage of a relationship.
- They hoard resentment and other ill feelings. If they feel that you erred or wronged them, even if they’ve let you think that it’s all cool (that’s if you even knew about it), when they decide to disappear, they’ll use these reasons.
- They often have someone else lined up. It might just be interest, it might be an ex, it might be an emotional affair, or it might be a full-blown one but they’re the type who don’t leave unless they think (or know) that they have somewhere else to go to.
- They might gas-light you. Whether it’s unintentionally (and they’re on thin ice there) or deliberately, the net result is the same: because they dismiss your concerns, tell you everything is OK, say one thing, do another, and even make out as if you’re smoking crack and being a drama queen/king, you don’t know your up from your down. Hell, some will even sleep with you before they check out of your life! When they ghost you, it shatters what’s left of your self-esteem because they’ve been messing with your reality and you’ve been pushing down your intuition.
If you’ve been ghosted, what I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty is that it’s not about you; you did not deserve to be disappeared on. It’s not about whether you’re “good enough” to be broken up with; it’s about that person’s own journey with conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment. No, it isn’t nice what they’ve done and yes, the decent thing would be to give an explanation, but their inadequate style of ending a relationship doesn’t reflect your inadequacy.
The one who stands to see right through the facade of a ghoster who does not want to see themselves, is the one who’ll get the disappearing act.
Many people wear masks–BR readers often wear the people pleasing one. The problem with a ghoster is that they have become so good at hiding their feelings and true opinions from others and putting up a front that they’ve forgotten the lie is a lie. You may or may not have been aware of their mask (hindsight gives 20:20 vision) but disappearing means that for you, you have to drop the mask from your picture of them. They haven’t gotten off scot-free– you can run but you can’t hide from your feelings and thoughts so life will find a way to bring the disappearing acts to the fore for resolution.
The key is not to keep blaming you. It’s understandable to a degree when it first happens but it’s the untruths that will make you unhappy so don’t tell you that Mr or Miss Perfect disappeared and that it was all your fault or that if you’d been “enough” then you could have fixed their issues so that they wouldn’t disappear.
Don’t disappear on yourself.
PS I have a separate post coming up in a few days which addresses ghosting in dating.