I’m part of the generation that came up with the term ‘ghosting.’ It’s not lost on me how this happened or why; I’m both a therapist and a millennial, so I deeply understand the change in social structure we’ve experienced (the anxieties, fears, dangers, rules, needs, and desires). But as a therapist, I have seen such a dangerous shift happen. And I’m not talking about how ghosting hurts the ghosted; I’m talking about how it actually hurts the ghoster. What are the psychological effects of ghosting and why am I CERTAIN this is hands down one of the most harmful habits we have developed?
1. You’re developing habits of non-confrontation.
Why is non-confrontation a harmful thing? People who are confrontational in a healthy and balanced way (think calm, cool, collected) tend to have their needs met more often. People who are willing to say what they need and how they need it (in a non-defensive and open manner) are likely to get just that. Being honest about your needs allows others in your life to know where you’re at and it gives them an opening to share things you may not have previously known. In addition, because it’s so easy to just stop communicating all together, never to be heard from again, I’m seeing people begin to translate this habit into the workplace, at home, and in meaningful friendships as well. Again I emphasize: If you aren’t communicating, you aren’t having your needs met. Developing non-confrontational habits and allowing them to seep into multiple areas of your life is a guarantee to feel less satisfaction in all of these areas.
2. The surface level becomes too easy.
The habit of ghosting becoming more common means that you are never held accountable to a deeper level of communication and thus meaning in relationships. If ghosting has become a pattern, you run the risk of staying on the surface in your romantic relationships and never getting to reap the reward (closeness, bonding, trust, intimacy to name a few) of staying when things get tough. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to end relationships and leave. But what I’m seeing is that instead of asking for our needs (more space, open relationship, different dates, different intimacy), we stop all together.
3. You’re selling yourself short.
Therapists sometimes get ghosted as well (I could write an entire article on this), so I’m going to speak to personal experience here. When I have clients who drop off without so much as an email, what makes me the saddest is that they don’t get to hear how great I thought they were. In all closing sessions, it is customary for your therapist to tell you what progress they saw you make, what strengths they saw in you, and some therapists even share what impact you had on them or what they learned from you. When you don’t give your therapist a warning that you are leaving, you are denying yourself the opportunity to hear how awesome you are! And in romantic relationships, you never get to hear the impact you had on them. You could be missing out on understanding yourself as others see you.
4. No goodbye means there’s always an open end in the back of your mind.
There’s a reason why in pop culture and folklore, ghosts come back to haunt when they have ‘unfinished business.’ That’s because having open endings can be psychologically damaging! We never get to completely move on and heal, because we don’t get to wrap it in a bow, place it in a category, confront our feelings about it, then go forth into the world a wiser and more self-actualized person.
Yehuda Borg said, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Let us all choose to speak- that is, choose connection and meaning- today, tomorrow, and every other day.
We’ve reached the point in Winter when I catch myself wondering if anything but grey skies will ever exist.
I’m seeing a pattern right now that people are growing tired of waking up to cold mornings, having short days, driving home in the dark, and having less time to do things they enjoy. Plus, finances may not have recovered from the holidays and the end of January is usually when New Year’s resolutions lose their steam and all around hope is a little harder to come by.
Clearly it is time for a productive pep talk, and no one is happier to provide that to you than your friendly neighborhood therapist! So get comfy in your seat and soak these words in like the sunshine we’ve all be missing…
1. Let’s start by remembering that everything in life is a cycle.
All patterns in life mirror death and new life- from sleeping and eating to creative and emotional cycles. If you are feeling like your life has lack of energy or inspiration, then you are on the upward. Moments when we feel the dead of winter is within us are moments when we are restoring and regenerating; we are fueling for moments of energy and new life. What you’re feeling right now is not an end; it is generating your new beginning.
2. You can do this! I know this, because you’ve done it before.
You have made it through loss, tough days at work, and times when everything was thrown at you at once. Those beautifully strong qualities inside of you that helped you get through those times are still with you today. Call on them for help, and remember that they are with you always.
3. Plot twist: Thank yourself.
Gratitude is the antidote for our critical voice that says we can’t do it. Spend more moments of your day thanking yourself for what you have done so far to get you through the day. Thank yourself for those qualities of strength we mentioned earlier.
4. Quick tip on the practice of self-comfort.
Picture someone who loves or cares for you very much (person or pet!) and imagine them telling you the exact words you need to hear. Imagine them expressing unconditional love and support.
5. Extra Credit: Use the power of imagination.
Did you know that our brains can’t tell the difference between reality and what we tell it to imagine? That’s why meditating to the image of a beach works; our brains respond as if we are actually there! Close your eyes and imagine your perfect vacation getaway. Breathe deeply, relax your muscles, and use all 5 senses to vividly imagine yourself there. (Can you smell or taste the salt in the air? Can you feel the wind? What colors do you see? What textures can you find? How loud are the waves?) Go to your happy place as often as you need a little boost.
6. And lastly, remember that you have support around you.
I deeply care for your wellbeing and would be happy to talk to you about how I can help if you’re still in a rut.
You’ve got this! Take a deep breath, imagine yourself as a superhero, and go forth to conquer the day. I believe in you.
We have all been there. You’ve been working tirelessly for what feels like absolutely no gain. And while you’ve been sprinting your own personal marathon, your friends seem to be always be lounging by the beach soaking in both the sun and their personal satisfaction of having all their dreams realized (just me? Remind me to write an article on “projection” later…).
I’m going to share a secret with you, something I had to do a lot of my own personal work to figure out.
Your moments of greatest growth often feel like your moments of greatest suffering.
You see, resiliency is a real thing. Some would call it grit, others strength or endurance. I see it as the thing that allows us to endure the worst of times and yet somehow still wake up the next morning. Has anyone else ever thought of how incredible it is that we can go to bed feeling the worst heartbreak or grief of our lifetime and wake up the next morning with our organs still completely intact? It’s like our heart should be physically broken in half, and yet it still goes, working day in and day out. (Let us all take a moment to send a quick thanks to those parts of ourselves, shall we?)
How does this all relate to not being where you want to be? I’m saying that you may not see what progress you’ve made yet, because you’re still sprinting your marathon. You might be too far in to see how far you’ve come. If you think back on your life, you can probably identify a time in life that you grew tremendously in the face of adversity. But if you recall how you felt in the midst of that turmoil, you likely were not waking up each morning with a smile on your face saying, “Damn I grew a lot yesterday. Let’s do it again today!” That’s because it doesn’t always feel good to use our resilience just because we have it.
But if you are in the middle of working hard to get yourself out of the weeds and you continue to wake up day in and day out to your heart still pumping, then you are growing. Our resilience really doesn’t give us another option but to grow and thrive.
What can you do? I would suggest taking a moment to sit down and reflect. Truly spend some time thinking back and outline the ways you have already grown and achieved. Try to see yourself the way someone who loves you might, as opposed to your worst inner critic.
I would also suggest talking with your therapist about what progress they have seen. They may be able to give you real insight and even suggest areas of future growth and direction.
And lastly, do you need new direction? Check in with yourself and ask if the area you are growing is still your best use of energy. Have your goals changed? Are there more appropriate areas to work on in order to achieve your goals?
And please remember: Just because you see where you want to be in the future, doesn’t mean you haven’t already traversed serious ground to get where you are today. So thank yourself for your perseverance and strength and maybe stop looking at your friends’ beachside Instagram pictures.
Have you ever had one of those moments when it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t exist?
When your sight, smell, taste, and touch feels elevated and it’s almost as if you’re seeing everything for the first time? Some people describe this happening when they are with a loved one or looking out to a beautiful view while on vacation and completely at ease. If you’ve ever experienced a peaceful contentment in this way, then you have had what others refer to as a moment of mindfulness. When people go to yoga classes, practice meditation, or use their breath as a tool, they are often attempting to achieve the reprieve that comes with a moment like this.
Another way to describe mindfulness would be the intentional focus on the present moment, using curiosity and acceptance of your body and mind’s current experience. It can be a brief moment, a pause in your day. It can be a breath, a statement said to yourself when you are alone in the car, a day spent gardening and riding your bike while noticing all of the colors and textures in the world, a yoga class with intentional breathing, or even 10 minutes with your loved one at the end of the day spent holding their hand and cherishing their presence.
What do these moments even give us, and why has mindfulness been such a buzz word? Does an increase in immune function, focus, job satisfaction, ability to regulate emotions, and a reduction of stress sound appealing to anyone? Oh, you too?
Mindfulness practice can increase gray matter in the posterior cingulate (mind-wandering), left hippocampus (learning and memory), temporo parietal junction (perspective taking, empathy, and compassion), and pons (communication between the brain stem and cortex, sleep). In other words, it changes the brain in the areas that are important for emotional regulation, focus, and empathy (Holzel, 2011).
The amazing thing is that you don’t have to make a radical life change to begin feeling the effects. If you have sixty seconds to spare in your day, you can use mindfulness. Here are some things that I teach my clients to integrate into their lives:
Use curiosity and let go of judgment.
If the goal of mindfulness is to fully experience the present moment, we can’t do that if we don’t allow ourselves a break from the worries of tomorrow. Judgment keeps our focus on the past and future. Example: “I’m not doing this right. I’ve never been good at sitting still.” Then comes the spiral of thinking about all the moments in your life you haven’t felt good enough and all the moments in the future you are convinced you won’t be able to navigate. Whereas curiosity is the antidote: “What is my body experiencing right now?” There’s no judgment in this, only simple answers rooted in the present moment. Other questions of curiosity might be: “How is my body feeling right now?”, “Where is my attention right now and how can I bring it back to the present?”, “What is my breath doing?”, “What sensations do I feel in my body right now?” Take the role of scientist with your project being to study your current experience, and ask questions that a researcher would if they wanted to capture your present experience as accurately as they could.
Take a Self-Compassion Break.
Compassion for ourselves helps us let go of the aforementioned judgement that brings stress, anxiety, fear, and a lack of presence within ourselves. Give yourself a moment of forgiveness for something that happened in your day you may be holding on to. Cut yourself a break. Tell yourself that you are sorry you are experiencing something difficult and that it is going to be okay. Tell yourself that this feeling of discomfort will pass.
If using curiosity and self-compassion seem difficult, you are not alone. I help my clients practice these things over the course of months, because behind self-judgement are harmful patterns we have used over the course of a lifetime. It takes a lot of practice, and if you aren’t quite there yet, maybe try telling yourself this (or at least hear it from me): “You are in a place of learning and self-discovery. You are using courage, strength, and bravery today by exploring something new. Thank you for doing this. Self-compassion didn’t work for me today, and that is okay. I am not alone in this being a difficult thing to practice. Let’s try something different instead.” And then see below for tools that take just a moment to do, and don’t (typically) involve breaking down generation old patterns:
Five Sense Awareness
Look around the room and name to yourself what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. I like to start this exercise by taking a large, audible breath. Challenge yourself to finding 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.
Notice the pattern of your breath and how your body moves with each exhale and inhale. If you want, change your breath by deepening it and exhaling loudly, counting your breaths, or making your exhales longer than your inhales. Notice any changes to your physical sensation as you do this.
Listen to a song you find pleasing with your eyes closed and count the number of times you hear a particular word. Bonus points for breathing deeply while doing this.
Take your time with what you are eating and notice the flavors, texture, and aroma. Try to slow your breathing and fully chew before swallowing.
These seem simple, but I promise they get the job done. Slowing your life down enough to notice the world around you brings positive physiological changes and your emotional experience is sure to follow. Remember that it can take practice, and you may have to experiment a little to find mindfulness tools that best suit you. But that’s okay, because we’re scientists, remember?
If you’re interested in practicing mindfulness with me or learning the art of self-compassion, give me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you considering going to therapy, but not quite ready to take the leap? You aren’t alone. For many people, the decision to call a therapist is a big one. It can feel like it takes more energy than you currently have, or maybe you are skeptical that it’s even for you. That’s okay! If you aren’t ready to decide, but would like steps you can take to improve your life in the meantime, then this article is for you.
We are going to go down to the real basics here for a minute, and bear with me: EAT. SLEEP. BREATHE.
That’s right. My expert clinical advice to making most situations feel just a little bit more manageable is to do what you’ve been doing since birth. Symptoms of every disorder in the book can be exacerbated by lack of sleep and proper nutrition. And as a yoga therapist, I believe that most people aren’t using the breath to their greatest potential. So here’s how I want you to improve the basics and why…
I cannot stress the importance of nutrition enough. Think of our dear old friend Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Words from 431 BC still ring true today. Every piece of food you eat has nutritional value with its own combination of vitamins, minerals, and bacteria. Some of these properties are really good at helping us with certain things. For example: Folate and B12 help you with mood and sleep, Magnesium with sleep and muscle relaxation, and probiotics for stress, anxiety, and depression.
If we deny ourselves foods that are higher in the properties we need, we deny ourselves the medicine we need to feel better.
Did you know that sugar has been linked to depression, especially in women? Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and researchers alike have been studying in the last decade the harmful effects that sugar has on mood. Research, such as that done by Dr. Meredith Bargman, has shown sugar to lead to spikes and drops of mood throughout the day. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that piece of chocolate, but I am saying that what we eat has an impact on our mental health.
Just a little food for thought…
I work with very few people who would report getting the sleep they need or would like every night. And yet, when I hear a client say that they are having their best day in a long time, most times it is because of a good night’s sleep.
I’m sure you have heard these before, but perhaps you will listen if your friendly neighborhood therapist tells you how great they are? Put the phone and computer down, and make your bedroom a sacred space. Electronics are highly stimulating, but for some reason we like using them right as we want to calm our minds and bodies. If you’re not a reader, try Sudoku, word puzzles, or a coloring book instead. Protect your bed from the mayhem of the world and you will find that over time your body begins associating crawling in with sleep time. You might also try a calming cup of tea, magnesium for muscle relaxation, or some gentle stretching. There are even sleep apps out there that will tell you bedtime stories! Just be sure to turn your phone upside down and keep it on the side table while you immerse yourself in the lost art of imagination.
If you’re reading this right now, you’re breathing. But I would bet that your breaths are shallow and barely noticeable. Try something: Take the biggest breath you’ve taken all day. Your lungs just opened up and your brain and body got a healthy dose of oxygen. And it was that easy. Make a point to take several big breaths every day, noticing what it feels like and how it changes your experience. When we breathe, we allow there to be space where space is needed. The simple act of mindful breathing can carry us through some of life’s most trying times.
If you want more information on how to use breathing and mindfulness to conquer stress, stay tuned! I believe in it so much, I can’t resist but to give it its own article!
Emily Wagner, trauma expert, yoga therapist, and mental health counselor provides education for anyone looking to improve their mental health.